This is a post from National Symphony Orchestra bassist Jeff Weisner. Jeff also teaches bass at The Peabody Institute in Baltimore and co-authors the blog PeabodyDoubleBass. Click here for all of Jeff’s doublebassblog.org posts.
Hello all – first of all, I’m excited to be here on the big bass blog and looking forward to posting here in the future. Thanks to Jason for the invite to participate in DBB.org and for all he does to make this site such a great resource!
For my first post here, I thought I’d do some National Symphony Orchestra blogging. It’s a topic I don’t cover at all on the Peabody blog, where we try to stay focused on teaching-related topics, so perhaps I can blog a bit about my orchestral life here. And my current NSO activities are pretty unusual (for a big American orchestra, anyway), and something that I think people might be interested in.
I’m writing this from the LaGuardia airport, where we are about to take off for our American Residency tour for this season. We just played at Carnegie Hall last night, which is always a lot of fun, but isn’t anything truly extraordinary in itself – almost every major orchestra in America plays there on a regular basis. Our next destination is a little more unusual – via Charlotte, we travel to Greenville, South Carolina, and the following day we have a concert in tiny Clover, SC. It’s probably the first orchestra tour to feature that itinerary!
The Clover concert is the first concert of our American Residency tour of South Carolina. Each year, we travel to a state that does not contain a full-time symphony orchestra, “full-time” being defined as being employed year-round. (This is by no means meant to imply that the many excellent orchestras in South Carolina and other states are in any way “lesser” ensembles; the designation is only important because full-time orchestras have more financial resources available than part-time orchestras). Once there, we play a bunch of orchestra concerts in all sorts of places, from concert halls to high school gyms. More importantly, we are busy all day, blanketing the state with chamber concerts, master classes, teaching and arts advocacy talks and events, and school concerts. On the average 9- or 10-day Residency, there are over 100 separate events. All the events are organized and sponsored by local arts groups, and they submit proposals to the NSO, who then asks musicians to participate. We’re paid extra for these events, but most of us do the events as much for the performance and education opportunities as for the money (it’s not a whole lot of money anyway).
I love the Residency tours and think they are one of the most unique and important things my orchestra does. We play for packed houses in tiny towns where no one has ever heard a professional orchestra before, and help expose a lot of children to music in places where school music programs have often been slashed to the bone or eliminated altogether. We also get to interact with the often ignored or misunderstood musicians and teachers in these states. We make a pretty big splash in the local media on the Residencies, and often this means that the local orchestra conductor or school strings teacher gets to be king or queen for a day as we help get the spotlight on local arts programs. I’ve been told that the Residencies have helped more than one school arts program in places we’ve gone to survive. How often can we see what we do as musicians have that kind of impact? It’s fantastic and I wish it could be a program duplicated by other orchestras around the country. There are plenty of unreached communities all over the US that big orchestras like mine can and should reach on a regular basis. Classical music needs enthusiastic advocacy right now, more than it needs splashy gala concerts or megastar soloist crossover projects!
To give you some examples, here’s what I’m doing on this residency:
– playing 5 full orchestra concerts. The program: Mozart Magic Flute Overture, Schuman Prayer in Time of War, Britten Young Persons’ Guide, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition
– playing a youth concert about music and time
– Giving a pre-concert “Meet the Performers” talk about two of the pieces we’re playing (Mozart Magic Flute Overture and Schuman “Prayer”)
– Giving a master class for bass students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia
– Playing two bass quartet concerts with some of my NSO colleagues.
I’ll blog about some of these events in future posts, in particular about the quartet concerts, which should be a good time.