Northward bound
11 Oct 2011
Inside the Classics

The Orchestra embarks on its inaugural Common Chords residency this week in Grand Rapids, MN. I arrived late Sunday night (as did a string quartet and brass quintet from the Orchestra) after a nearly four hour drive winding north from the Twin Cities.

Our week is jam-packed with activities, from school visits, presentations to civic groups and chamber music performances to the four symphonic concerts over Friday and Saturday (the full orchestra arrives Thursday). Yesterday the quartet, quintet and I spent the evening with the Itasca Symphony Orchestra rehearsing Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture.

I’m going to make a confession to you – I’ve been feeling very “blah” and uninspired lately – my summer was ridiculously busy, and I hadn’t realized how much decompression time I’d need to feel half-way normal again – even now, well into October, I’m feeling like I’m finally getting a little of my groove back. So when I arrived at Elkington Elementary at 6:30 pm yesterday for the day’s last activity, my inner conversation was along the lines of “energy, Sarah, energy!”

I didn’t have to self-motivate for long. Working with the high-caliber musicians that I do, both in the Minnesota Orchestra and the other top-tier professional ensembles I have the privilege to conduct, it’s sometimes easy to get a little jaded about music-making; oh, look, Brahms again, yeah, that’s a good piece…What I sometimes lose for myself is how lucky I am to make my life in music.

Which is what I’m always reminded of when I work with an amateur orchestra. The Itasca Symphony Orchestra was well-prepared with the Brahms – they’ll be performing it on a concert in November – and the first read-through went fairly smoothly. The members of the Minnesota Orchestra and I had a sort of tag-team approach to the rehearsal; I would stop to fix some ensemble or musical issues, and the quartet members would make comments about articulations or bowings, and members or the quintet would offer advice to the brass section. We worked back and forth for about and hour, took a break, and then came back for a “performance” of the overture.

The level of commitment and enthusiasm was absolutely infectious, and the excitement of the Itasca Symphony musicians was powerfully palpable. After our little performance we opened up the floor to questions, and one of the first, directed to the Minnesota Orchestra members: “Is this your full-time job?”

To me it was a reminder of how fortunate we are, how fortunate I am, to be a full-time working musician. Yes, it’s like any profession – we have our frustrations and dissatisfactions and rough patches. But it’s also vocational – we were called to do this and make the concomitant sacrifices because music is deeply within us and, ultimately, we love what we do. It’s often too easy for me to lose sight of that fact when I’m plunged into a particularly busy period where I’m programming a dozen concerts, learning music for 7 different shows in a month and trying to memorize one script while drafting another. But, in the end, it is a privilege to do what we do as musicians – to make our life in music, which is a joy.

So, my personal and heartfelt thanks to the folks of the Itasca Symphony – I’ve started to move beyond my feeling of burn-out and gotten back in touch with that joy. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week here, sharing that joy with this community!

<February 2020>

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