School dreams. We all have them. There are numerous variations on the situation where you find yourself in class, and it’s test day and you haven’t reviewed any of the course material. The textbook is a fat volume of stories and you haven’t opened it all semester. And you’re naked.
I have been having an entirely new variation on the school dream. I am playing in an orchestra, and it’s concert time. I open my violin case, and my violin is just a pile of sticks. Or my bow has broken in half. This one actually has a small connection to something that happened to me in real life. I opened my case, and one of my bows had lost half its hair! Another time, I opened my case and discovered that I had bugs, and they had eaten away part of the tip of my bow (you could see the little bite-marks-gross!). I had to fumigate the case and get the bow repaired, which just happened a couple of weeks ago.
On an entirely different subject, I feel a brag coming on. I have been keeping a running tally of my finances lately, to show progress toward my goal of financial independence when I retire. My total of investments at my primary investment company, Vanguard, is now comfortably over a million dollars. About $650,000 is in my retirement accounts. I am now a “Flagship” investor at Vanguard, and am entitled to a free meeting with a financial advisor, which I intend to set up sometime in August. And in keeping track, I discovered that I have run out of digits on my little calculator! Frustrating, but in a good way.
Last weekend, we took our first drive of the season up to the Diablo Lake Overlook in the North Cascades. I have zillions of pictures of that area, but I always take my camera and get more. Here are a couple.
This is the Skagit River around the town of Rockport.
This is Lake Diablo. People for scale over on the left. The water is always that bright blue-green color, as it is glacier-fed. However, the temperature that day was about 85 at the overlook, and 92 at Newhalem, the town just where the road goes into the mountains.
That’s what we heard last night at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival’s second Winter Interlude concert at the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. They had programmed one of my very favorite pieces of chamber music, Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet in C Minor. From the very first note of the first movement, this piece is filled with passion and fire. We were carried away by last night’s performers: James Ehnes, Violin; Cynthia Phelps, Viola; Yegor Dyatchkov, Cello; and Anton Nel, Piano. They put their heart and soul into this performance, and the audience was very enthusiastic. I don’t have video of last night’s performance, but I have the next best thing. At the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (on Long Island, New York) in 2014, a group of excellent musicians played this piece, and they were just wonderful. Also, funny thing, three of those musicians also come to Seattle for the Seattle Chamber Music Summer Festival in July! Give a listen to this performance, with Gilles Vonsattel, Piano, Jennifer Frautschi, Violin, Cynthia Phelps, Viola, and Clive Greensmith, Cello. This is Passion Personified.
I have always admired my violin, which I bought from its maker in 1987, when it was nearly brand new. David VanZandt lives in Seattle, and every once in awhile I take my beautiful violin home to “Daddy” for him to touch up the varnish and do any needed adjustments. I found that, once I had my new Guadagnini-copy instrument, it made me a better player. It sounds so beautiful, my violin teacher said it sounded much like her 18th-century Italian instrument. It has a warm, brown varnish, and in the sunlight it just glows. It sounds more beautiful, and becomes more valuable every year. And it’s a work of art, in addition to being a musical instrument.
Looking back on my life, I’ve made many choices that I regret now. But there is one choice that I made in 1984 that I would do all over again in a heartbeat; re-starting playing the violin.
When I was a kid in the Seattle Public Schools in the 1950s, it was understood that when you reached fourth grade, you had to decide which instrument to play in the orchestra. I don’t remember how, but I decided to play the violin. So we rented me a violin, and I started group lessons at school. I did pretty well, too. A friend and I traded first chair back and forth for a school year (if you wanted to advance in the orchestra, you had to “challenge” the person ahead of you, and whoever “won” got the seat). At the end of the fifth grade, my parents took me to audition for the concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony, to see if I was good enough to warrant private lessons. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. He had a beautiful big house at the foot of Capitol Hill, and I was quaking in my boots while I played for him. He said that, yes, I should have private lessons, and he recommended a lady in the Second Violin section who lived near us.
I took weekly private lessons, and improved enough to get into the All-City Elementary Orchestra. I started at Stand 10, at the back of the Second Violins, and by the third week of rehearsals I had moved up to Stand 4 (right under the conductor’s nose). At school, I played in a string quartet, and we went around to the various classrooms and played for our classmates. I thought that was just the most fun and rewarding.
The one downer was that I really didn’t like me private teacher very much. I would normally go to her house for lessons, and she had an English Bulldog (named, of course, Ole Bull, who was a famous violinist) that really frightened me. Perhaps I should have mentioned my feelings to my parents, but I didn’t. So, after the sixth grade, I told them that I didn’t want to play the violin any more, and I quit.
