By Chris Kornelis of the Wall Street Journal. December 7, 2015.
People made fun of me when I first got it because it’s so bloody huge, but I use a Samsung Galaxy Note II to draw the stage diagrams I send to the crew that sets everything up for us. This afternoon we’re performing Leonard Bernstein’s score to the film “On the Waterfront,” and I’m personally playing snare drum, three toms, xylophone, bells, vibraphone and marimba. If the stage is not set up the right way, you get percussionists crossing paths and running into each other. I used to draw a diagram with pen and paper and take a picture of it, but the Note is really handy.
A lot of my gear doesn’t come from the music store. All of my triangle holders, for example, are made from bent coat hangers. My chime hammers are yellow acrylic mallets that I get at the hardware store—I don’t even know what craftsmen use them for. And fishing line is a must-have. Sometimes, a score calls for key chimes instead of wind chimes, so I’ll round up everyone’s old keys and string them up with fishing line.
I travel with Drummers Service Abel Concert snare drumsticks, which I never, ever, ever check at the airport. They go with my laptop as a carry-on. The three pairs I have were made by Bill Reamer [owner of Drummers Service], who passed away, so they’ll have to last me my whole career.
I’m protective of my own gear, because I tend to humanize inanimate objects. I got my Black Swamp tambourine in 1999, when I was an undergrad at the University of British Columbia. I’ve spent so many hours with it. I know it. I just have this relationship and I know what it’s going to do.
We had a BMW growing up and it saved our lives when we got into a huge accident once, so I love my 2008 BMW 335xi, even though I don’t drive it that much. I’m quite sensitive to sound, so I don’t actually listen to a lot of music in the car. I listen to the sound of the engine or NPR.
I still own a metronome, but I don’t use it much because you have to find a 9-volt battery or practice by an outlet to plug it in. These days I just use whatever metronome app I can get free on my phone. Right now, that’s one called Metronome Beats.
My mother was a great cook, and so was her mom, so I learned by watching them. I use a Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. When I was growing up, everybody had a rice cooker. I’ve never seen it made any other way.
Read the article on the Wall Street Journal's Website at wsj.com.
by Max Raimi, CSO violist since 1984
Every year, on a weekend day in early September, I share a ritual with my son Paul and frequently with one of his friends. We each fashion several paper airplanes and then head downtown to Orchestra Hall. As the season hasn’t started yet, the hall is usually deserted (except for the main security posts), quiet, and dark, which is perfect for our purposes. I have my concert clothes and viola, which I stash in my locker in the men’s dressing room while Paul explores the backstage area, showing his friend around and patronizing the vending machines in the musicians’ lounge.
Once my locker is set up, we start heading upstairs. We always enjoy going out into the boxes and the balconies to experience the various perspectives on the stage, but our destination is the very top level, the gallery. When we get up there, we proceed to the front of the section and take turns launching our airplanes. It is wonderful to watch them gliding down. Some of them only make it into the next balcony, but a really well constructed and thrown one will reach the main floor.
This year, Paul made history. One of his squadron actually landed on the stage, the first time either of us had managed this. A thing of beauty it was, gliding and sailing through the silent hall as time seemed to stand still.
We then scour the auditorium for our planes. In general, we don’t leave until all the planes are accounted for, but on one or two occasions, a plane has ended up in some sort of Bermuda Triangle, perhaps in the upper balcony, and has never been retrieved. If you found it, you now know the story. You have our apologies. Please don’t throw it during the concert!
Those who serve as elected representatives of the musicians in an orchestra don’t get talked about much. They serve knowing that this is not a high profile job. Yet it is an essential job, crucial to the success of the orchestra. So when a member of the Members’ Committee (as our representatives are known), does something outstanding or noteworthy, we should take a minute and say thank you!
Earlier this year, Roger Cline, a member of the orchestra who has served on our Members’ Committee for forty years, chose not to run for re-election. Roger has been an active member of the Committee for as long as I have been in the orchestra, and for over twenty of those years he served as Vice Chairman of the Committee. He has served on every negotiating committee since 1979. Roger put in countless hours of meetings with Management, Trustees, and Musicians. He has taken a particular interest in acoustics (of which he is very knowledgeable), but served willingly on all sorts of committees and initiatives. It adds up to thousands of hours of extra work, all without compensation, all for his colleagues, and ultimately for the music.
Through all of this I have known Roger as a great friend, an honest critic, reliable to a fault, and most important, a wise counsel, who can work with anyone. Thank you, your experience and wisdom will be missed!
