I’m having a blast playing in the NWSO, but more than that, I’m learning so much. I think to some extent that’s probably true for most of the orchestra members since we’re getting pieces into our fingers that I’m guessing most of us have never played before, but it may also be true for me in a different way since I know so little about classical music.
Growing up, even though I was deaf for a while and so missed some of the more popular songs from those years, I heard lots of music. I heard hymns both in church and on records, lots of folk songs (since my mother adored the Weavers and more specifically Pete Seeger and both bought records of the songs and took me to concerts), Broadway show tunes, and records of music that was popular when my mother was young (especially Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Any Williams and Perry Como) to which Simon and Garfunkel and Glen Campbell were later added. My grandmother would often putter her way through a piece of sewing or dusting singing songs from her youth, especially Dolores del Rio’s Ramona and the Spanish ballad Juanita. I also spent a lot of time at my next door neighbor’s home where I’d hear different pop music—songs by groups like The Cyrkle, Little Richard, and The Coasters. At school, as I learned to play trumpet, I learned “band songs,” snippets of various pieces, mostly children’s songs of one kind or another and as I learned guitar I learned “Peter Paul and Mary” type songs. And of course there was other music to which my friends and I listened—the Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, John Denver, the Stones, Elton John, and the like.
What I almost never heard, though, was classical music. No one in my family liked classical music and if it came on on a radio or a TV show, someone would quickly switch the channel or turn it off. Because of that, the only time I’d hear work by any classical composers was when I would sneak into the church and listen to an organ concert from the steps outside the sanctuary or when we’d sing something classical in children’s choir.
As an adult, I learned a little more about classical music, but still not in much of a systematic way. But now, playing with the NWSO, I’m beginning to get at least a basic feel for some of the composers we’re playing. As I try to get Grieg’s Peer Gynt into my fingers and mind, I’m becoming more aware that “In the Hall of the Mountain King” isn’t just a theme used in the movies Inspector Gadget or The Social Network. Instead I begin to see both how it fits into a larger body of work and some of the unique challenges it offers. Right now it may seem that I may never be able to get play all the notes in the Flute 2 part of “Jupiter” but I’m getting a lot more of a sense of Holst’s The Planets as I try. And through both working on the music and listening to Ben’s comments on what a composer is doing in a piece, I’m beginning to get a broader sense of various time periods and styles. Most of all though, as I get to explore and experience this music with a really nice group of people, I’m coming to appreciate some wonderful music that I might otherwise never have had a chance to come to know so well or enjoy so much!