Monday, July 16, 2007

Postlude and Coda


It is now a little more than a week since the last concert of the Summer Tour, so all the sounds have faded to silence, replaced by new sounds of the moment; wind, rain, thunder, people, water. Music is so ephemeral. So much concentration and awareness and work and striving goes into making it, and then, at the very moment when the applause of appreciation breaks out, what is left? Nothing, but memories and reflections. And the continuing appeal of music is precisely because memories are so weak and ineffectual compared to the real thing. If we could recall it, conjuring memories that have the same passionate intensity as the actual music in the moment, there would be no need for future concerts.

Recordings are elaborate graspings at straws. The reality is more like the Buddhist sand paintings. So much effort and detailed work to produce elaborate beauty, in the full knowledge that it will all be swept away, nothing left. It's good to accept it that way, since in the end it is true of all life. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" as Prospero has it.

But there are the memories, and persisting mementos. For instance, through the generosity of the wonderful players of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra I now have a biography of a Florentine Goldsmith, a small metal angel, a fantastic dish, several eaten passion-fruit (so ugly inside) and a very large assortment of slightly misnamed pasta, which I have already merrily embarked upon eating.

What a pleasant life it was! A leisurely breakfast carefully timed to be just before check-out time, then a drive through wonderful scenery - very rich and healthy looking this year after so much rain in early spring - arrive at a new, highly individual, location. Then check in, check out the concert site, take a compulsory snooze, (such a crucial professional responsibility) try to remember how the music goes, get dressed, and go to the concert. Crack a few jokes, conduct a really wonderful orchestra, then dash out round the tent to watch the end of the fireworks. A little bit of chat, maybe a glass of wine - off to bed and repeat nine more times.

We were lucky with the weather for the most part. It was a shame to lose the chance to play outdoors on the fourth of July, and for the last concert in Stowe, but some brave brave souls outdid the weather for the sake of art at Three Stallion Inn in Randolph, and things were almost too perfect in Quechee, Grafton, Manchester, and Chittenden. Vermont seems to be in a different climatic zone from the rest of the US at the moment, but a little chill in the air was a small price to pay for being spared the oppressive heat of other places.

This whole thing was such a great time for me, and I am so glad I had the chance to be a part of it all. So I sign off from this sequence of blogging by thanking all concerned - audience, musicians, management, sponsors, for letting me have such a terrific time right here in my home state.

AJM Keep reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One man's vision

On the road with the VSO.

Cruising by the fields and meadows.

And soaking up Vermont's natural inspiration.

One natural wonder at a time.



...before the bear.

Practice, practice, practice...ok, maybe a dip, too.

Pre-concert shenanigans.

Our view of you.

photos by Tom Bergeron, trumpet Keep reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Stowe Concert Indoors at Jackson Arena

Stop Press!

The concert this evening, July 8th, 2007 will be indoors at the Jackson Arena in Stowe, at 7:30 pm. It is really easy to find. Here it is:

If you are on 100 in the middle of Stowe, turn south onto Park Street. I've put a little star on the map at the junction of Park and Main. There is an actual street sign there, as well as the one saying "Park Street", that says "Jackson Arena", with a handy little arrow.

Go down Park Street until it ends at Park Place. Turn left, and bear right past the Elementary School, and you will find yourself up the hill at Jackson Arena. Voila!!

AJM Keep reading!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tour-ent of praise

Jeff and I down-sized out of the backwoods of Benson a couple of years agoto the relative suburban town of Leicester, just north of Brandon. We now enjoy a paved driveway connected to a paved town road on which we have a modest amount of actual traffic, and the occasional appearance of a State Police car driving by - very comforting. We aren't quite sure why we have seen more wildlife in our backyard this past year than ever before in our 25 years together in Vermont. Cellist Billy Dollard would tell you it's because a nearby area named (for reasons lost to history) "Satan's Kingdom" appears in the Vermont Atlas. (Well, when it comes to local taxes, it does seem as though there is the devil to pay.)
Since late winter we have seen turkeys and an enormous variety of birds at our feeders, as well as a Canadian geese family that is annually renewed in a pond across the street and occasionally stops in for a day at the beach in our backyard pond. This is the perfect arrangement - all the Disney charm of growing goslings without the heavy deposit of calling cards. In contrast to the military precision with which the line of geese walk and swim, we enjoyed one brief visit from a Wood duck and her seven tiny ducklings, which tore around the pond with no apparent regard to direction or personal safety.
The bird feeders also attracted a beautiful black bear, which proceeded to make off into the woods with some very expensive Duncraft items. To thwart that habit, I put feeders on the little outdoor porch of the upstairs guest bedroom. Enter the raccoon. Now those feeders come in every night, but after dark our skunk makes sure to clean up the fallen seed below. If you have the luxury of living in a place with a wide variety of birds, you can understand why keeping their gorgeous plumage and lovely song close at hand is worth all the fuss. Our latest visitor is a gorgeous gray fox, with a luxuriantly bushy silver tail that accounts for at least one-third of its graceful presence. We're not quite sure why we are blessed with all this wildlife less than two miles from Route 7, but it's a lovely thing. In this environment I climb the stairs to that guest bedroom to practice violin. The one thing that all professional musicians share is the finely-honed skill of self-criticism. We've all spent so many hours alone in a room critiquing our abilities and progress or lack thereof with a clinical eye, and the best at that end up being some of our most able musicians or at worst are driven to quit. The reward for all this solitary angst is playing with other musicians who have paid the same dues and have shared experiences unique to our field. It's rather like the camaraderie of a somewhat elite military unit which has been put in harm's way and come out all in one piece with battle stories to tell - but survival is usually guaranteed and physical conditioning is not part of the requirements (unless you count the ability of arms making countless bow strokes without tiring or lips and facial muscles doing some very unnatural things for extended periods - musical things, I mean.)
The greatest reward, though, is to come together under the baton of a conductor who not only knows what his job is but has all the many skills the job requires. Once we've practiced our individual parts, it's up to the conductor to put them all together in a way that makes the sum of the parts greater than the whole. Under the right baton, there is a synergy that develops as each individual gives up part of his or her personal control to the conductor, trusting that one person to apply just the right kind and amount of musicianship, skill, and finesse to make each performance alive, beautiful, and unique. This is what it means to make music. It doesn't always happen, and in a professional setting, that is largely up to the nature and talents of the conductor.
The absolute icing on the cake is finding a conductor who is, beyond all that talent part, fully appreciative of the key ingredient in any joyous and successful undertaking: fun. I think it's fair to say that Andrew Massey has made this summer pops tour more fun and musically satisfying than it has felt in a long, long time, and the performances reflect exactly that. This is the one time I can remember a series of performances where the musicians are probably having a better time than anyone else, except perhaps Maestro Massey. This summer we've had such a great time getting to know one another better - when all is right on the podium, the talk amongst musicians isn't tense or negative; instead of grousing (which can be a second language for orchestral musicians) we are spending time on the important things ­fellowship, shared creation of beauty, and having a really good time. Thanks, Andrew, and thanks to all the musicians of the VSO - it's been a great time.

