Musical Expression

Some time ago, In 1989, I was invited to observe San Diego Symphony rehearsals for a series of performances by means of which, the Symphony’s Orchestra Committee hoped to choose a new conductor from a select group of invitees. I was the only person in the audience (musicians were paid a lower fee for private rehearsals, according to the AFM Local 325 union contract) to witness the selection process as well as the conductor’s craft, when. over several weeks, the 80-odd symphonists ambled onto the stage carrying their instruments, found their appointed chairs before their specified music stands, and sat quietly in a semi-circular formation. Promptly at 9:55, a woman or man they’d never before seen walked up to the podium, uttered a few words advising where they were to begin in the score, raised a baton, and as if by magic, the assembled lot, were transformed into a symphony, simply by playing notes printed on their score parts. I remember in particular, a part from Prokofiev’s Suite for Romeo and Juliet in which the tonal harmony rises from chaos. On another day, they attacked Dvorak, cajoled Beethoven, led Britten, engaged with Sibelius, and so on. It wasn’t lost on me that the ideas of these composers were enduring in global human memory by means of an arcane and complex set of traditions and conventions that span many cultures through time and distance.

I was there simply because I’d asked a neighbor, who I knew was the operations director of the symphony, to allow me observe the conductor try-outs, which were held the day before the public performances, at ten on Thursday mornings. As it turned out, the symphony was unable to hire a conductor because it was bankrupt, as the Board had refused to continue funding. However, I did two things I hadn’t previously considered. First, before I began to study music (and recently earned a master’s degree education in composition), I outlined a series of video programs for use by educators in San Diego’s public schools and with the support from local foundations and the assistance of a conductor I’d met during the rehearsals, I produced The Nature of Sound, which was the first in the series of educational videos I’d outlined in which elementary school students are given the basic distinctions about music and the science of sound. (Teachers in every school in San Diego Unified School District have shown it to countless students since 1989.)

 

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