Verdi’s NO-tello

Hello there! It is currently two-thirty in the morning, so I will try to make this as intelligible as possible. Firstly, THANK YOU for the overwhelmingly positive response to my (first) blog post last week! It is nice to be reminded that having a voice is still of value these days… Last week, in my free-time, I made a list of several topics  that I would like to write about. So, naturally in true procrastinator fashion, I will not be writing about any of them right now.

There are so many things going on this week, that I don’t know where to begin. We are currently in opera tech-week for Verdi’s Otello with the orchestra, and for some reason when rehearsals are moved from morning to evening, my brain always seems to just slowly rot away, so that by the end of the cycle, there is nothing left but a distant ringing in the ear and the perpetual state of fear…of missing the next key change. Nonetheless, I am grateful to check another masterpiece off of my “to play” bucket list. I can’t see what is going on above me, but it sounds like it might be worth booking a flight to Guadalajara? But what do I know, I’m just a pit-musician, and I can’t see anything from underneath the stage.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my orchestra career, and I have been revisiting musings of a different way of life. It seems that I come to this crossroads about once every three years or so — things tend to happen in groups of three. The last time I found myself in this place, I was just beginning grad-school, and I found myself grasping at straws for any justification of my pursuit of music. I struggled with this one for a while, actually. Just after my mother passed away, I was ready to throw in the towel for good on my music career. I wanted to trade it for something “meaningful.” I had deemed the path selfish and  ego-centric. After all, what in the world could I possibly contribute to humanity by spending hours upon hours every day “perfecting” my art? Medicine, I decided, would be my target. In the years that my mother courageously fought her battle with colon cancer, I found myself frequenting hospitals and waiting rooms, and I remember to this day how incredibly warm and comforting the doctors and nurses were; how, in the face of such incredible hardship, they always seemed to know exactly what to say to keep you going. I wanted to have that kind of impact, I wanted to offer that kind of brief respite to hurting hearts, even if just for the duration of an office visit or a chemo session. Surely I could not do that from the practice room.

Now, I know what musicians are probably thinking. ‘Music has the incredible capacity to transcend all logical forms of communication, to heal, and to unify individuals and masses of people. That is done on the stage, by a group of musicians who have already spent a good portion of their lives devoted to practicing their craft behind closed doors.’ You are correct, and that is exactly what a friend told me as I broke the news of my decision to leave music. She asked me, why do you play music? I didn’t need to answer, because we both knew why.

I have avoided the term ‘healer’ for a long time, because I have always felt, somehow, that that phrase carries with it a great deal of egoism. Almost as if somehow saying, “I am a healer” makes both the act and the word lose the essence that makes them so…well, healing. But I have always been drawn to the path of healers, and until recently I always thought I would do so from the stage. In fact, some of my most rejuvenating moments have happened while being a member of an audience, even if that means simply listening to a recording. When I am hurting, I can always count on Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings to draw out every ounce of pain, leaving room for the good stuff. When I am in need of energy, Shostakovich’s Finale to his Fifth Symphony never fails to get the job done. Undoubtedly, music heals. But I have spent the last seven months in what I had thought for a long time was my dream job — playing in an orchestra, impacting lives from the stage, and making a living doing so. But, the more time passes, the less convinced I become.

Music, for me, will always be the answer. I will never stop playing music. But, I crave a deeper connection, still. I want to see the faces of the people for whom I am playing. I want to talk to them, touch them, cry and laugh with them. I want them to know that I am with them, and that I play for them. I do not think I can accomplish this, for myself, from the back of an orchestra.

For years now, I have had a vision for a chamber orchestra — a society of musicians unafraid to dirty its hands. I want to be involved in the communities I play for, I want to know them, I want to know their struggles and their pain, and I want to personally prescribe them an experience that could change their lives, with music. We all know classical music is dying. This became boldly evident to me a few years ago when I attended a concert by the Houston Symphony. Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1 was the big piece on the program. It was February in Houston, Texas, so naturally quite warm. I was wearing khaki shorts and a polo, paid for my reasoscreen-shot-2016-11-19-at-2-29-21-amnably-priced ticket and entered the hall to take my seat. What I did not expect, was to be chastised for my attired by an elderly woman in a ballgown. “Have some respect,” she said. That may have been the turning moment for me. The egotistical, elitist image of classical music is killing the art. The idea that any human should be shamed, or worse turned away from any music experience for their mere attire is appalling. It is literally devastating. A vast majority of the population lives in complete and total alienation from an art form so pure, with healing capabilities so profound that not even modern science can refute its benefits. I am heartbroken for any person who is made to feel that they are not “good enough” by such a disenfranchising system. And honestly, in many ways I am, myself, ashamed to be a part of it.

The vision I have is for an organization called Sonar. And Sonar will aim to Unify, Educate, Preserve, and Innovate on the way classical music is performed and perceived. It will accomplish this by joining forces with local artists and charities to radically transform the accessibility of such an incredible way of life. I’m thinking food drive concerts for the homeless, residencies in low-income school systems, concerts featuring the music of different cultures, and fundraising events for community organizations in need…and no more damn tuxes! I have a dream that one day I will look out from behind my stand and see an audience of familiar faces, a truly diverse mass of individuals who have all come together for the joy and love for music. Imagine, Beethoven’s famous Symphony no. 5, with locally designed sets and pieces of art, choreography, and lighting that would rival ANY modern pop concert. No more “concert halls,” no more judgmental ladies in their ballgowns, no more “donors only,” “VIP” opera box seating. Just people listening to people playing world-class music for people.

Something is brewing. Let’s start a revolution.

P.S. I FULLY intend to be doing all of this while wearing the amazing blazer I found at Zara, pictured above. Please try and contain your excitement.

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