The rest of my school years were spent enjoying music, but not playing. My parents had season tickets to the Seattle Symphony, and when my mother’s back was acting up, my Dad took me to concerts. I finished high school, went off to college and grad school playing only the stereo. I got married in 1973 to my college boyfriend who was a music lover but not musician, and we had our own Symphony season tickets. We had the best seats in the old Seattle Opera House, first row of the second balcony. I loved watching the players from above, and noted that my old private teacher was still there, outside second stand of Second Violins. I would often notice that I was “playing along” with the violinists, thinking about waving my arms and moving my fingers the right way. I thought it might be fun to learn to play again.
Nothing happened until May of 1984, when we went to my cousin’s wedding, at a nice resort on Puget Sound. There was a string quartet playing at the reception, and who should be playing first violin, but the (now former) concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony who heard me play when I was a kid! When they took a break, I made a point to say hello, and it turned out that he did remember me. I got to talking with their second violinist, and she seemed really nice. I had had a couple of drinks by then, and I remember thinking to myself, “If I don’t do it now, I may never do it”. I asked her if she gave lessons, and she said yes. I asked how she’d like an adult student, and she said she’d love it, as most of her students were kids.
So as soon as we got home, I went out and rented a violin, and made an appointment for a first lesson. That was, as they say, “the start of something big” in my life. I had to totally re-learn how to read music, and start at the very bottom. Rosemary complimented me on remembering how to hold the violin and bow, although I’d forgotten that if you want the bow to work you’ve got to put rosin on it! I made rapid progress, and by one year of lessons I had returned to where I left off, in the sixth grade. I played in a recital with her kid students, and that was actually fun. And Rosemary and I become friends, too. Both of our husbands were engineers, and we would have dinner together often.
The next big step happened in 1986, when my husband and I were returning to Seattle on the Kingston Ferry after a nice day trip. There was also a group of musicians on the boat, and they set up and played on the deck. We stood around and listened, and they seemed to be having a great time. Turned out they were going home from Midsummer Musical Retreat, an adult music camp held at Fort Worden in Port Townsend; they just didn’t want camp to end, so they played all the way home too! Someone handed me a brochure, which I showed to Rosemary at our next lesson. She told me that I absolutely HAD to go next summer, so I signed up. That first year at Midsummer Musical Retreat completed the new direction my life was taking. I played in two orchestras, for the first time in 25 years, and played chamber music too. I met a whole new group of people, played my fingers to the bone, had fun at skit night, and was recruited to play in two community orchestras.
I now had a hobby that was totally exhilarating. I got together a string quartet, and we were together for many years. I played in the two orchestras, ended up on the board of a new community music school, and made another new group of friends. After two years of Midsummer, I went to a new adult music camp that was only for chamber music, and that lasted for eight years. When the quartet broke up, I played in a piano trio with two of my friends, and we went to music camp together to work on our pieces.
I did, however, have a crisis of employment, because I was a hospital pharmacy technician, which required me to work rotating day and evening shifts. So I had to quit my job, and find something that would give me my evenings free for orchestra rehearsals (but that’s a whole other story). It took me a couple of years, but I did the career change.
So, that wedding in 1984 completely changed my life around. I was just perking along in one direction, and re-starting the violin moved my time line at right angles. Re-starting the violin was the best decision I’ve made in my adult life, and it’s one that will give me and my family and friends pleasure for a very long time. I play in a new orchestra now, and the picture below shows me in 2010, as part of the largest string orchestra playing one piece at once, setting a World Record.
And here I am, at Carnegie Hall, in 2006, with the Everett Symphony:
In my not-so-humble opinion, there is nothing better in life than to be able to say “I can make music”. You can too, if you want to. Just look for a community music school, and get started-you won’t regret it a bit.
I have always thought of myself as a “chamber music groupie”. I volunteered back stage at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival for many years, so I could meet the artists who performed there. I did get to meet many awesome musicians, and I am proud to call them friends. I’m no longer a volunteer, since the festival moved to a venue that has its own stage crew; but it’s a thrill when I meet my favorite people in the lobby, and they ask how we are doing.
So this summer I jumped at the opportunity to attend Curtis Summerfest, an adult chamber music and orchestra workshop at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, with my husband who plays the clarinet. We really were in the presence of greatness for four days (a truly working vacation). The workshop was held in Curtis’s new Lenfest Hall, which houses student dorms (for the first time, regular Curtis students have a place to stay on campus, instead of having to spend lots of money on the very expensive housing in Philadelphia); a cafeteria, practice rooms, student lounge, library, and Gould Rehearsal Hall. Hubby played in the Reading Orchestra and chamber music, while I just did the chamber music. People came from all over the country for the third Summerfest, and there were many who had been before and already knew each other.
