With summer approaching, most community musical groups will have finished the last of their regular concerts. Some will close down for the summer, while others will embark on a mixture of park concerts, summer festival performances and various other less formal musical events. This slowdown in more structured activities could accord band and orchestra members opportunities for revitalization and musical exploration. In chats with our editor, a variety of pathways to explore came to mind. What about trying our hands at a different instrument, a different method of studying our instrument or exploring a different musical genre?
In the past few weeks, attendance at a few widely diverse musical events has suggested new pathways. The first such event was a masterclass conducted by Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In his demonstration prior to critiquing the work of a few selected students, he stunned all present with his most melodic interpretation of a Bach suite for unaccompanied cello. Both the music and the instrument were shown in a whole new light for those in attendance. How about experimenting with music written for an instrument other than yours?
Many years ago I heard a noted musician suggest that any instrumentalist could benefit from coaching by a competent teacher of a totally different instrument, who could then focus on interpretation rather than motor skills. Some time later I had the opportunity to observe the results of such an approach second hand. I had a friend who wanted to learn to play the flute. Armed with her new instrument and an exercise book with a fingering chart, she started her flute studies under the tutelage of the late Bram Smith, former conductor of the RCMP band and a trumpet virtuoso. The results were very rewarding. She progressed well under the guidance of an excellent instructor without getting hung up on technical difficulties.
As for trying a totally different instrument, some years ago while acting on staff of a music camp for adults I had the chance to sit in on a beginners’ class on oboe. None of us had any prior experience with oboe, but after a lesson a day for the week, my fellow classmates and I were competent enough to perform a simple melody at the final concert of the camp. Under normal circumstances such an exploration could offer the additional financial challenge of acquiring a suitable instrument.
As for exploring other forms of music as a listener, quite by chance I had a number of opportunities. The first of these was in a concert by the Hannaford Street Silver Band with steelpan soloist Liam Teague. Years before, my introduction to the music of the steelpan was very different, but could not have been better. While serving as a young naval officer over fifty years ago, our ship spent several days in the British Virgin Islands. When one of our senior officers heard about this new steel band phenomenon, the local band was invited to come aboard the ship. My first impression of these instruments was of calypso rhythms while rocking gently at anchor under a bright Caribbean moon. Quite a change from that to hearing Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo years later on solo steelpan in a concert hall.
Another opportunity was presented when I received an invitation to attend the final concert of the season of the Toronto Theatre Organ Society (TTOS). This great four manual Wurlitzer organ was originally installed in Shea’s Theatre on Queen Street in the days of silent movies and vaudeville. With the demolition of Shea’s, the organ was relocated to Maple Leaf Gardens. When Harold Ballard realized that he could install a few more seats in the Gardens if the organ were to go, the organ was removed and in grave danger. Fortunately it was rescued, restored and given a good home at Casa Loma. Under the skilled guidance of guest organist David Peckham we were treated to the many voices and moods of a great theatre organ. While there are many recordings available of theatre organ music, no recording can capture the sensations of experiencing such an instrument in a live performance.
So where does this leave me in my quest for new horizons this summer? In playing the trombone, the fingers are rarely challenged to participate in the performance. So perhaps I should consider exploring the performance intricacies of an instrument that presents challenges to the fingers. While the above photo might suggest that I intend to take up the theatre organ as my summertime revitalization project, I find that it might be a bit difficult accommodating such an instrument at home. I will have to direct my performance intentions in some other direction.
The bassoon might be suitable choice. Its performance requirements, including finger and thumb demands, are sufficiently different from anything I normally deal with to present me with a suitable challenge. As for the theatre organ, I have made a firm resolve for next fall to attend some of next season’s programmes and experience the myriad musical nuances that only that instrument can provide. I can highly recommend it. Why not join me? Information on the Toronto Theatre Organ Society is available at www.theatreorgans.com/toronto.
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