Monthly Archives: January 2018

On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra

Azumi flute

I found this quote a while back when following a conversation about the future of classical music and classical music performers.

…Orchestral players are trained to become highly-skilled performers who can turn little black dots and lines and all kinds of mysterious indications into a free-sounding musical experience. The exhilarating experience of playing in the middle of a group of some 90 musicians with an inner freedom and [at] the same time, perfect inter-relatedness with the others as if being a member of one large body, as a communal achievement, an experience where the dead letter of the text has been internalized so strongly that the music freely floats as one voice in a communal synthesis, is the freedom which has been struggled for by years and years of study and training, carried by love for the art form. It is difficult to explain this if you are not an orchestral musician of a (good) orchestra yourself….  — JOHN BORSTLAP July 28, 2017

Yet, in my opinion, Mr. Borstlap describes only the very surface reality of the experience that is playing in a good, even great, orchestra, conducted by a good, and better, great conductor. There is absolutely no experience that I know of, save maybe that of performing in a seriously superior choir, that comes even close to it, certainly not the common experiences most players have in their performance history. It’s an immersive experience that transports the performer to heights and breadths of humble — yes, humble — awe and ecstasy. One is humbled that one has been gifted this experience, that one is worthy of it and of contributing to it.  And when it happens again and again, time upon time, then the realization that what you have in that group of musicians, bonded together by a conductor and by the scores you play, is priceless beyond scope. Everything else musical pales by comparison.

If there were one wish I could have for anyone who plays or yearns to play an instrument, it would be this experience. Sadly, that’s not possible. I could plant people amidst such an orchestral experience, yet they’d never really feel it. Oh, sure. They’d feel themselves immersed in the power of that sea of sound, in the energy of the musicians creating that sound, but they would lack one critical element — contributing to the creating of that moving sea of symphony. There is, in fact, nothing like it, and the proof comes at the end.

In the silence that follows the last note of the last bar played, breathing as one, the orchestra stills. And the audience, enraptured, holds that silence, seemingly interminably, until, all at once, something breaks the spell and, as one, erupts into applause, whistles, and cheers, tears streaming from some, laughter from others, giddiness or radiance from yet still others.

Or sometimes the music hasn’t even stopped when the audience breaks to its feet in wild applause, overwhelmed with the emotions stirred in them.

When it happens in rehearsal, though, and it does quite often when playing with a good orchestra, we all just sit, stunned by what we’ve accomplished, in a long moment of shared and humbled awe at ourselves and each other — at the fact that we just created a ‘moment’ in sound …that what we did was magical.

This is why I played. Those days are long over for me, but this is, to me, the ultimate experience in playing. It surpasses anything else one can do as a classical performer, and I wish, I really do, that every player could experience this, even just once.

 

My Daily Flute Repertoire Go-Through List

One of the issues I face is TIME. It takes time to work up and then keep repertoire perform-able, and, never knowing what I’m going to be asked to play, I have to keep them all in the pipe (quite literally when one plays the flute). Added to that is all the foot switching required when you use electronic effects, and that’s the part that I usually skimp on — always a mistake. Invariably, it’s the stuff I skimp on that comes back to bite me, because that’s sure to be the piece or pieces that Forrest will decide he wants us to work on, or even record and video. And, of COURSE, if he wants to do a live recording session, it’s guaranteed that I’ll have neglected to cut my hair and look something of a disheveled urchin. (Of course.)

It takes a lot of time and meticulous attention to the electronics to set up for a live recording session. Because of Forrest’s driving schedule this winter, which has been as brutal, the roads having been the worst winter driving ever in Alberta and, especially, British Columbia, we just haven’t had the time to do any more live recording/video sessions. I know that it’s coming, though, so, below, I’ve pasted the list of my daily repertoire practice.

Some of these are really simple to play …until you add in messing about with the stomp boxes. Some of them, of course, are rhythmic nightmares for me, some just a torture of finger snarls. But all of it is tough when trying to keep my eyes on both music and the switches I have to hit just a millisecond before the effect(s) is or are is supposed to kick in.

In classical playing, one keeps a goodly amount of pieces worked up — about a hundred-and-fifty or so. With the stuff we play, though, I’m lucky it’s only about fifty-some, right now. Here’s my daily task: (And, yes, some of these are already recorded and videoed, but I didn’t feel like editing the list, because, honestly, I still have to keep up the ones we’ve already recorded.)

1. Alone Again Or
2. Another Brick in the Wall/Goodbye Blue Sky
3. Aqualung
4. Baby I Love Your Way
5. Beth
6. Black Hole Sun
7. Black Magic Woman
8. Bungle in the Jungle
9. Carry On Wayward Son
10. Cheap Sunglasses
11. Closer to the Heart
12. Cross-Eyed Mary
13. Dog Breath Variations
14. Duetto
15. Dust in the Wind
16. Eye of the Tiger
17. FM
18. Fooling Yourself
19. Hold Your Head Up
20. Hotel California
21. Icarus
22. Idiot Bastard Son
23. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
24. JS Tull Medley
25. Lazy
26. Let’s Make the Water Turn Black
27. Let’s Move to Cleveland
28. Light My Fire
29. Living in the Past
30. Locomotive Breah
31. Long Distance Run Around
32. Marqueson’s Chicken
33. Mission Impossible
34. Money
35. More Than a Feeling
36. My Favorite Things
37. Never Been Any Reason
38. Norwegian Wood
39. Nothing Else Matters
40. Oh No
41. Oye Como Va
42. Peaches in Regalia
43. Porgy & Bess
44. Roundabout
45. Roxanne
46. Scarborough Fair/Sounds of Silence
47. She’s Not There
48. Siciliano
49. Sing or the Day
50. Summertime
51. Time of the Season
52. Uncle Meat
53. Waltz in A Minor
54. Walking on the Moon
55. Watermelon in Easter Hay
56. What’s New in Baltimore
57. Woman in Love