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 concertmaster, 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.
And 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)