Hilary Hatch, violin Keep reading!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Brass and the bear

Mark Emery and I decided to hike Mt. Bromley after camping out at the Hildene Meadowlands, the halfway point on our tour. The estimated time for our hike, according to our guide, was 4-5 hours, so we brought some trail mix to keep us fueled. After a couple hours of ascent, we decided to break for a few minutes. We found an inviting rock to perch on and whipped out the trail mix. Not wanting to put my grimy hands into Mark's trail mix bag, I asked him to pour me a handful. A few nuts were dropped in the exchange which began to attract some chipmunks. What cute little creatures! I took out my camera to get some shots. To my dismay, as soon as I switched on my camera, all of the chipmunks scattered. "Must be shy," I remarked with a chuckle. "I think they are more likely BEAR-shy," said Mark without a chuckle, pointing to the trees. Looking up, my eyes met the eyes of a black bear that was eight feet tall, sniffing the leaves about 30 feet away from us. She intermittently looked up at us cautiously.
I whispered urgently, "It's the nuts! She picked up on our scent!"
"Maybe we should leave the rest of the trail mix on the ground and run...?"
"No way! Stay still, their vision is based on motion."
"No, you idiot, that's dinosaurs!"
"Oh yeah, thanks Steven Spielberg...."
"Dude, he's getting closer!!"
"I think I saw once on the Discovery Channel that if you make yourself look bigger, they'll be intimidated."
"Well, go for it if you're the expert."
In one of the scariest and most courageous moments of my life, I slowly stood atop the rock, my legs shaking as they straightened. I assumed the "YMCA" position.
"You should roar," whispered Mark.
"Screw you, man. YOU should roar."
To my surprise, I suddenly heard a manly death shriek come out of Mark's bellows. Immediately, the bear turned around and hurried away.
Now, as I sit on the stage at the Mountain Top Inn writing this blog entry from my chair as the strings play the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, a tear comes to my eye as I ponder the beauty of the teamwork.

Only on the VSO tour!

Tom Bergeron, trumpet Keep reading!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bassoons, bikes, and hot air balloons

I know when summer officially begins for me - the temperature rises into the nineties, the humidity is high, and the VSO is sweating out its first rehearsal in the hockey arena at Middlebury College. After a long drive up, a focused rehearsal, and lots of catching up on news with old friends, it's time to head to Hilary's for a good night's sleep. As I pull into her driveway in Leicester, I see a note taped to her front door - a greeting from her husband Jeff, welcoming me back and pointing me in the direction of snacks and drinks. Bob, Monty, and Margie (their cats) appear to get their strokes and hopefully line up a spot on my bed for the night!
On Thursday we were back at the rink for a three-hour rehearsal. Everyone seems to be locking into the challenges of the summer's program and working with a new conductor. Between rehearsal and concert many of us walk to the center of town to windowshop and chat. Dinner is at the college grille and is always good.
Concert night is coolish and dry, the humidity has left us and the bugs don't seem to be out. What a relief! As we play our final three pieces, the sunset unfolds in front of us - ever-changing colors highlight the edges of the clouds. Better than fireworks.
Thursday morning is cool and crisp - perfect for my annual bikeride around Lake Dunmore. There is lots to see: campers at Keewaydin practicing archery, tennis instruction at the courts, lots of Icelandic poppies, lambs' ears and wild hollyhocks. Also the smells - sweet mown hay and fresh manure! Two dirt roads and many hills later, I arrive back at Hilary's. A good workout to begin the day.
I pick up Jeremy and Elizabeth in Middlebury for our ride to Quechee. We stop in Rochester for lunch and eat on the porch of a little cafe in the center of town. I started talking to the folks at the next table. Turns out, they'll be attending the Randolph concert. They promised to come up and say hi.
We arrived in Quechee and checked into our motel and kicked back for a while. Then we suited up and headed to the Polo Field. Instead of a beautiful sunset tonight, we were treated to two hot air balloons floating by. We all enjoyed Andrew's "state of euphoria" remark at raffle time. Seems like we're enjoying ourselves; the orchestra sounds relaxed and happy.

Becky Eldredge, bassoon Keep reading!