Roger Cline, by Jenny Mondie
I have been a violist in the National Symphony Orchestra for twenty years. What on earth does that have to do with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and why would they let me steal some of their newsletter space? Because my father, Roger Cline, is a member of the CSO bass section. I would like to tell you about him.
I was not quite a year old when Dad won the CSO bass audition in 1973. There are stories about him putting me in my infant seat on the dining room table and practicing excerpts at me before that audition. Mom, Dad, and I moved to the north suburbs of Chicago that September and straight into a four-week lockout. While it was an immense honor and very exciting for Dad to have this new prestigious position (he was previously in the West Point band playing sousaphone), the lockout must have been quite a strain for a young family. My Dad is very logical and likes finding creative solutions to problems, so it was probably inevitable that he would be drawn to serving on the Members' Committee, but the experience of joining an orchestra during a labor stoppage probably sealed his fate.
In case you do not know what an orchestra Members' Committee is, it is the elected group of musicians that liaises with the orchestra management. Inevitably, issues arise in the general governance of a dynamic symphony orchestra, with constantly changing programming, conductors, soloists, venues, tours, etc. There are often difficult decisions to be made on behalf of the group. These decisions inevitably make some people happy and others not so happy. Committee members spend lots and lots and LOTS of time in meetings, assessing every situation that arises. Also, from this Committee is chosen a negotiating subcommittee that is responsible for bargaining new contracts every few years.
The Chicago Symphony maintains a rigorous schedule. But when I was growing up, all the time Dad spent in rehearsals and concerts must have been close to matched by time spent on Committee matters, especially in years with contract negotiations. There were often late night phone calls about urgent issues. My mom, brother, and I would wonder if Dad would be at the bargaining table all night, or might be home for dinner. In my youth, I just thought this kind of commitment was the norm. Now that I am a veteran in my own orchestra, I understand just how amazing his level of dedication was.
I am currently the National Symphony’s Committee chairman. Now I’m the one who stays an extra hour after services for meetings, writes countless emails, pores over contract language, and tries to find those same kinds of creative solutions to my orchestra’s challenges. Even with exceptional mentors and colleagues on my own Committee, I still constantly ask Dad for his advice and perspective. Here’s one very Cline example. Once after a meeting, I was criticized by one of my Committee colleagues as being too dour towards our management. Distraught, I called Dad. His response was “If there isn’t someone scowling on your side of the table, how will they know you’re really paying attention?”
A few weeks ago, after almost 40 years of service on the Members' Committee and a last contract ratification, Dad finally took a break from Committee work. I imagine there is an element of relief from setting down that responsibility and allowing other capable hands to continue it. But I suspect he may feel a little empty without the Committee camaraderie and the satisfaction of making that tangible contribution above and beyond his amazing musicianship.
So on behalf of our colleagues who often seem to forget our names and call us, “Hey, you’re on the Committee,” before expressing some concern, what they really mean and what I would really like to say is, “Thank you, Dad, for your dedication, strength, selflessness, and tenacity.”
by Christine Watkins, Illinois Library Association
Reprinted with permission from the ILA Reporter, June 2015, published by the Illinois Library Association
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Music Library is literally underneath the stage, tucked away on the lower level of Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. All those notes that you hear soaring and wafting their way to your place in the audience start out as little black marks on cream-colored paper, stored on the library shelves. Thousands of musical scores as well as the separate parts for each individual instrument are organized by composer. When the next season is announced, the orchestra librarians review the holdings to see what they already own, which scores and parts they may need to buy or rent from music publishers.
But if you think there’s nothing more to it than to take the music off the shelves and deliver it to the music stands upstairs, you’re mistaken. There’s a lot to learn about the role of orchestral librarians—they are not, in fact, librarians in the typical sense of the term. They do not hold library degrees, and they are not even very similar to what we would think of as a “music” librarian, someone who manages a collection that includes books, recordings, and any number of things related to the study of music, as well as performance.
They are, in short, the keepers of the score, which goes far beyond just making sure the orchestra has the right ones on hand. The scores—and parts—are carefully reviewed for any errors in notation: a wrong note, a missing measure, or mark of some sort. The review—a kind of proofreading—includes comparing the parts to the score, to make sure nothing’s been lost. And after review, there’s a kind of copy-editing—marking up the parts for things like when the strings move their bows up or down or when to turn the page, so everything happens in unison, seemingly without effort.
