Knocking It Out Of The Park

A concert.
The focus of all our efforts.
So long prepared, so swiftly passed.

We, the members of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, just performed our first major concert of the season, and Sally was the star. Sally Bruce, our Sally & Andrew at receptionconcertmaster, played the first movement of Saint-Saëns’ third Violin Concerto, and knocked it out of the park. She achieved that wonderful air we all aspire to: making it look easy. And, I suppose, in an odd way, it was easy. It’s just that playing something like that is only easy so long as you spend many   hours, for many years, not just practicing, but thinking about music, too. It isn’t just an athletic training, but the result of emotional and intellectual immersion as well. In fact, a musical immersion. And even then, when the actual time comes, the intensity of concentration must not lapse. Playing in public sounds tough and daunting, and it is. But when the concert finally comes – well, “easy” might not be the right word, but the experience is one of ease and of freedom.

The orchestra was working very hard during that concerto too, though in a different way. We were functioning somewhat like the negative to Sally’s positive. Over and over, in rehearsal, the orchestra players had been striving to be ever quieter, yet always perfectly synchronized, so that we could be the rocky landscape behind the face of the Mona Lisa – context, scale, and atmosphere, without distracting from the central offering. When we do all concentrate and do our part, it is indeed a sense of ease that floats up, much as an athlete will speak of entering ‘the zone.’ Although we practice hard, we do not turn into automata. The concert is not an exact replica of rehearsals. Things always ‘happen,’ either challenges or inspirations. Sally was able to float with the moment, and we were able to sail by her breeze. And that meant that the audience could relax too, confident that everything was reliable, yet at the same time unprecedented.

Sally's flowersAnd how the audience responded! So many cheers! If florists around Burlington are out of stock this week, our concert could be the reason.

Of course there were lots more pieces in the concert, all very different from one another. The difference between a concerto and a purely orchestral piece is obvious – the presence or absence of a spotlight on one central soloist. But on the inside, amongst the community on the stage, the difference is not so great, since someone is always playing the tune, and the rest of the orchestra accompanies that tune. Maybe the first violins now, maybe the violas. Perhaps the oboe, then two trumpets, then the second violin section…

Just as our eyes scan the scene, but always, even for the shortest moment, pick a focal point, so are our ears led from sound to sound, and, as musicians, our own contributions constantly flit between foreground and background. So here, now, after many weeks of training to be ready, we go before the public, not like trained seals, but as companions with newly honed freedoms. Finally we have the last crucial ingredient that makes it all come alive and become real; the audience. Now at last we can all, together, take a thrilling ride in the briefly real world of music.

That first concert may be over, the scores back on the shelf, a new list of pieces to practice. But nothing ended. It was all part of the preparation for the next concert, and the next. Bravo to the players of the VYO! We have even wilder regions to explore this year.

Andrew Massey, VYO Interim Conductor

(Photos: Berta Frank & Lisamarie Charlesworth)

Full Disclosure

This is always my favorite time of the year… It’s a little windy and brisk at times, but the chill can be easily deterred by a huge mug of hot apple cider. Normally I’d be outside enjoying the sunny (and rainy) days with my horse and my friends, but this fall season has been a little different.

For the last few weeks, I’ve practically lived in my room, accompanied by a Sally, for bloghuge mirror and a music stand. Here I can be found, reliably practicing from the time school ends to the unholy hour I finally decide to stop playing and go to bed. I take tons of short breaks as well as a few longer ones, to get the most highly prioritized homework completed and to eat. I realized early on that I needed to turn my phone off and put it far away in order to really focus… Some of my friends started to send concerned messages, wondering if I was becoming some sort of nocturnal hermit.

Oddly, these past few days have been more like “normal” for this time of year. I’m actually spending a good chunk of time outside of my practicing bubble. I’m so unbelievably excited for the concerts this weekend! But, I’ll psych myself out if I keep running through every possible place in the concerto where I could potentially mess up. Instead, I’m thinking about other things, like the really good book I’m rapidly devouring, or how amazing the new “House” episode was, or how much I love seeing my friends.

I’m pretty sure that this should be the week where I’m a stressed-out nervous wreck, but that hasn’t happened at all. And I’d like to keep it that way.

