Seeing The Forest For The Trees


The 2011-2012 season was one of the busiest in my career and although that’s a good problem to have, it does cut down on the time usually spent staying grounded and keeping the bigger picture in perspective. So my time performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival (GTMF) was more important than ever this summer to not only help artistically and emotionally recharge but to provide a healthy context for refocusing on the bigger picture and preparing for the upcoming season.

Thank your music teachers.

Even if you quit middle school orchestra, send a note to your old music teacher to let them know you appreciated their guidance into understanding, for example, why Beethoven Symphony #9 is a masterpiece. My personal goal is to call or write my mentors and teachers this month. I have many thanks to give, but I’ve never thought to express gratitude until my own student’s aunt wrote this blog.  Additionally, I plan on thanking those that have not been my violin teachers, but musical and nonmusical mentors that have shaped my career and appreciation of the art that is my career.

Look, listen, and appreciate.

Looking across the GTMF orchestra this summer, I could not help but appreciate the extreme dedication and talent that helped create some of the best concerts from my career. It was heartbreaking to know that many of these musicians had uncertain futures in orchestras that should be too big to fail. Watching these individuals play spectacular chamber concerts and add their wealth of knowledge and skill to the orchestra made me wonder how their patrons back home look at, listen to, and appreciate all that these musicians contribute. I know I do and I hope the same is true for their respective audience.

There are many ways to educate.

Excitement and sharing musical experiences is just as important as the standard path of teaching music education. This summer, the GTMF orchestra performed a 21st century percussion concerto. I was certain my parents,  who regularly attend GTMF concerts, would hate the work since my dad informed me he typically doesn’t enjoy works of composers born after 1960, but they loved it so much they enthusiastically brought several of their friends to the second performance and they enjoyed it as much as my parents. The enthusiasm was clearly contagious!  There are obviously several ways to educate an audience but the orchestra world needs to embrace every direction of education and not dedicate the lion’s share of efforts toward children.

Music heals.

While in Jackson this summer, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the mass murder in my childhood home of Aurora, Colorado. The movie theater where so many were shot, injured, and killed was a place that was familiar to me. For the audience of the festival concert, the orchestra, and especially my Colorado Symphony colleagues on stage with me, the moment of reflective silence before our Friday night concert changed the music in a profound way. The program was already very powerful, but adding the fresh anguish and need for some outlet of emotion for such a tragedy provided a intense outlet.

People seek fun over serious and everyone is a critic. But that’s okay.

It’s been five summers since I said to my brother (who is also the National Symphony Orchestra principal trombone) “That Bolero trombone solo: just how hard could it be to play?” That ended up with him videotaping me finding out first hand! What started out as an inside joke has more or less turned into an ongoing summer social experiment.

Egged on in part by overly critical comments from people missing that the video was clearly a parody, we took what would have been a one-off video and turned it into an ongoing series, adding one new parody video each summer. Before each recording, I get a quick lesson from some of the world’s best trombone players and we then jump into video.

The formula was always the same: a voiceover sets mock serious tone and then the camera would pan out revealing me torturing an excerpt on an instrument I had no business playing. Yet, year after year, the comments to the videos seemed to interpret our little gag joke as utterly serious.

Some comments attempted to be helpful by suggesting I practice before posting videos while others were far less kind; one viewer suggested the model of trombone I was using was far beyond what I deserved and several viewers thought I was ruining trombone for all female players! Although some correctly identified and outted me as their guest concertmaster for various orchestras I’ve played with the past few years, that never seemed to stem the tide of comments from those who thought all of this was serious.

This summer, with the help my brother Craig Mulcahy (principal trombone, National Symphony Orchestra), Steve Norrell (principal bass trombone, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), and Ja’Ttik Clark (principal tuba, Oregon Symphony Orchestra), we recorded a low brass excerpt from a Brahms symphony.

To make the gag more obvious, I had a Frank Babbitt, friend, colleague, Lyric Opera of Chicago violist, and incredible mimic, do the voiceover as Christopher Walken!  While the last several years have been fun, it is fascinating that these trombone excerpt parody videos turned viral while the serious videos from orchestras and chamber works I’ve performed don’t see the same volume.

But that’s okay. What I take from all of this is sometimes people seek out funny and they’ll find a laugh. But quite a few people who love classical music tend to be very, very serious about it and I wonder if that’s natural or if it has something to do with the image classical music has built over the years. And those that don’t get the joke feel better about themselves for offering a variety of criticism. Either way, it makes people feel good!

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

Join our list

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

1 thought on “Seeing The Forest For The Trees”

  1. Your trombone playing wasn’t to be taken seriously? I’m shocked; totally shocked!!..and appauled….and incensed….and angry, very angry to be taken advantage of. Had I known, I ‘d would have spent my time listening to a serious musician like Spike Jones or Victor Borga.


Leave a Comment

Seeing The Forest For The Trees

Join our list

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

Send this to a friend