Being Andrew Massey

Riding home from Sunday’s rehearsal with Owen Tatum, we were chatting about it all – the rehearsal, Mr. Massey, and the upcoming concert – our last as VYO members. The conversation began with our memory of the Montgomery Center holiday performance in which Mr. Massey invited a handful of VYO students to participate. Mr. Massey’s wife had graciously brought us water just before the show started. But, we could not figure out how to open these impossible bottles no matter how much we fumbled with the caps! We were tugging, tearing and twisting the caps when Mr. Massey appeared and imparted on us these gentle words of wisdom: “Just imagine a cow and the little teats on her udder, and the bottle will be open in no time at all!” Yes, this was unexpected, yet this story illustrates my point exactly.

If not for Mr. Massey’s oddly hilarious puzzles and commentary, I could never have thought of the violin parts during the Dvorak as moments of virtuostic screaming in the grocery store, or of the harp part in Brigg Fair as a dream involving our most guilty food pleasures. Aside from making us hungry, these vivid scenarios helped us to convert written music into a mental images to further our understanding of the compositions we were exploring. Through this kind of commentary, we became more aware of what the composer actually intended the audience to hear. Also, our ears have learned to listen for subtle nuances and to make adjustments according to this information. It is this working style that is so entirely unexpected in Mr. Massey – so much so that he has become somewhat of a treasure to us all this past season.

Mr. Massey has clear tasks and works relentlessly to achieve them, but in the lightest, most efficient, and decidedly humorous manner. He seemed to know what mistakes we were about to make before they happened –  last fall, during our performance of the Overture to Romeo and Juliet, our rhythm suddenly collapsed, but within one measure and a precise wave of his baton, the problem was righted. Mr. Massey is prepared for anything and everything. (A relief to those of us who sometimes aren’t!)

As for those water bottles referenced in the beginning of my post, we got them open. I remember the look on Owen’s face when Mr. Massey told him to think of a cow’s teats. At first his eyes got really big and then he smiled a huge grin. This comparison was actually puzzling to me, but that’s probably because I grew up on a dairy farm and that more than likely I have a different mental image of  cow teats than the others. This is kind of cool because it demonstrates how different people interpret the same message. Mr. Massey gave us the ideas and left us the liberty to run with them in any direction we pleased…which is exactly how he has conducted our weekly rehearsals. Every week, his instructions have been translated stylistically and expressively –  our reading of the music in this way is what has made the Vermont Youth Orchestra so unique this year.

Mr. Massey has connected with each of us in some way or another during this past season. And, he leaves us with fond musical memories. I will never forget making music with him. He gives us energy and a purpose to play. He has encouraged all of us to push our limits and become better musicians. For me, he inspired my decision to major in music when I go to college next fall. Mostly, though, I thank him for every one of his philosophical comparisons, and for a great final year with the Vermont Youth Orchestra!

Emily Wiggett, flute


Top: Andrew Massey conducts the VYO in a live “From The Top” taping at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, February 2010 – photo by John Servies

Middle: Taking bows with the VYO and soloist Tim Woos at Winter Concert, January 2010 – photo by L. Charlesworth

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