Sally Bruce, violin     (Photo: Stina Plant)

Tickets:

Friday, October 2 – 8:00 pm at Saint Mary’s Church, Saint Albans

Adults/Seniors $5; Students $2

Tickets available at the door.

Concert Sponsors: The Dressing Room & Mousetrap Pediatrics

Sunday, October 4 – 3:00 pm at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Adults/Seniors $15, $12, $10; Students $12, $10, $6

To purchase tickets, call 802-86-Flynn or visit www.flynntix.org

Season Sponsor: Champlain Orthodontic Associates

Concert Sponsor: Physician’s Computer Company

Media Sponsor: WCAX-TV3 | Accommodations Sponsor: Green Mountain Suites Hotel

GPS for the Brain

Sally's violinThis past Sunday’s rehearsal was the only one so far where I’ve had only one job the entire time- to lead a section.

During most rehearsals I switch roles, going (sometimes not so seamlessly) from concertmaster to soloist.  Physically, I really only stand up and move about three feet and turn to face the windows at the back of the rehearsal hall. That part is manageable and really not intimidating. Mentally, it’s a huge switch. Changing my mindset to be able to play my concerto in the technical aspect while weaving together the musical ideas to complete the picture is a daunting task. It’s not a mental state I can get to without preparation and a very good idea of where my music “head” is in relation to other emotions.

For example, if the thought ceaselessly running through my head is “Hmm, I wonder if there’s any coffee left in the kitchen… Also, can’t forget to study Asia and the Middle East for the geography quiz tomorrow…” I need to make a mental U-turn and find my bearings. It would be fantastically helpful to have a mental GPS…

Sally (far left) and VYO members in France - July 09

Sally (far left) and VYO members in France - July 09

I associate many musical ideas in the Saint-Saëns concerto with memories, and quite a few of them are from the VYO’s France Tour this summer. During one chorale melody I’m with my friends on the balcony of our hotel in Paris, watching the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight. At one point in the development section, I’m walking through the winding streets around the Museé d’Orsay looking for
somewhere to sit and eat lunch. The only memory I want to stay as far away from as possible is the jetlag. That disjointed, sleepy and over-caffeinated feeling (which is a pretty accurate description of most mornings in France!)…well, I don’t know exactly what that would sound like musically.

The concert still seems far away. It hasn’t quite hit me yet that in roughly three weeks, I actually have to perform. It won’t be too scary though, because no matter how nervous I get (and trust me I’ll be pretty terrified), about 80 of my friends will be there with me, and I know I can always look over my shoulder and remember they’re right behind me.

Sally Bruce, violin

Editor’s Note: Sally has been a VYOA member for 12 years; this is her second season as concertmaster for the VYO. She will be performing the first movement of Camille Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 with the VYO during their upcoming Fall concerts:

Friday, October 2 at 8:00 pm – St. Mary’s Church, St. Albans

Sunday, October 4 at 3:00 pm – Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

For additional information on both concerts, visit /index.php?events/action/show/id/event/yr/2009/mon/10

(Photos: Stina Plant,  Duncan Yandell)

Betwixt And Between

Andrew - for blog

This is the betwixt and between time.

Reveille!, the VYO & VYP summer camp, was an intense and wholly absorbing time of music making. When a group of music-loving people get together and focus on it, it becomes like the whole world, and we live it and breathe it. Then, came the concerts at the end of the week, which seemed like the natural culmination of the flow. So, it is a bit like being dunked into cold water to find that it is over, and that “normal” life has to resume.

Now, as school starts up again and strange people all around us seem to believe that other things are just as important as music (!) we get distracted, start thinking in terms of calculus and passive voices and botanical subspecies, and the flourish of Reveille! begins to fade.

But, we are not done with this music yet.

A lot of the music we played during the week of Reveille! is destined for the season’s first big concert at the beginning of October. As the distractions get greater, so too does a different form of excitement build. That adrenalin rush is what we call “concerts.” The ceremonial aspect of a public concert makes it into a completely different experience from playing in a camp amongst our peers.

At a concert, we are really putting ourselves on the line. We are predicting that on October 2nd at St. Mary’s in St. Albans at precisely 8:00 pm, and again at on Sunday, October 4th at 3:00 pm at the Flynn Center; at those precise times and places, we shall all gather together, at our peak of concentration. Despite all the tasks we have to accomplish between now and then, this prediction of the future will happen. All the years of practice and all the hours of rehearsal will emerge as extraordinary skills so that we can coordinate, and offer our astounded public the brilliance of our artistic vision!