The librarians attend rehearsal, and make note of anything that might need their attention. Rehearsal time is precious, and the goal is to make sure the music is clearly marked ahead of time. Peter Conover, one of three CSO librarians, sums it up: “Our expertise involves the preparation of materials for use in performance.
Although we are called librarians, in truth we are really more musicians. Most of us trained as performing musicians, and since there are relatively few opportunities to formally train as an orchestra librarian, internships or apprenticeships have traditionally been the way we’ve learned our skills.”
This is where MOLA—the Major Orchestra Librarians Association—can come in handy. Founded in 1893, it has grown from an organization of about twenty-five orchestra librarians located mostly on the east coast of the United States to a membership of more than 270 institutions from around the world. In addition to being a forum for experienced orchestra librarians, it can also be a resource for musicians who end up with responsibilities for managing the music, so to speak, with little or no experience.
Conover was a conservatory-trained bass player in an east coast orchestra, and got his start because the orchestra was willing to pay him an extra $50 per performance to mark up the music. He came to find the work interesting and rewarding, and somewhere along the line, made a career choice that led him to orchestras in Arizona and Texas before coming to Chicago in 1998. His colleagues, Mark Swanson and Carole Keller, came by slightly different routes, though both are trained musicians. Swanson started out playing trombone, moved into arranging and copying music, and free-lanced his way to becoming a CSO librarian. Keller studied the cello and worked in the library of her college orchestra and after graduation got a job in the box office of the Minnesota Orchestra. When she heard there was an opening in the library, she jumped at the chance, and her college experience paid off. She moved on to become principal librarian for the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, then joined the CSO in 2000.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
One thing orchestra librarians have in common with the rest of the profession is a penchant for organization. Scores and parts are moved from the “general collection” to a series of shelves for the current season. Then as the performance approaches, the parts are marked and broken up into individual folders for each player. Those folders move to another shelving area, ready to be taken to the stage each night and placed on the music stands, first for rehearsals of that week’s program, then eventually for each performance.
Another is attention to detail, and patron preferences. Music for cellists, for example, may need to be slightly enlarged, because they are further away from their music stands than other players. Some musicians may want their parts scanned and sent to them electronically for practice. When asked the most important part of their job, a response on the MOLA website reads: “To have the right music in the right place at the right time.”
There are no fines for unreturned music, but it rarely disappears. The orchestra members know it’s in their own best interests for the music to be held in the library. As far as the decision to rent or buy, it depends on a number of factors. Works in the public domain, which include a large part of the classical repertoire, are likely to be purchased. For works with current copyright restrictions, especially those that may be performed rarely or infrequently, renting from the publisher may be the only choice.
The collection doesn’t circulate, but besides traveling up to the stage at Symphony Center and some miles north for the orchestra’s summer season at Ravinia, it does go on tour. Along with all the pieces scheduled for the tour, the librarians are in charge of deciding what else should come along—anthems for countries they’re visiting, repertoire that’s appropriate if there’s a tragedy or death that occurs on the day of the concert, and a selection of encores, which can be unpredictable.
“Maestro Barenboim was challenging when it came to encores, he might ask for almost anything!” said Conover. “We were on tour in 2001 when the World Trade Center was hit,” adds Keller. “We had no idea what—or even if—we were going to play that night. We eventually did, but we added the Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning of the performance.”
In general, e-music doesn’t seem to have become as prevalent as e-books. Some smaller ensembles use or experiment with “electronic music stands,” but they are far from the norm for major orchestras. The complexity of the music, the number of players, the consequences of a glitch, and to some extent, the age of the players, all contribute to a strong preference for paper. “Paper is infallible and hard to improve on,” says Conover.
By: Max Raimi, CSO violist since 1984
When I first joined the CSO, I sought out role models among the veteran musicians. I had never played in a major orchestra and I needed to learn how to fit in. One man I found myself gravitating towards was a fellow violist, Don Evans. Don had joined the orchestra in 1948. Don’s father Clarence had been Principal Viola back in the 1920s and 30s, and his wife Margie was in the cello section. Don and Margie had been childhood sweethearts and they lived in the Winnetka house where Margie had grown up.
I was drawn to Don by his combination of professionalism, calm, and a marvelous dry-as-dust sense of humor. It must be said, though, that I fell a bit short of my model from time to time. Early on, I said or did something that struck Don as a bit out of line. I can’t recall my infraction, but there is no denying that I was something of a young punk back then. Don looked at me in his serene, cool, affectionate way and told me, “You’re lucky I like you so much or else I would tell you what I think of you.”
