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Time to post more, because yesterday a student came in and was clearly in bad shape. I emailed later to see what was up and, sure enough, he’s rather devastated by the treatment he is continuing to receive in his youth orchestra. I told him it was time (and really it’s past time) for him to GET OUT of there. It is doing him no good. His playing suffers. His confidence suffers. His well being suffers.

And I’m fed up.

So … to my story. I have now moved on to college. I auditioned for the band and orchestra conductor (yes, he did both) and he said, “You know you have to play in both so you’ll have to rearrange your entire class schedule.” I didn’t argue. One never argues with a conductor, right? So yes, I changed everything to accommodate him. Besides, he seemed like a genius to little old me.

Turned out, though, that he was a bit of a sexist guy. Much of the time I was seated second to a young man. Mind you, he was a fine player, but we were actually equals for the most part. But not to this conductor. Still, I learned a lot from him and he wasn’t abusive although he was frightening. He made sure he had an air about him that made him special and nearly unapproachable.

Meanwhile, I won a position in a local symphony orchestra in my sophomore year. Doing so, in fact, came back to haunt the “You have to play in both groups” conductor: by the end of my sophomore year I’d fulfilled my performing obligations and I dropped at least one of those groups for the rest of college. The symphony orchestra I joined had a conductor who was notorious for temper tantrums and abuse and yes, I witnessed all of that. I also witnessed a “You’re very happily married aren’t you?” moment with him. (I married Dan in my sophomore year.) My “Yes,” response apparently gave him permission to try and kiss me. Go figure. I cried and he backed off. After that we had, for the most part, a decent relationship considering his issues. He liked my playing, and I learned a ton about expressive playing. He picked a lot of music that featured English horn, which was my position. I loved his conducting as it was just so amazingly musical and there were unbelievably amazing moments. And unbelievably miserable ones too.

He liked me.

Until he didn’t.

When he decided to hate me he hated with a vengeance. It was painful but it was also a good lesson for me. I had colleagues who had forever dealt with his abuses and only when he started to go after me did I learn to truly sympathize and admire them for their tenacity throughout his abuse.

But of course this last conductor was someone I dealt with as an adult. And an adult CAN, if necessary, leave. Students have a harder time with that, as my dear student is demonstrating.

So let me repeat to those in youth groups: if you are not getting encouragement, if you are not feeling as if you are accomplishing something, if you only feel berated by a conductor of a youth symphony. GET OUT. The only way these abusers of power will get the picture (or get fired) is if students and parents say, “Enough is enough.”

I’ll stop here. But I may write more about youth orchestra conductors at a later time. I’m so angry about this particular (unnamed) individual that I think I might have to revisit the topic.

I just learned that the composer Dominick Argento died yesterday. I’ll never forget doing his Water Bird Talk with the incredible Robert Orth and San Jose Chamber Orchestra.

Thomas Dorsey: Precious Lord
Seraphic Fire; Reggie Mobley, Countertenor

Kenneth Jennings: The Lord is the Everlasting God
St. Olaf Choir; Anton Armstrong, Conductor

Opera San José has announced next year’s season. Here are the operas and conductors:

Die Fledermaus, conducted by Michael Morgan (They say it’s his debut with us, but that’s incorrect: he did Barber of Seville. I think that was the November 2006 production.)

Hansel & Gretel, conducted by Joseph Marcheso

Il Trovatore, conducted by Joseph Marcheso

The Magic Flute, conducted by Donato Cabrera

This is part two of my short little series. At this point in my writing I am in high school.

I had been warned that the band director in high school was scary. I heard that he yelled a lot. I heard, as well, that he was very good and we had a very highly ranked group.

Those things were all true. We had three bands (A, B, and C). Everyone, of course, yearned to get into “A band”. We played a lot of orchestral transcriptions. We played some pretty good music. I learned a lot.

That director said horrible things to people. One example: a flutist was being yelled at so she started to cry. He then called her a baby and would occasionally look over and say, “Diapers, diapers, diapers,” and she’d cry some more. Yes. Really. Amazingly she never quit. One of the boys who was a bit of a prankster a very fun kid in junior high had some sort of encounter with the director while he was a freshman and the last I saw of him near the band room he was crying. He never returned. The director took a boy by the collar and held him up against the wall. All four years he yelled and screamed. No parents stopped him. I think everyone thought he was just the artistic sort and, thus, behaved like a true artist. He was just an awful man.

And yet … he gave us all music lessons after school. He stayed late into the day so we could hang out and practice. He joked around with students.

And I was teacher’s pet.

So I was “safe”, while others were abused, and I don’t believe I fully understood just how horrendously they were treated.

Toward the end of the year we always held a surprise party for the director. We’d arrive early, getting someone to open the band room door for us, decorate the room, and have a lot of food and the smelly cheese he loved. We’d buy him a gift. It was called “[insert the director’s last name here} Day.”

So we loved our abuser. As so many do.

