If you’re in the orchestra business or are a huge fan of classical music, you’ve probably seen these videos; they’ve been widely circulated now for nearly a week.
But if you haven’t I really think you should take a listen.
Social distancing and shelter in place directives have disrupted not only our work but our workplace relationships, and this disruption is magnified for members of a symphony orchestra. The close personal relationships that develop among musicians make most orchestras akin to a (slightly dysfunctional) family, with all the concomitant intimacy and conflict.
But those are the kinds of relationships required to build the trust that’s requisite of the soul-revealing nature of a musician’s work. Orchestral relationships feel almost familial, and so to suddenly be separated from one’s musicial siblings or cousins is a heavy psychic blow as well as an interruption of the cooperative work that is at the heart of an orchestra.
The musicians in these videos have created them for many reasons: a desire to do what feels as natural as breathing, to continue their craft, to perform, to serve their communities and the world through the healing properties of music, to create moments of beauty and joy in a time where both seem lacking. But at the heart of it is their connection not just to the music but to each other.
At its best, an orchestra is a distillation, in miniature, of an ideal society, in which individuals bring their unique talents and, together in harmony, create something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s an expression of love that is at the same time personal, and communal, and universal. And it can create moments of true connection and joy.
Below is the orchestra who started it all, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, followed by my friends, the Toronto Symphony.
What experiences have you had in which a joint effort created something truly beautiful?
My task today: try something new on social media, a way to reach out to people in different ways. It took all morning but I made an Instagram story about fashion during quarantine (done!)
4 thoughts on “Odes”
I couldn’t recall any significant joint effort to create something beautiful other than being married for 40 years, so I wanted to post someone a short anecdote of someone who did.
One of my favorite composers was Leonard Bernstein who was a legend in the music industry, best known for many accolades including the West Side Story. According to music critic Donal Henahan, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”
While browsing the internet I found a video documentary highlighting the music of the West Side Story where he conducted a pick-up contractual orchestra and hired opera singers to record the session behind the scenes. This was my first look to see who he really was in person. Many of the rehearsals were performed in his apartment in NYC prior to working in a studio. The project was entitled “The Making of The West Side Story.”
In 1984, he conducted a recording session of West Side Story, the first time he had conducted the entire work. The recording, featuring what some critics felt were miscast opera singers such as Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, and Tatiana Troyanos in the leading roles was nevertheless an international bestseller.
I was captivated by the behind-the-scenes documentary underscoring the complexities of conducting an orchestra, including the innumerable takes and retakes. Being a perfectionist with an eidetic memory, and conducting the music he created, gave me a glimpse of “genius” in a man I adored all of my life. Being a complex composer and a heavy smoker, he passed in his apartment at “The Dakota;” six years later at the age of 72 of mesothelioma, leaving a legacy that will be remembered and critiqued by musicians and conductors forever.
On the day of his death, lights on Broadway were dimmed as a tribute to a passionate and dedicated man who reached the pinnacle of his career and touched the lives of so many. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, next to his wife and with a copy of “Mahler’s Fifth Symphony” lying across his heart.
Listed below is the link to “The Making of The West Side Story” documentary. Let me know your comments.
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Nice text. I listened the two performances and it was something. I don’t have any musical competency but I can appreciate when it sounds good. I think it was Ode to the Joye for the upper video. I was just wondering if there was a conductor at distance to make sure they were ‘synchronized’ or whatever the proper technical terms being in use. We should start to do a kind of ‘think tank’ for idea$. I’m not in your industry but sometimes an eye for the outside might start an idea. I’m just sayin’.
I think I have a story who could interest you. It was in 2006. Usually I tried to not say what I do as a living. Being a nurse is not socially being well viewed as something respectable. One of my patient was dying of cancer at home. He was surrounded by his wife and 3 children. He was originally from Louisiana and the lady was Irish from Georgia. At the time interacial marriage was quite ‘tabou’ (1957). He was black and she was white. They moved to Montréal being known for is multicultural society. They already had family here. I don’t put any judgement call here about the usa. I just report the facts the wife told me. My patient was a fan of Miles Davis and loved the trumpet. Two days before he passed away his wife and children hired a trompetist from a music school. It was a nice summer end of afternoon in july. We were told the scenario (it was staged) but we played the game. The patient didn’t know obviously. They left the entrance door open. We heard the sound of a trompet coming from somewhere outside (sidewalk). The sound was going in crescendo. He finally arrived in the room and started to play the melody. You know the cliché saying that you could hear a fly flying. The patient started to cry and all of us had our eyes red at least. I had goose bumps (chair de poule) on my arms. I knew I was living something special who would remain into my memory. What wasn’t staged was the fact that the neighbours were attracted by the music and started to gather near the entrance and were listening too. No one talked. I was told that there was a lady who was even talking to the people in their cars to not honk for +- 2 minutes. It created a micro traffic jam of 4 cars but the silence was respected. Try to figure out that scene. It was almost like on a movie set. The patient passed away peacefully +- 2 days after. The family filmed the scene. I was wondering what was that music scores that I’ve heard before. It was the main music theme of “La Strada” from movie director Federico Fellini. I then watched that masterpiece later on. Voilà my little story.
Eveyday since then I remember to myself that every person is a cell in the body of Humanity. xo
If I could choose one word to explain the meaning of life it would be “Sharing” Sharing our time, thoughts, gifts, compassion, and love. Once a man asked God what is the meaning of life? God replied life itself has no meaning; it is an opportunity to create meaning. Sharing is a way to create meaning and make a difference in the lives of others. I love your quote that every person is a cell in the body of humanity. We are each the notes in sheet music that create a melody; together we become a symphony orchestra that captivates in emotions that evoke tears of joy.
I commend Sarah for posting this website and hope we become friends to share more of our thoughts. xo
Sarah, I don’t know how you did it but your music blog with friends from the Toronto Symphony was amazing. Kudos on your technical skills I enjoyed the ensemble playing their instruments. You did accomplish something beautiful as a joint effort.