We had one other significant bond—baseball. I was born in Detroit and am still a passionate fan of the Detroit Tigers. Don’s ties to the Chicago Cubs were at least as deep. He had grown up near Wrigley Field and spent innumerable afternoons there throughout his life. His father had taken him to the third game of the 1932 World Series, when, legend has it, Babe Ruth pointed his bat at the center field bleachers and, on the next pitch, hit his famous “called shot” home run there, an iconic moment in baseball history.
A few years later, Don attended another World Series game, another debacle for the Cubs. It was 1935, and the Cubs were up against my Detroit Tigers. It was fated to be the first Series the Tigers ever won. Don attended the third game, a typically heartbreaking Cubs loss—they succumbed in the 11th inning on an error by their third baseman. Like any real fan, Don bought a scorecard and kept score, notating how every batter fared over the course of the game. More than half a century later, shortly before leaving the orchestra, he gave this scorecard to me.
I cherish it to this day. The now 80-year-old document is a fascinating time capsule, featuring the old four-color printing technique depicting Wrigley Field at the time. There was no ivy and no left field stands, but trees lined the perimeter beyond the outfield. Several pages show photos of the players on both teams, and it is remarkable to see how much older these young athletes looked at the height of the Depression than men of the same age today. I love the notices for items like Prima Pilsner, Green River, and Edelweiss Orange Soda “For Sale in this Park”.
Most of all, I pore over Don’s penciled notations, batter by batter, right up to the 11th inning denouement. Yet as much as I treasure this relic, it is by no means the most important thing Don gave me. I may not live up to my mentor, but I strive to be as good a colleague as I can, and hope that I may in some small way offer something for my younger colleagues to emulate.
Scorecard from 1935 World Series Game between Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers
Margaret and Don Evans
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Rosenthal Archives
My Percussion Instruments
by: Roger Cline, CSO string bassist since 1973
Out at Ravinia a number of years ago, Jim Ross, one of the CSO percussionists who knew that I did a lot of wood work, asked me if I could help him cut some pieces of wood to make a slapstick (an instrument consisting of two long pieces of wood that makes a sound like a whip). I was intrigued, so I set about making a replacement for the slapstick they had that was broken. I developed a new type of design that proved very effective and have since provided these slapsticks to many percussionists in orchestras throughout the U.S.
The next project I worked on was a Hammerschlag Box that, along with a very large mallet to strike it, is used for the “Hammer Stroke” in such works as the Mahler Sixth Symphony. Besides producing a very loud sound, I came up with a new design of the instrument that doesn’t break when hit. It is one of the few pieces of furniture I know of that is designed to be hit by what amounts to a sledge hammer.
Hammerschlag Box and Hammer
The picture of me standing beside a replica of a Ford Model “T” was my next project, a ratchet for our former composer-in-residence Mason Bates’ work “Alternative Energy.” In the movement of the work titled “In Fords Garden” a number of car parts are struck and a ratchet part is needed, which was incorporated by having the starter crank in the front radiator part of a Model “T” be the operating crank for a very loud ratchet. It was fun making a replica of a Model “T” that looked like it actually came from the car itself and fulfilled the need for a very powerful ratchet that was a thematic part of the work.
Roger standing along side the Model "T" ratchet
The next instrument, a ratchet that can change loudness while being played was originally needed for a work by Varese, “Ameriques”. I came up with the design in a couple of days and it was fun to hear the results in the Varese work when we played it on tour in Carnegie Hall. The current ratchet is the result of a number of years of design change which has improved the sound characteristics and dynamic range possibilities.
The Crescendo Ratchet, the only ratchet that has control over dynamics
The final instrument pictured that I have designed and made is a “wind machine”, which I made at the request of CSO principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh, for the performance of Maurice Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” this past May, and was also used in our performance of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” this month at the Ravinia Festival. This instrument produces a sound like wind by rotating a number of specially designed wooden slats past some very heavy cotton duck material by a cranked circular barrel type construction. Similar wind machines have been used since the baroque musical era for sound effects in baroque operas,
One would think that a better sound could be had in modern times by simply recording wind sounds, but the resulting recording would have to be played over an amplified sound system with loudspeakers which would not have the sonic impact that the analog, mechanical device like a wind machine has. Many other sound effects similar in concept are still used in motion pictures and are called “Foley Effects” after the person who first invented them.