Yes, it’s pressure. It’s anxiety that focuses the mind wonderfully.

An actual concert is a more focused and intense short period in time in which we step up to the mark and “do our thing”. And they are great things that we are going to do: A brand new piece by a genuine living musical prodigy, still only 18 years old. A razzle-dazzle show-off violin concerto from our wonderful Sally Bruce. Solid classical music fun from Brahms. Eccentric musical meanderings from Percy Grainger, all topped off by the biggie, Romeo and Juliet in which we’ll strive to get everyone in our audience weeping openly.

Then back into the night, back home to all the other things, strengthened by the knowledge that, yes, we can do this. We can live our lives, but we have acquired the skill to all come together in one place, and deliver something extraordinary that none of us could do by ourselves.

Concert time is coming fast, folks! Show up to rehearsals and keep practicing.

Andrew Massey, VYO Interim Conductor

Gearing Up

The VYO has been in rehearsal since August in preparation for the upcoming Fall Concerts that kick off the 2009-10 concert season. In the coming weeks, both Interim Conductor Andrew Massey and soloist Sally Bruce will be adding their voices to the blog.

Enjoy!

Final Notes On Camp

How I can explain how wonderful Reveille! was for me this year? I made so many new friends and branched out a lot more then I have previously.

Mary McSweeney, viola

Mary McSweeney, viola

It’s always satisfying to finish a concert with my bow high in the air, feeling proud of the work that I have accomplished. At the beginning of the week, I was reminiscing about the tour and missing the orchestra that went to France…and our dress rehearsal left me feeling that things were a bit sketchy (if you know what I mean). However, by the end of the concert on Sunday, I had changed my mind entirely. The orchestra sounded good and the concert was a blast! The repertoire was so much fun to play and Mary McSweeney did a fantastic job soloing on the Berlioz  Harold in Italy.

Troy Peters’ and Andrew Massey’s conducting styles could not be more different…  I can’t say that I prefer one more then the other. Although I enjoyed Mr. Peters’ style, which was sometimes loud and very vocal, I’m also really liking the way that Mr. Massey conducts. He makes these funny faces and gestures – they remind me of the mood we should be conveying at that moment in the music. I find this very helpful!

Overall, my friends and I had a wonderful time at camp. I found myself a bit teary as I closed the door to my room and headed to the final check out on Sunday. Although it’s nice to be home, I really miss camp and everyone there.

At least I have one more year of Reveille! to anticipate…

Daphnee Vandal, violin    (Photo: Stina Plant)

Practicing Under Trees

Quartet 4My primary goal during my first week with VYOA was to meet as many students as possible and to get to know faculty, staff and parents. I shouldn’t be surprised, but the students are incredibly interesting, intelligent and polite. They are a diverse bunch, hailing from seemingly all over Vermont.

It has been great to hear how much progress both the advanced and younger players can make in one week. This is no small feat, and is largely due to the incredible faculty, conductors, and the super-friendly and organized administration, but is also due to the support of the parents and their teachers back home. However, most of all, it is the result of all of the hard work by the students themselves. It was so amazing to hear them practicing both inside and outside under the trees.

I also heard some great compositions by Eric Nielsen‘s composition class—it is incredible what they accomplished in less than a week!—as well, I sat in on VYO rehearsals led by conductor Andrew Massey and VYP rehearsals led by Anne Decker.

All week, I had a chance to meet students by hanging out in the hall or at meals, but also via two classes I taught: Advanced Tonal Theory, and Meet The Moderns, a class designed to introduce the students to modern music and the music of living composers.

More VGLFor the Meet The Moderns class, I initially thought I would only play music I chose, but since my main goal was to get to know everyone, I thought it would be great to let the students play what they like. Of course, I had no idea how this would turn out, and I did not screen the music ahead of time, but it turned out to be a lot of fun: everyone has such diverse tastes. Interestingly, many students chose to play classical music but others played everything from instrumental rock, metalcore and folk metal (I have to admit that I wasn’t even aware of these specific genres), and even a orchestral/rock piece entitled One-Winged Angel, inspired by a role-playing video game. I played some of my music, and even created an iTunes playlist that contains most of the pieces we shared. We also heard a really great bassoon solo (with multiphonics!) by VYO student composer Tim Woos entitled Assembly Line.

