It has been 5 days since the start of the our new concert season at Ashuelot Concerts. Only now am I slowly coming down from the enormous high that comes from baring your soul on the concert platform! It is safe to say that the whole Brahms and Tchaikovsky Sextet project was a dream come true for me. I am incredibly lucky to have had so many people in my corner helping me to make this dream a reality.
I have a memory of sitting in my college string orchestra, my palms slightly sweaty, I remember having an uneasy feeling, the anticipation of what this music was all about was completely unknown to me. At that time, I had no idea just how much of an impact these notes would have on me. I was playing Principal 2nd Violin in a group that was the supposed elite string players in my final year of Grad School. I was tired after a late night working and a 10:30am start seemed far too early! (Oh the days before having children!)
BANG! It was unlike anything I had ever experienced… A thousand espresso shots! Fireworks! Like jumping off Mount Everest and suddenly realizing you could fly! This was Tchaikovsky, Souvenir de Florence. In a split second, I had gone from feeling fatigued and edgy to so overwhelmingly inspired, I thought my heart might explode with joy! I knew in that moment that this music would stay with me forever. It fed my soul in a way that would nurture me for life. I knew I would have to learn to listen, connect with those I was playing with, collaborate, be forgiving, love with every fiber of my being, play ferociously and spare no prisoners. Like a fine woven cloth, every note had its place to provide a perfection that left me feeling more humble than I had ever felt before.
I was in the presence of greatness…
When Nick and I began planning our 2019-20 concerts, I was quick to propose my ‘all time favourite’ program as a season opener and lucky for me, he agreed! The wheels began to turn and players were contacted and tentatively asked if they would be willing. It was an easy fix, who says no to Brahms and Tchaikovsky Sextets!
The Synagogue was booked, dates for rehearsals in the diary, parts sent out, publicity done, flyers, brochures, programs, posters went up and the schools were contacted and booked for performances.
Monday morning, 10am and the players met for the first time before the Sunday concert. It seems odd to me now that there was ever a time when it felt uncomfortable between the six of us players, but trust me, it did! When you bring six accomplished, wonderful, capable, incredible and strong players who all have six accomplished, wonderful, capable, incredible and STRONG ideas about how the music should go, it is NEVER a given that we will just magically all be able to play perfectly together. We can not read each others minds and so the rehearsal process begins. We must dissect, study, re-evaluate, design, collaborate, understand what the lines, the dots, the dashes, the notes and most importantly, what the composer is saying to us through the music.
We spent 4 beautiful days together, 6 hours each day dutifully working to perfect, craft and understand every phrase, color, character and emotion between the notes until we ran out of time… Our 4 days were up. I feel forever grateful to these kindred spirits, they invested so much in the music, their time and energy was invaluable. The rehearsal process is like an exercise in trust and humility between us. Unspoken vows that we will have each others backs no matter what happens on stage. We allowed each other to speak, to listen, to respect and to try every which way of playing a certain section of a movement. We listen to balance, intonation, the correct color or character, a turn of phrase needing a little extra space and time. We watched each other, we communicated, we breathed until our hearts beat as one.
Friday morning bright and early, 8:30am and we are staring into the faces of 200 kids at Wheelock Elementary School. I believe that performing music for children is just about the biggest responsibility you can be given. You have to play 200% better than you ever would for yourself. Hearing incredible music for the first time could be the make or break as to wether a child will continue to enjoy classical music. It’s up to me to make sure I give them my VERY BEST so that they will be overjoyed with the experience and hopefully I’ll leave them hungry for more. We always try to leave time for a Q&A at the end of each school performance and here are a few:
Q – “How long did it take you to learn that piece?”
A – “A lifetime!”
Q – “Did you always know you wanted to play the violin?”
A – “No! Especially when it got really hard after I left conservatoire!”
As we left Wheelock Elementary to head over to Westmoreland School for another whole school assembly, our babysitter cancels on us and we end up taking our 2 small sons along for the ride! Another 140 bright eyed kids at 10:30am and while Nick explains to the whole school about the tempestuous relationship between Brahms and Tchaikovsky (bouncing babe on hip!) I again realize how grateful I am that we have this audience of young ears and how fortunate that these schools have given us the opportunity to bring these pieces through their doors for the kids and staff.
On to Fuller Elementary School and another 370 children: we are kindly given the platform in another whole school assembly. As Nick introduces the kids to some of the background of the music he talks about the difficulty of learning something new. Just as we musicians have to learn new notes and push ourselves daily, our message for the children is a simple one.. Every one of us faces daily challenges, we have to overcome obstacles that we find difficult, hard and sometimes even seemingly impossible. However, it is up to you how you view that hurdle. Do I let it defeat me and say I can’t OR can I train my brain to say I can’t do this YET but how exciting and I can’t wait to get stuck in and work out how I CAN!
So often when I begin leaning a new piece I think to myself, how I am ever going to be able to play this. How is this music going to feel natural, organic and part of me so that I can do it justice. Somehow time and perseverance always provides.
Our Friday outreach in the community is not yet done and we move on to Railroad Square for an impromptu pop up concert on Main Street in Keene. Our audience includes children, shop workers, a restaurant chef, office employees, families, friends, young and old and again a wonderful crowd of listening ears all coming together to enjoy a little chamber music of Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
As Sunday approached, I began to feel again that sweaty palmed anticipation again… Will anyone come to the concert? We knew that scheduling a concert so close to the start of the new school year was risky but Nick and I have a moto ‘never say never!’
Sunday arrives, the rehearsal goes well and as I was downstairs warming up for the concert, all I could hear was voices, lots of voices, feet, laughter, excitement, people, so many people! I was absolutely overjoyed to come out and see so many faces in the audience. My job was done, well, nearly! Just a few notes to play first but really, as I sat there and poured by heart into the music, more than anything I just felt so much gratitude. Not only to Brahms and Tchaikovsky but to our audience, our supporters, our members, the staff at the Synagogue, our board who work so hard for us.
It really does take a village and even from the smallest gesture of kindness to every worker bee involved in making this project a success, we have all made it so special and worth all the blood, sweat and tears a thousand time over!
Thank you and we hope to see you at the next one on October 12!