I am always thrilled every time the CSO performs a work that uses one of my percussion instruments. Even so many times around Christmas when one of my slapsticks is used for the famous Leroy Anderson work “Sleigh Ride” it still makes me think that I am lucky enough to be able to design and make an instrument that can be used by my colleagues in the great CSO percussion section.
By: Alex Hanna, CSO Principal Bass since 2012
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to perform as concerto soloist with the Bellingham Festival of Music (BFM). The Festival Orchestra is made up of many of the country’s finest orchestral musicians.
When the BFM first invited me to play as concerto soloist, the Festival’s Music Director, Michael Palmer and I settled on the concerto in D Major by Johann Baptist Vanhal. We chose the piece for its wonderful musicality. However, it presents many unique challenges as the piece was composed for a completely different tuning system than what is commonly in use today.
Almost all bassists in the world today play in standard fourths tuning, where the strings are tuned to E-A-D-G. The Vanhal concerto was composed for the “Viennese tuning,” where the strings are instead tuned to A-D-F#-A. Despite this, many bassists choose to play the concerto in fourths making a few changes to accommodate the fourths tuning. However, for my performance I chose to learn Viennese tuning so that I could play the piece as the composer originally intended. It was extremely confusing at first—kind of like driving a car where the pedals, gears and instruments are all in different places, but in the end it was the right choice. The concerto sounds much more resonant and natural in Viennese tuning, although there are many obstacles. For example, playing in this tuning required me to obtain a special extended low A string which was made especially for my bass by Pirastro Strings in Germany. Also, there is no sheet music available for this tuning so I had to re-learn the entire concerto by ear. Throughout this past season, I would play CSO concerts in standard fourths, and then practice Vanhal at home in Viennese. The entire process was very challenging!
If the new tuning wasn’t demanding enough, managing the logistics of traveling across the country with a bass can be a real headache. Back in the old days, many bassists used to take commercial flights, buy an extra seat for the bass and take it into the cabin. Now the rules have changed and the only option is to fly with one of the few airlines that allow musical instruments in the luggage hold. The risk of damage to the instrument is very high, so I avoid it at all costs. I now ship my bass air cargo when I have to fly. This last trip to Bellingham cost $600 round trip--more than the airfare for myself!
The bass flies in a special hard case measuring about 7 feet tall and weighing over 100 pounds. The case costs around $4,000. It needs to be shipped the day before I fly myself so that it will be ready for pick-up at my destination. This means a lot of trips to the airport, especially since the bass needs to fly out of Midway, while I usually fly from O’Hare. Upon arrival, I rent a large SUV and put the back seats down flat. The bass flight trunk is so large that it takes up most of the car with the top resting on the dashboard between the driver and passenger. It’s expensive and time consuming, but the safety and reliability is worth it.
As if that weren’t hard enough, the stools on which bassists perch are also an essential part of our setup. The height, material and angle all have to be carefully calculated. My custom bass stool is made by Concert Design in Canada and I don’t play without it. I shipped a very large box containing my bass stool via UPS the week before my arrival in Bellingham. After all of this, packing my own suitcase and getting on the plane was a piece of cake!
All of this preparation, time, money and work was a huge undertaking. It’s crazy to think that we musicians make such efforts, all to play a piece of music that only lasts seventeen minutes. And yet, I look forward very much to performing the Vanhal concerto at home with the CSO this coming season December 17th, 18th and 19th!
By: Wendy Meir, CSO Violinist since 2003
The CSO has won multiple Grammy Awards and performed successful international tours to sold-out audiences, but those things are only a part of what makes the CSO one of the top orchestras in the world. A really great orchestra plays like a chamber music ensemble, even though there are 100+ musicians in the orchestra. The CSO musicians play like a fine string quartet and react appropriately and instantaneously to each other. We know who to listen to and who to follow in each piece. Every section of the orchestra can play the melody or the accompaniment with equal ability. In football, this is similar to being the quarterback and a defensive end on the same team.
You need to have superb technique to play in the CSO, but this is not enough. You must be able to listen to and blend with your colleagues. The extraordinary ensemble playing of the CSO is a long-standing tradition, nurtured by legendary conductors from Frederick Stock through Riccardo Muti. Older musicians pass down these traditions to new members and the tradition is carried forward. It is imperative that all members, even the principal players, fit in with the flow of the ensemble. The CSO is filled with amazing musicians, and they all know how to play with and enhance the playing of their colleagues. That is why the CSO is so special.
