Monday, July 23, 2012

Viola High

This past Saturday was the day of the BPO Fantasy Camp that I mentioned in this post from last week. Warning:  this is a long post, but this was a highlight of my summer, so I hope you don't mind!

I have been chuckling-on-the-inside at the name "Fantasy Camp" because I've never really fantasized about playing with a professional orchestra.  I went to music school and studied viola, but I was an audio engineering student - because I wanted to be on the other side of the mic.  I've never had the confidence or the interest in that much practicing to even try to get to a professional level of playing, auditioning and performing.  I was incredibly intimidated by the classical players I knew from music school and took a super casual attitude about my playing because my viola confidence was so low. Why practice more when you don't think you'll ever get any better?  

I used to play violin (note - not viola) with The Lesser Scene during my Chicago years.  

The Lesser Scene!  Oh man, those were great days!

When the band would play out and my professional/ classical violin playing friends would be there and my inner dialog was all "oh, no!  I'm sure I'm so out of tune with ridiculous technique.  they are so judging me.  this is horrible".  And then they weren't like that.  Because playing an instrument isn't about competition, especially if you are good at what you do and seeing people playing music at any level just makes you happy.  That attitude is about true musicianship, artistry and confidence.

The BPO players were super friendly and genuinely happy to be there with us (the amateurs) on Saturday.  Their great attitudes really helped ease that intimidation that stems all the way back from my Chicago days - and probably before that.  I was able to play and not fret over my intonation or my horrible technique and just learn, listen, ask questions, make new friends and make music.

I did put a bunch of work into the music before I got there, which paid off for me big time.  I only got lost once during rehearsal, which is an accomplishment for me because when I'm not prepared and the music flies by faster than I could ever play it I will almost always get lost.  Knowing when (and when not) to play made rehearsing enjoyable and gave me space to learn some other things about the music and the performance.

We rehearsed first thing in the morning.  The rehearsal was interesting and inspiring.  I knew I could handle the music without embarrassment.  We broke for lunch where we got to mingle a bit with the professionals and then broke into sectionals for smaller group coaching.  This was way more intimate and provided a great insight into how the pros practice and work through the tough parts.

Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the BPO.  How cool?!

The view from the stage.  It's a pretty place.
After the coaching we sat for a great lecture on the history of the American Symphony.  This was one of my favorite parts of the day as the lecturer was Maestro Paul Ferrington, who is a BPO Staff Conductor and the conductor of the Buffalo State Philharmonia, the orchestra that I'm in!  Do you know the difference between Symphony, Philharmonic and Orchestra?  There isn't any difference.  The terms used to relate to the size of the group, but that was a long time ago.

The last treat before the dinner break was a history tour of the orchestra hall, Kleinhans Music Hall.  It is a very unique and lovely building, with pretty amazing acoustics.  I love these kinds of history and architectural tours, especially here in Buffalo since I still have a lot to learn about this city.

We had a dinner break and I met Adam at a neighborhood restaurant where we sat outside and saw this lady with her blue dog:

What's the caption?  That dog was blue, straight from the Emerald City.

And finally it was concert time!  We played Dvorak - Carnival Overture; Beethoven - Egmont Overture; Rimsky-Korsakov - Sheherazade, mvmt IV; and Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4, mvmts III and IV.  By the way, the word Sheherazade is my new favorite word to say.  It rolls off the tongue like my previous favorite word to say: Hezbollah. (I am making no political statements or support towards the Hezbollah organization, only that the way that the word sounds is pretty to me.)

The concert lasted about an hour and it was wonderful and something I will always remember.  My husband teared up a bit during the Egmont as it's one of his favorite Beethoven pieces.  My sister and brother-in-law were blown away by the sound and the performance.  I was a little exhausted but ecstatic how everything played out.

I have a new relationship with my viola and my own musicianship.  There are two factors that really helped me get to this point.  Moving to Buffalo and studying with Leslie Bahler, my current teacher and friend.

First:  Buffalo.  This city is small enough that I joined a community orchestra within the first year that I lived here.  It seems there is a shortage of violists in the community orchestra scene and I didn't even have to audition.  Since that first year I've played solo recitals and played with 5 (very) different ensembles.  I've participated in workshops and made the decision to find a community orchestra that fit me a little better.  I had choices and support.  There was a need for an amateur violist in Buffalo and it's been a thrill to try to fill it!  I don't know if these kinds of experiences were available to me in Chicago, probably because I lacked the confidence to even go seek it out.

Second (but not in importance):  Leslie.  She is the first viola teacher that I've had that is a true violist! Many violin players will learn and teach on viola.  This was the case for every viola teacher I had until I met Leslie.  I have studied from at least 7 different teachers since I switched from violin to viola in high school. She is also the first student/ teacher relationship that has grown into a true friendship. Her energy and positivity and knowledge and excitement is infectious and inspiring.

I find myself blabbing on and on about Leslie to anyone who will listen.  As I was visiting Chicago and staying with one of my best friends, who is an accomplished professional violinist, she asked me if I've ever connected with a teacher before Leslie.  No!  And I had never thought of it like that before. I never knew what it was like to connect with a teacher, and how important that is for a student.  Since my viola-playing confidence was always so low during high school and college I didn't suspect that there needed to be a better connection during lessons, so I never spoke up or tried to find another mentor.  This is kind of a big deal!  I am really lucky to be her student and her friend.  

This makes me wonder where my relationship with music and my viola would be if I were still in Chicago? Maybe my band would have made it big and I would have been a full time indie rock violinist (um, that would have been awesome!).  I might never have picked up my viola again.

But what did happen was awesome;  I moved to Buffalo, met Leslie, practiced and played a lot of viola and learned that an amateur musician is an AMAZING thing to be!  And on Saturday night I got to play with an professional orchestra in an amazing hall, and everyone applauded.  And now I kind of understand why they call it "Fantasy Camp."

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