Shortly after I got into San Jose Symphony (RIP) I became music librarian, and I also worked in the box office for a time. At one point the organization’s offices moved to the basement of the building pictured here. It was a windowless and rather dreary place, but I did love some of my colleagues there.

Today the building is being demolished. Some group tried to stop it, saying that it was part of the “Brutalist Period” or some such thing. They lost. So down it goes. I can’t say I’m sorry. It’s not exactly a gorgeous thing. But seeing it and thinking about those days I did have a flood of memories come pouring back, and I wonder where some of the people are that worked there way back when. I lost touch with nearly everyone.

(These photos are a bit crooked but I’m lazy and so they will just remain crooked!)

I forgot that I said I would fill you in on the changes …

We have new chairs.
We have new stands.
We have new sound shields.
AND WE HAVE A NEW NAME!

I’m delighted to say we are now Symphony San Jose. (I hope they change the website soon.)

I am not a huge fan of reviews, but yes, I do check them out. Usually my heart starts pounding as I read, fearing I’ll be mentioned in a negative way. This time I can rest easy.

From Paul Hertelendy:

The beloved hit number here is the slow movement with the spiritual-like theme (later in a vocal adaptation dubbed “Goin’ Home”), rendered with exquisite poise by English hornist Patricia E. Mitchell.

And on San Francisco Classical Voice, from David Bratman:

Patricia Emerson Mitchell’s English horn solo here, vibrato-filled and emotional, was a highlight.

… and I’m honored. Truly. Thank you both.

But of course if I accept these positive and kind words, I must also accept the negative. And the ONE review I have by memory, from 1975 or 76 is this: “The Overture was marred only by the bland English horn playing.” (She was right: I had water in a key so I had to play Berlioz Roman Carnival’s English horn solo softly and not do ANYTHING with dynamics, for fear of a huge wrong note coming out. The water had completely covered the key hole and it was as if it wasn’t opening!) I don’t remember any positive reviews. Only the bad stick in my head. I know another negative one, but don’t have it by memory: we were doing Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela and I really just couldn’t grasp the work at my young age. The reviewer wrote something like “even Patricia Mitchell wasn’t at her best” or some such thing. (He was right.)

But anyway, being back on stage was frightening for the first night’s rehearsal, but after that I felt as if I managed to find my sea legs (or I guess stage legs!) and things fell into place. The English horn felt like “mine” again … as if it was part of my body. That’s what I want. And I could do things with dynamics that I love to do.

I had mentioned somewhere (Here? I can’t remember!) that I would write about the kind words I received after rehearsals and concerts, so now I’ll ‘fess up.

First rehearsal: Some folks complimented me. I didn’t deserve it. I played “okay”, but it wasn’t really me. Not even close. So I worried. The next day I spent in a bad place as I fretted over what I felt was very under par playing.
Second rehearsal: Ahhhh … felt so much better. Compliments accepted BUT … well … I always have a “but” … if they complimented me on the first night when things weren’t good, perhaps things weren’t as good as I think for this second night?! Hm. Still, it did feel better. BUT because I was complimented fear set in: what if I disappoint these friends who had kind words for me? What if this was the only night I was happy with things? What if I do something absolutely horrendous at a performance and am entirely humiliated? (Yeah, I honestly go through all of this … it’s kind of a lose-lose situation I put myself into sometimes!)
Dress rehearsal: I played 22 notes. There was no time for more. It felt fine, but I didn’t really have a chance to figure out if it was what I wanted to do.
1st Concert: Felt great. Played as I like to play. But was it just my imagination? I received very kind compliments. OH DEAR! What if I disappoint everyone tomorrow? (Can you believe I do this to myself? One friend who used to play with us got it … she used to always come up ONLY after the final performance, because she completely understood my neurosis!)
2nd Concert: Felt even better. But again, insecure and ridiculous me wonders if I only imagined it. But I trashed those thoughts. I was happy with my playing and I know I have to hang on to that!

Yes. That is how crazy I am! I may as well be up front about it. I’ve been this way forever. There is just this constant inner conflict between the “I think I’m pretty good!” and “I’m a sham!” It’s always been that way, so I doubt it will change.

What HAS changed is that I can tell the negative voice to shut up. It still sticks around, but at least I talk back to it now. I think that’s what many of us have to do — I don’t believe I’m the only one who struggles with this. We have to acknowledge the negative voice. We have to accept that it is going to show up. But we can yell at it. We can tell ourselves that that voice is, very often, a lie. We can tell ourselves, when it’s true anyway, that we DID do a good job. And then we can go on. No matter what, we have to go on. There are more concerts to be played!

We had our two Symphony Silicon Valley concerts this past weekend. They were outdoors, so I wasn’t as apprehensive about playing them, but I must admit I was quite surprised at the number of unmasked audience members. Of course it was outdoors, and odds are it was safe, but it still just was jarring to see nearly 3,000 people and so many with no mask.

After the second concert two students came down front to say hi. It’s been ages since any of my students have come to one of my concerts, so I was quite pleased. One even brought me flowers! What a surprise that was, and I was able, then, to send a thank-you card made using one of my flower photographs. (If you haven’t visited my photography site please do go enjoy some flowers there.) I’m always quite diligent in sending thank-you notes to students. Many are very good at saying (and writing) thank-you, but not all. So I teach more than just oboe sometimes. (When did sending thank-you notes … or even saying a simple thank you … go out of style, I wonder?)

Next up is our opening set for our regular season. I play very few notes, but every one of those notes will be heard: we are doing Dvorak’s New World Symphony and I play the English horn for that. I honestly can’t remember when I last played a symphony concert on which I had a big solo.