The workshop started on a Thursday, with check-in in the afternoon, dinner, and reading orchestra in the evening. We discovered that we had a four-bedroom suite to ourselves, but it still felt like the college dorm with the extra-long twin beds! While Hubby was in orchestra, I took my book (and camera) out to the beautiful fifth-floor terrace and enjoyed the skyline and beautiful flowers. After his rehearsal, we took a long walk around downtown Philly, which is eminently walkable.
The next two days were filled to the brim with chamber music coaching sessions, practice in the chamber groups, and orchestra rehearsals. My group consisted of three violinists, and one switch-hitter who played piano and flute (not at the same time!). The original piece we had been going to play just turned out to be way too complicated, so we practiced, and were coached on, our “backup” piece (a Telemann concerto for four violins, with flute taking one of the violin parts). Now comes the “greatness” part. The co-Director of Summerfest was Mimi Stillman, an awesome flutist, and youngest flute player ever admitted to Curtis-when she was 12! She coached our group once, and everyone got something to work on. Besides, she is just a delightful lady, and smiles were seen all around. One afternoon, one of our violinists had to be absent, so we had a “ringer” sit in with us for our practice time. Antony Verner proved to be a high-class substitute, and really added to our knowledge of our piece. Our other coaches were Amy Sue Barston, cellist, Soovin Kim, violinist; and Ashley Hsu, pianist (Curtis student). Everyone in my group just loved all of our coaches, and we worked very diligently to improve our own playing, and the group dynamics. We all slept well every night, since we were so exhausted, but exhilarated at the end of a busy day.
In my group, I was the only resident, as the other three lived within driving/commuting distance; I appreciated the evening time to wind down from a strenuous day, and I got in a fair amount of exercise traipsing around Center City (the local term for downtown Philadelphia). There was an outdoor juried art show going on in Rittenhouse Square Park, and I noticed more than one painter was showing “still life with violin” paintings! Maybe the Curtis spirit is felt all around.
Saturday night, the Reading Orchestra gave their performance, of the Overture to the Barber of Seville; a movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K491 with Amy Yang, piano; and two movements of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. For a group that only had a few rehearsals, they did well, and were loudly applauded by the welcoming audience of friends and family. Another offering was a bunch of “piano four hands” groups, and it was fun watching and listening to two people playing at the same piano!
Sunday morning and afternoon, the chamber groups gave their performances. Every group played their very best, and were warmly welcomed. There were a wide variety of groups, from dueling violas, piano trios, a mixed wind/strings group (Hubby’s group), string quartets, and our 3 violins plus flute. We were all proud to play for our new-found friends.
After all the performances were done, there was a reception out on the rooftop deck, where everyone could relax and enjoy the feeling of a job well done, and gorgeous music played. As I have mentioned in my previous blog post from 2012, Curtis Institute of Music is a truly magical place, and we all felt like we had spent three days in the presence of greatness. Musicians such as the Guarneri String Quartet, Gary Graffman, pianist (also head of Curtis for many years); Ida Kavafian, violinist, and Rudolf Serkin, pianist (also head of Curtis) all got their start or made their names at Curtis. Not for nothing is Curtis the world’s premier music conservatory. It is awe-inspiring to get a taste of greatness there, and hope maybe some of it will rub off on you. [See more Summerfest photos on the My Photos page]
Last night, Hubby and I went to the Seattle Chamber Music Festival Winter Interlude concert at Benaroya Hall. On the program were Dvorak Slavonic Dances for piano four hands, played delightfully by Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky (who are married in real life). The second half of the program was as described above, Simply Sublime Brahms, the String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36. The players were Amy Schwartz Moretti and Arnaud Sussman, violins; Roberto Diaz and Richard O’Neill, violas; and Robert DeMaine and Andres Diaz, cellos. The audience was just transported by the soaring, uplifting music. This has always been one of my very favorite pieces, and I bought the music so I could try it myself at home. This performance was one of the best I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, I don’t have video of this performance, but I searched YouTube, and came up with this one, which is very nice.
Listen here to the first movement. Sublime?
I’m about to head out to play the complete (yes, all three parts) Messiah with a church in Seattle. This particular selection is my favorite. I found this very nice rendition on YouTube. Singer is great, and tempo just about perfect. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Hey, all you adult amateurs with the old instrument in the closet-get it out and come play with the Music Hall Community Orchestra. No auditions, everyone welcome! We rehearse on Tuesdays from 6-8PM in the OLD theater in the Everett Mall (take a left when coming out the south door of Macy’s into the mall). The orchestra is sponsored by the Snohomish County Music Project, and we have access to the Everett Symphony music library. In the past, we have played music from the Harry Potter movies, music from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, Handel’s Water Music, and much more. It’s all great fun, so come and play with us! We will be doing some reading sessions this summer, and we need everyone! We need all winds, brass, and strings. Please reply to this post if you are interested.