For a guest conductor, his or her first rehearsal with the CSO can be quite intimidating. The problems of rehearsing with an average orchestra simply aren’t there. Normally, a conductor has to spend most of his or her rehearsal time just getting the musicians to play together, as a cohesive ensemble. But, because of the efficiency and preparedness of the CSO, conductors have the opportunity to make music immediately. The notes on the page have no meaning until they are played by the musicians. They are just dots and lines. Conductors are able to take their interpretations of the music, and together with the musicians, create something unique and memorable. That’s when the magic happens. With our Music Director, Maestro Muti, CSO concerts are magical.
By: Roger Cline, CSO double bassist since 1973
It has been 43 years since I won the audition for my position in the CSO bass section. It was truly a life changing event for me and even after all these years, I still have memories of that audition process.
Just as I did, every Member of the CSO must secure their position in the CSO through the competitive, anonymous audition procedure the CSO uses to select new players. The procedure in use now is the same as was used all those years ago when I auditioned. In fact, the procedure was fairly new then and the CSO was one of the first major orchestras to institute this type of anonymous, competitive audition procedure. Virtually all U.S. orchestras now use this impartial procedure and the CSO is foremost in allowing anyone to audition with no judgments about who will be allowed to audition.
When a position becomes open in the orchestra, the audition for that opening is advertised in the union paper. Then, those who wish to audition contact the CSO personnel office and schedule an audition date. When the candidate arrives for the audition, their anonymity is preserved by assigning them to a warm up room in a separate area and being a assigned a number which is their only identification to the Audition Committee.
The Audition Committee, which judges the candidates who audition, is made up of seven elected Members of the orchestra, the section leader of the section in which the opening exists and one Member assigned by the Orchestra Members’ Committee to assure that all audition procedures are followed. The audition candidates play on the stage of OH and are visually screened from the committee to assure impartiality.
Each member of the Audition Committee, without discussion with other members of the Committee, votes on each candidate by secret ballot either “Yes” or “No” whether in their judgment, the candidate is capable of performing in the CSO.
The music selected for the audition is available to the candidates before the audition, but any passages from the audition “list” may be requested and usually “sight reading” of unprepared passages is also requested.
If the candidate receives six “Yes” votes in this preliminary round, they are then passed on to the “Final” audition. The Music Director makes the decision whom, if anyone, is hired amongst those who also receive at least six “Yes” votes from the Audition Committee voting in this “Final Audition” round.
Most positions are auditioned for by from 50 to hundreds of candidates. Sometimes, a number of audition rounds take place before a candidate is finally hired.
After the winner of the audition begins playing regular concerts with the Music Director conducting, they are granted tenure in the orchestra within two years, if the Music Director and the members of the section in which they play feel they “fit in” and meet the levels of musical style and accuracy the CSO demands.
It is easy to see then, why this thorough audition procedure has resulted hiring performers that produce the “World’s Best, Chicago’s Own” reputation for which CSO performances are known throughout the world.
By: Max Raimi, CSO violist since 1984
I remember a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Fifth early in my career with the CSO. The ancient part we were reading from was dog-eared, yellowed and frayed. I was mystified to see crude decades-old hash marks scrawled into the part at various intervals. My stand partner, a 35-year veteran of the orchestra, explained to me that these marks must have been left over from a recording session back in the days of the old 78 RPMs, when each side of the record could only hold a few minutes of music. They would play enough for one side of the record and then stop at the hash marks. Whoever had scrawled those marks was no doubt long dead by the time I saw them.
Just as that viola part had been passed on through the generations, so had the music that was written on it. I sometimes like to think of our repertoire as a living chain, originating centuries ago and, I fervently hope, destined to continue on long after any of us in the orchestra at the moment are still alive. I can return again and again to a beloved symphony and always be renewed by it. In concerts, its effect on the congregation in the hall is palpable. If our performance is worthy of the music, this magic can never die.
Whatever our religious affiliations (or lack thereof), all of us in the Chicago Symphony share a common spiritual calling. We are dedicated to this chain across the generations; we are committed to the mission of keeping our music alive. When all of our work comes to fruition and we give a genuinely transcendent performance, the joy is hard to describe.
We have become one with something that goes beyond ourselves, that supersedes somehow the limitations of our own lives and our own mortality. The Principal Violist when I joined the orchestra, Milton Preves, first came to the CSO in 1934. Now I am seeing around me kids in their 20s, who may well be playing with the orchestra past the middle of this century—I have played with well over a century’s worth of musicians in my CSO career. Yet the great span of the tradition our orchestra is charged with preserving dwarfs this time frame. It has been a privilege to serve as a small link in the chain.