And yes, I get nervous.

19. August 2021 · Comments Off on Devastating Fire · Categories: Ramble

A friend and colleague, along with her husband, lost their home and nearly everything in it in the horrendous Bear River fire. I can’t even imagine dealing with that. They are now living in a motel.

If you can help, click this go fund me link. I know every little bit will help!

Well, for me it’s been since my last opera on March 1, 2020. How ’bout you? I haven’t played with any colleagues since then. I’ve played with a few students, but even that has been rare, and we are now back to Zoom only, so no more of that for now. If things go as planned I’ll be back to work next week. Will it really happen? I do wonder, due to the Delta variant.

Meanwhile, I listen to a ton of music. Some of my friends said they haven’t been able to — that it makes them cry. I don’t react that way. Music still feeds my soul!

Maybe because people like this are just so darn good … and what a fabulous work!

Akropolis: Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott

From the YouTube Page:

0:00 I. Ghosts of Black Bottom
8:34 II. Hastings Street Blues
15:53 III. Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani (Spirits, Rest Peacefully)
20:24 IV. Paradise Theater Jump!

Homage to Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott can be heard alongside the original poetry of Detroiter Marsha Music on Akropolis’ 4th album, Ghost Light, here: https://akropolisquintet.org/ghostlight/

Homage to Paradise Valley was commissioned by Akropolis and Chamber Music America, made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2019).

About Homage to Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott:
The historical content of these notes by the composer is provided courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society (detroithistorical.org) where one can find a wealth of information on Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. Poetry by Marsha Music—a lifelong resident of Detroit whose father, Joe Von Battle, was a record producer for Aretha Franklin and owned Joe’s Records, central to the Black Bottom community—was commissioned by Akropolis in 2020 to create poetry to accompany Jeff’s music.

Black Bottom was a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. In the early 20th century, African-American residents became concentrated here during the first wave of the Great Migration to northern industrial cities. Informal segregation operated in the city kept them in this area of older, less expensive housing. Black Bottom/Paradise Valley became known for its African-American residents’ significant contributions to American music, including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz, from the 1930s to 1950s. Black Bottom was eventually razed and redeveloped for various urban renewal projects, driving the residents out. By the 1960s the neighborhood ceased to exist.

Hastings Street ran north-south through Black Bottom and had been a center of Eastern European Jewish settlement before World War I, but by the 1950s, migration transformed the strip into one of Detroit’s major African-American communities of black-owned businesses, social institutions, and nightclubs.

From the Bantu language of Swahili, “Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani” (Spirits, Rest Peacefully) is a lullaby, my humble offering to the many souls who came before me and persevered through the middle passage, decades of slavery, disenfranchising laws, and inequality. I am who I am because of those who stood before me. May their spirits rest peacefully.

Orchestra Hall closed in 1939, but reopened in 1941 as the Paradise Theater. For 10 years it would then offer the best of African-American musicians from around the country. “Paradise Theater Jump!” is dedicated to the famed theater and harkens to the up-tempo style of “jump blues,” usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments.

This video was filmed in 2019 at Central Michigan University. The exclusive Web Premiere of this video was given during the summer of 2020 at Akropolis’ Club Paradise Virtual Soirée, which honored these neighborhoods and their cultural legacy. Read more here

I recognize a few faces here!

Celebrating a very historic day!

27. December 2020 · Comments Off on Yes, I’m still Teaching! · Categories: Ramble

My studio has a couple of openings. If you are interested in Zoom lessons, feel free to contact me. I’d love to add just a few more to the studio, and these days you don’t even have to live near me to have lessons!

03. November 2020 · Comments Off on VOTE! · Categories: Ramble

02. September 2020 · Comments Off on That Measure Matters · Categories: Ramble

I have no idea how many times I’ve heard “I always make that mistake!” Students say it frequently. Truth is, I have even been known to say it. There’s one measure in Cosi fan tutte that troubles me every time I’ve played the opera. ONE measure. EVERY time. One measure out of a nearly three hour opera. Four seconds of music. It’s tricky for me. But I’m required to play it well. I can’t tell the conductor (and audience), “Oh, sorry, but I make that mistake every time!”

So what should one do about it?

Um … easy-peasy: FIX IT!

Fix it so you can’t get it wrong.

That measure is as important as all the other measures in the work.

Saying, “I always make that mistake” seems to give some students (and even me) some sort of permission to mess up. That needs to stop.

I teach my students to isolate the problem. Stop starting from the beginning of the piece. There is no commandment that says, “Thou shalt always start from the beginning.” Go directly to that measure. Spend five-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty-three minutes with it. (Yes, I make up goofy numbers like that.) Don’t stop until you can play it perfectly five times IN A ROW. Then make sure you can do the “five times in a row” rule for four DAYS IN A ROW. Make it ten times in a row for a week if you really want to know you’ve probably got it right. Make it a month if necessary. After you have fixed it you should then work on connecting it to the preceding and following measures. Add a measure (or even just a few notes if necessary) one at a time so you know you have it figured out: sometimes it’s the getting there that makes a measure more tricky, after all, and sometimes the following measure causes us to slip up for some reason. Think of each measure as a link in a chain. Make sure that all those links are strong but then make sure they are fully connected so that chain won’t break.

But the point I’m trying to make here:

That measure matters!

Do the rest of the measures in the piece matter?

Yes. Of course they do. That’s a silly question. And a distraction. If a student responded to my “isolate the problem and fix it” with “but the other measures …” I’d probably sigh and explain it all again. That difficult measure has to be fixed in order for the piece to be correct. That measure has to get more attention. Period.

Hm. I wonder if we can connect this to any other issues that are happening at the moment.