From PBS NewsHour:


I have grown quite weary of the “calming classical* music” or the “music to help you fall asleep” stuff. I also grow weary of the “It’ll make you smarter” thoughts. I much prefer people have a yearning to hear the music. And I’ve always hated the places that play classical music to discourage people from lingering.

*I use lower case “classical” to refer to all the music in our symphonic/opera/concert hall (etc.) world.

And then there’s this:

People have sent this my way. It’s made its rounds on Facebook. And something about it troubled me immediately, but I didn’t want to go all Negative Nellie on people so I just thanked them. But now I read a comment on one of the Facebook pages that explains my discomfort:

I aggressively disagree. Generally speaking, art and music are not mere ‘decorations’, but expressions of human points of view that are worth listening to. Art, literature and music can teach us great things that we would not otherwise see, not just a way to fill up space and time.

—Vernon Garcia Rivas

Again … thoughts?

So … to more of my little 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.

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.

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!

It’s a nice way to begin a morning, I think. And a new month, as well!

Igor Stravinsky: Pulcinella • Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra

From the YouTube page (I love it when all the musicians are listed!)

October 28, 2018
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica

Benjamin Hoffman – principal
Jimin Lee
Kako Miura
Gabriel Maffuz-Anker
Zachary Brandon

Chiai Tajima – principal
Evan Johanson
April Paik
Wynton Grant
Alex Granger

Leo Plashinov – principal
Alice Ping
Marissa Winship

Juliette Herlin – principal
Mia Barcia-Colombo
Javier Iglesias Martin

Daniel Carson – principal
Sam Shuhan

Doug DeVries – principal
Emma McCartney

Robert Walker – principal
Laura Arganbright

Ryan Wilkins – principal
Lieza Hansen

Rachel Nierenberg – principal
Ian Petruzzi

Jonah Levy

Connor Rowe

Gabrielle Castriotta, at UCSB, has some excellent advice. Please read it.

If you are an instructor and would like to add to her thoughts please feel free to comment.

Next week I have a Symphony Silicon Valley concert. I will be stepping up to play principal so I am preparing for the change of hats. (Don’t worry, our regular principal oboist, Pamela Hakl, will be back!)

Yes, playing first oboe is quite different to playing second. In some ways there is a bit of a freedom: I won’t be thinking about playing under the principal which can sometimes cause issues with attacks as I try not to be too loud. But of course there’s the stress of being in the hot seat.

I prepare in many ways. I of course practice my part. I listen to a variety of recordings. I make sure I know what’s going on in other sections and especially make sure I practice the solos and tricky bits. (I mark anything technically difficult with an X, either over the passage or to the side of that line of music.) I also play through the entire concert — even the easy whole notes and loud bits — so I make sure my mouth is strong enough to get through the works.

This is a taxing concert. I don’t have huge solos, but I play a lot in the Dvorak eighth symphony. I play enough that I worry about getting through it. When I watched a video on MediciTV (a great source! And no, I don’t get any perks by recommending them here.) I noticed that that particular orchestra used an assistant principal oboe. I have played that part as well in the past. I sure could use that myself, but wasn’t offered that option and didn’t think to ask.

We are also doing the second piano concerto by Brahms. What a gorgeous work.

Here is Jon Kimura Parker (our soloist) talking about the work (2011 YouTube video):

That slow movement he talks about, and the incredible cello solo, is something I’m very much looking forward to hearing, played by our wonderful principal cellist, Evan Kahn. And yes, the horn (“The horn, the horn, awakes me at morn!” Anyone remember that?) has a very important role at the very beginning and more later, so it will be a delight to hear Meredith Brown play as well!

But then it’s a pleasure and honor to hear all of the musicians of Symphony Silicon Valley play. I hope you can be there!

21. December 2018 · Comments Off on Hah! · Categories: Ramble

… I love what he does with the oboes!

Ronnal Ford Orchestra
Arabian Dance by Tchaikovsky

03. December 2018 · Comments Off on Who Will It Be? · Categories: Conductors, Ramble, San Francisco Symphony

I’ve read that on Wednesday, late afternoon, the San Francisco Symphony will announce who will fill MTT’s shoes. I haven’t a clue who is on the shortlist. I do know some names of conductors who have recently been there and I suppose it might well be one of them.

Here are some of the guest conductors I saw or found on the SFS site from recent concerts: Semyon Bychkov, Stéphane Denève, Daniel Harding, Pablo Heras-Casado, Jakub Hrusa, Manfred Honeck, Christian M?celaru, Susanna Mälkki, David Robertson, François-Xavier Roth, Krzysztof Urbanski, Osmo Vänskä, Simone Young, and Jaap van Zweden.

Obviously some of those couldn’t be in the running due to their current positions, some, I would think, have never been in the running, and I am certain some other names could be added. But maybe someone on the above list …? I was impressed with Heras-Casado, Mälkki, and Urbanski when we attended concerts.

But what do I know?

Nothing until tomorrow around 5:45 PM!

Composer and arranger George Roumanis passed away at age 89. Roumanis began his career as a jazz bassist and arranger, working with luminaries such as Louie Armstrong, Johnny Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Severinsen and Bud Shank. Over the course of five decades, he composed and arranged dozens of popular jingles as well as four albums for Decca Records. His prolific TV scoring includes “Mission Impossible,” “Medical Center,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” and “Star Trek: Next Generation.” Roumanis was also a composer of concert music and opera. His first guitar concerto was performed by Tommy Tedesco and the Los Angeles Studio Orchestra and his opera, “Phaedra,” was performed by Opera San Jose and broadcast on PBS. George was thrilled when his opera became part of the Oxford University Archives.

Yes, I played when Opera San Jose did the video of Phaedra. That was long ago and I must confess I don’t remember the music well.