It’s been a long, long winter for just about everyone in the country. The “Polar Vortex” blamed for the freezing temperatures, snow, and ice impacted so many! But it’s these weather challenges that create memorable situations; during my weeks in Chattanooga, the snow and cold brought out the best in everyone.
The one of the many cool things the board members and administration of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera have is the ability to enjoy and appreciate all kinds of music. When I was invited to come enjoy a bluegrass concert I invited some of the board and administration to join me. What started out as just me and a couple turned into a van load of us that traveled to Ooltewah, TN, on a very frosty cold evening to see a bluegrass jamboree.
The Snow Hill Bluegrass Jamboree is hosted by my friend, Jerry Wilson. Usually I see Jerry when I’m traveling to or from Chattanooga on American Airlines where he is manning the ticket counter. We catch up on what my orchestra is doing, and Jerry tells me what bluegrass groups he has coming to play at Snow Hill.
Jerry and his wife come to the symphony now and then, so when he invited me to see his bluegrass jamboree to “experience a different kind of culture,” I was instantly intrigued. It was kind of a wakeup call to me, however. There I was in a concert environment I wasn’t familiar with; I don’t know much about the style or format of the concert, etc. This is what it must feel like to a newcomer to one of my concerts.
As bands came on and off stage, Jerry took me on a little tour around the old school building/volunteer fire department training center where the jamboree is held every month. Not only were there bands to be heard on stage, there were bands in the back hallways, pick-up bands in the former classrooms, pick-up bands in the old gym. People were gathering to jam and it was fantastic.
Sharing music, either publicly on stage, or privately in a small room, was so infectious; people were playing music for the shear sake of joy. I couldn’t stop smiling as we went from room to room seeing various musicians sharing favorite licks on banjo, different bowings on fiddle, singing in a group.
The other fun part about this Bluegrass concert was meeting people. Some were lawyers, politicians, veterinarians, teachers, and then there was us with the symphony, quite the eclectic mix all there to enjoy some music. Some people had come to our symphony concerts and recognized us; some will likely come to future concerts since Jerry gave us a glowing endorsement!
It was a fun evening and a great reminder that no matter what kind of concert there is, connections and friends will be made, and an emotional outlet is achieved by letting the music take main stage.
Of course when snow hits a city in the southern states, everything shuts down. Three of our four rehearsals were canceled due to dangerous road conditions so that a few days were suddenly open. Chattanooga is a very walkable city so I invited my friend who was playing as a guest artist that week to join me at the Tennessee Aquarium.
What a nice place to warm up and enjoy a relaxing day as tour guide. The aquarium was nearly empty so we had the whole place to ourselves. The keepers were very informative and helpful as we asked questions about some of the fish and birds.
After the aquarium, we asked ourselves what snow day would be complete without a pizza? So we called some other CSO musicians who were able to get out, and we all enjoyed a pizza night at one of the only open restaurants, Mellow Mushroom.
Cancelling most of our rehearsals, and having our piano soloist stuck in Atlanta for 48 hours left us with a very tricky situation. But the leadership of Executive Director Molly Sasse and Music Director Kayoko Dan came up with a very graceful solution. We’d already rehearsed most of our Brahms Symphony on the first rehearsal, so that left just the piano concerto to be worked on.
But since our pianist, Geoffrey Duce, was literally flying in at the very last moment, that meant either he would have to replace the concerto with a solo work, or the orchestra would have to add another orchestral work and skip piano all together. Neither option was appealing since just about everyone was excited to hear Brahms Piano Concerto #1!
Kayoko and Molly put their heads together and landed on an “open rehearsal style” concept. They let the audience know the soloist had no time to rehearse with us, so we were going to have to “rehearse” it publicly. This pulled back a giant curtain of mystery on how orchestras get concerts ready.
Kayoko was given a remote microphone so when the orchestra was too loud or when we weren’t syncing with the pianist we could stop to adjust, and the audience could hear how a simple instruction from her quickly changed the mood, volume, emotion, etc. The audience was on their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation. It was an exhausting chain of events that ended up with an engaging new way to enjoy a concert.
While we all got rather tired of winter, this winter has allowed for some really neat innovations to blossom. It’s the creativity, open mindedness, and genuine desire to share a musical experience (no matter what kind of music!) that allows us to tolerate hardships and flourish for the following seasons.