I also played (sporadically) in a youth orchestra. The director there was a bit of a screamer too, but no one seemed to take him too seriously. I just thought he was weird. One day, at a music camp, I was eating a snack. If I remember correctly I offered something to some friends and he wondered why I didn’t offer anything to him. So I offered the snack to him as well. He pinched my cheek and said he just wanted to see if I would sacrifice for him. Go figure. Powerful men … they love to know these things I guess. They play their games. We accept it. Or we did.

On the positive side, I did have a good private instructor (Hi, Bob Hubbard!) during high school. He was recommended by the band director, but was in no way like him. He was fun, helpful, informative, and I even practiced for him at times! (I was a very good faker back then, so I did get away with a lot.) Then, in my senior year, I also played in Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. Bill Whitson was the director. He was wonderful. I credit him and that group, along with my private teacher, with my going into music.

So my high school years were full of joy of making music, but also full of yelling and screaming. The high school band director did continue to treat me well until I got into college and … horrors! … had a boyfriend. Then it was all over.

I’ll write about my college years soon. But now I’m weary.

But not, perhaps, the one you expect. Here is Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Oboe & Piano, played beautifully by Robert Walker (oboe) and Irene Kim (piano). Do you hear snippets that remind you of Robert Schumann’s work?

I have hesitated writing more about this topic, but I’ve decided I’m going to write a bit of my own story, starting from the beginning of my music making. Some of this is good, some is not so good, and some is simply horrible. Some I knew was horrible, but sometimes I was just so accepting that I thought the way a conductor treated musicians was normal and even necessary.

But let me start at the beginning.

I began my instrumental music making in elementary school, taking piano lessons every other week, sharing the early morning Saturday spot with my sister. (Prior to that, and after as well, I sang in school and church choirs. Singing was always a big deal with my family: “Happy Birthday” was sung in four part harmony at our house!) I don’t really remember much about my teacher Miss Penner, other than that she was old, kept a tissue in her sleeve (which I assumed that all OLD people did, she was nice, and she was single which was unusual in that day. Funny … odds are she was younger than I am now!), and I liked earning points so I could go into her other room to choose a prize. I played a few recitals, and I think I was nervous, but I really don’t remember. I know I didn’t learn any music theory and didn’t have a clue how a major scale was created, I just knew the fingering … 1,2,3,1,2,3,4,5 or 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 or some such thing. I had good rhythm. I knew when I played a wrong note and if I didn’t my mom would yell out “Wrong note!” (She did this with flute and oboe as well) I did fine, but wasn’t stellar. But Miss Penner was kind. I never saw her get angry. Not even once.

I started flute before beginning oboe. Mr. Kucera (sp?) went from school to school to teach us. He was a kind man. He walked with a cane and I thought he, too, was very very old. (But weren’t ALL teachers old?) I was fearful when we had to read all the notes out loud for some reason. It might be that I was too introverted and speaking out loud caused great anxiety. But he was nice. I did fine, but I suspect not as fine as my older sister who also played. After sixth grade my parents suggested oboe and I said, “Sure, what is that?”

Oboe was me. Oboe fit my idea of sound. The instrument worked with my somewhat larger hands. I loved it. I hated it. Well, mostly I hated the reeds! Immediately after moving to oboe I took music summer school and the director there was an oboist so he helped me a wee bit. Then I had a teacher come to my house for a year or so. Mrs. Kruse set me on the right path. She worked on my reeds. She was kind. She moved to Pleasanton and soon had a child on the way. (Funny: I thought she, too, was OLD. Now I realize she was certainly not old. She was just starting her family!) We drove to Pleasanton for lessons. She continued her kind ways. She rescued me many a time with reeds she would make for me. She never grew angry with me, even while I’m sure she knew when I hadn’t practiced.

While I took lessons from Mrs. Kruse, I moved on to a new piano teacher. She doesn’t need to be named. She was cold. She was certainly a better teacher, but she wasn’t someone I connected to. At that point, in junior high, my band director suggested I play the Grieg Piano Concerto with the orchestra (first movement only). I had been studying it with the piano teacher. In the key of A minor. As it was written. I still knew nothing about music theory. I mean NOTHING. So I didn’t understand why the simplified version I was playing with the school was different, but it was. I’m guessing it was a key that someone decided was better for the students. I honestly don’t know. What I DO know is that I started the opening piano solo in one key and when I got to the bottom of that opening I was in another key world, because I’d reverted to what I knew. The rest of the performance was a mess. SO much of a mess that my band director (Mr. “T”, a very kind man) told me years later he immediately erased the recording.

I walked off the stage and when my mother came to get me I said, “I’m quitting piano.” She agreed. My cold piano teacher saw me again (I don’t know why I returned) and she said, “I hear your concert didn’t go as you planned.” No words of comfort. Nothing. Just a cold cold comment. And that was it for piano.

High school was next. And that’s when things changed. Stay tuned … I’ll probably continue this tomorrow. Right now my hands are tired!

The Solid Rock, arr by Lyle Stutzman
The 17