Finally, I was very impressed by the orchestral concert at the end of the festival. After only one week of rehearsals, both orchestras sounded quite good. The audience, packed with families, friends and musicians, gave a rousing standing ovation after hearing Mary McSweeney’s elegantly performed viola solo in Berlioz’s Harold In Italy, and at the end of the concert. Hats off to both Andrew Massey and Anne Decker for doing such a wonderful job of shaping all of the pieces.

I am really looking forward to working with the students, Andrew, Anne, the wonderful staff, and everyone else again this fall and to hearing my music played by VYO in January. It is going to be a fantastic three years!

Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence

Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.

From the Top…

DaphneeThis being my 5th year at Reveille, I’ve grown accustomed to coming to the Music Center every summer to live in the Saint Michael’s dorms for a week.

This year is different. I’m not part of the younger crowd anymore. I’m a high school junior, so suddenly I’m a member of the older crowd…exactly like the older VYO musicians I used to look up to when I was younger! It’s quite strange being the older student…but I’ll admit that it’s pretty nice being at the top of the chain.

Another difference for me:  This is my first experience  as a VYO member without Mr. Peters being the Music Director. I’m not going to lie; it is weird. BUT… I’m getting used to our new conductor, Andrew Massey. I love his sense of the music. And, he is very funny! We work through all of the pieces very slowly, which can be a pain, but we have come a very long way since Monday, the beginning of camp. I always love playing with the new, younger players as they experience a new orchestra and new conductor. Ross Kelly's violin

For one of my electives, I’m taking a class called “Meet the Moderns” with our Composer-in-Residence, Rob Paterson. I didn’t know what to expect, but as the week has progressed, I am enjoying his different tastes in music and interpreting with us what we think is ‘Modern Music’. On Wednesday, he played some his own compositions and they were amazing! I especially loved the piece he wrote for his own wedding that featured six trumpets. The harmonies were fantastic and you could almost hear the church bells in the music. I am so looking forward to playing his music and to hearing more of his compositions.

Daphnee Vandal, violin

At Reveille! With Rob Paterson

For the next three years, I will be composer in residence with the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association. Although I live in New York City, I have lived all over the U.S. and even in Vermont for a few years a while back. It is wonderful to experience the musical side of Vermont once again, this time through the VYOA. I am having an incredible time.

My first week involves taking part in the Reveille! Music Festival. There are over a hundred and fifty musicians, and I am spending the week hanging out, getting to know everyone, listening to rehearsals, and teaching two classes: one entitled “Meet The Moderns”, where I play pieces I love written by mostly living composers, and anPaterson lecturing arms swideother entitled “Advanced Tonal Theory.”

On the first day of the Meet The Moderns class, I asked everyone what the term “modern music” means. When someone said Schoenberg, I was a little shocked. To help dispel the notion that twelve-tone composers define the word “modern” (keep in mind that Schoenberg died in 1951), I have been playing music by composers such as Luciano Berio, Morten Lauruden and Steve Reich, and I have a few other interesting, living composers planned for the rest of the week. I am putting together an iTunes playlist that contains most of the pieces I am presenting, in case anyone wants to download something they like.

Yesterday I played some of my music so everyone could hear what I compose. I thought this was a good idea, since VYOA is programming one of my orchestral pieces each year for the first two years, and I am being commissioned for a new piece for orchestra and choir for the 2011-12 season.

Today, some of the students brought in pieces they like, and it was an eye-opening experience. My only requirement was that they explain to everyone in the class why they like what they play. We heard everything from Joseph Schwantner‘s Velocities for solo marimba to Summa by Arvo Pärt, as well as music by Eluveitie and Bring Me The Horizon. It was incredibly eclectic. We will listen to more student chosen pieces tomorrow, and I will throw one or two more pieces into the mix as well.

It is not all just about class: yesterday everyone went to Oakledge Park. I think we all appreciated getting away from the campus for a few hours, and Lake Champlain was actually not too cold!

That’s it for now. I will write about Reveille! once more at the end of the festival. Stay tuned…

Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence

Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet The Composer.