Remembering Kristin Brinkmann

By Sara Kleinsasser Tan

Kristin Brinkamn
Kristin Brinkmann, violinist

My first encounter with Kristin was in late August 2014, via a message from the BSO’s website contact form. Her message simply read: “Being on permanent disability from MN Orch and suddenly being relegated to the audience is seriously not agreeing with me. Would you have a spare chair for me here? I miss it too much.”

A short time later, Kristin joined the BSO as a first violinist, where she served as assistant concertmaster, filled in as concertmaster from time to time, led sectionals for the second violin section, and served on the Board of Directors.

If you attended a concert between October 2014 and November 2017, you likely saw a very tall (over six feet!) first violinist who would sit on an unusually tall chair on the outside of the section. She didn’t always stand when the rest of the orchestra rose, and she’d often stay in her chair during the intermission.

In addition to the aforementioned disability, Kristin lived with Parkinsons disease. She was forced to step away from her professional playing with the Minnesota Orchestra, but with the right combination and timing of pain medication, Kristin was able to prepare for and participate in the BSO’s weekly rehearsal. She would embark on the long drive from her home in White Bear Lake, to rehearsals in Bloomington, often arriving early to give her time to move in her heavy chair, and warm up her muscles enough to be able to play.

During her time on the board, Kristin provided me with so much insight that could only come with her extensive musical experience. One example that stands out is the unique perspective she offered on repertoire. One year, Manny had his eye on a certain piece for an upcoming season concert. Kristin knew the piece from her days at the Minnesota Orchestra, and warned against programming it, noting its difficulty for the professional musicians of the MN Orchestra. She was able to suggest alternate ideas that would lead the ensemble to musical success and musicians’ personal satisfaction.

I leaned heavily on Kristin’s editing skills for program notes and grant applications. She vigorously used the Microsoft Word editing feature, enthusiastically placing every comma, correcting many a grammatical error, strictly adhering to her inner style guide, always making sure the BSO was representing itself to the highest standard.

Over the years, Kristin started experiencing more and more pain. Following the November 2017 concert, she stepped away from playing and unfortunately never returned. We have missed Kristin’s playing and presence, but have always been planning on her return to playing and board service. We were heartbroken when we received the news that Kristin died of pneumonia on January 24, 2020, at the too young age of 52.

We humbly offer this tribute, along with the rose on the empty chair, as a memorial to a musician who has left her indelible mark on our organization. We are grateful for her time and service to our musicians and board.

We encourage you to read Kristin’s “Musicians Musings” posted on our website where you can read more of her story in her own words.

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Dmitri Kabalevsky Stayed at My House by Michael Sutton

Sounds like the title for a children’s book. Maybe it should be.

It’s 1979, and I’m having a wonderful childhood. I go to school, play with my friends, etc. In my mind, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, except that I’ve been a Suzuki violin kid for five years, I practice every day, and I’m starting to get good at it.

Before I go any further, allow me to introduce my parents so this story makes more sense. My loving mother Phyllis is the backbone of the household, taking me to lessons and helping mepractice, while steadfastly supporting my talented dad. His name is Vern, and he is balancing a singing career while also being a professor, and head of the opera department at the University of Minnesota.

I realize now that my childhood was anything but ordinary.

My parents inform me that we are going to have company, and that it isn’t family. They set the usual ground rules, and added a new one; I was not to use the phone while he was here, so that we could focus all of our attention on our guest. That was OK with me, because as a nine-year-old I didn’t really use it that much.

I had no idea who our guest was, just that he was important.

At our South Minneapolis house, near the University, arrives Dmitri Kabalevsky. He is a kindly old man, very tall, softly speaking a language I have never heard before. Thankfully, he has a translator traveling with him! She is magnificent; beautiful and elegant, her English so perfect it sounds fake. She is always there to help, but never in the way. I don’t remember anything she says in particular, except that I am welcome to call her Tatiana, and him Dmitri. It’s a short visit, and he has a busy schedule. But we are able to share some meals together, after which I play my little heart out for him.

Our house and car are his lodging and transportation during his stay, so Dad chauffeurs him to his functions at the University. One magical time, I get to go along. We pile into the front seat of our maroon Chevy Malibu station wagon, Tatiana alone in the back. As I sit in the middle of the bench seat, Dmitri ever so gently cradles my hands, rubbing them like you would a newborn. I feel an overwhelming sense of calm. He turns his head to the side and speaks over my head to his translator. Tatiana explains he is saying I must take care of my hands, as they are my gift.

Fast forward to adulthood.

This part would not be in the children’s book. This part is called “come to find out.” When I was old enough to understand, my parents let me in on a few things about this incredible visit. The University invited Kabalevsky to be their guest as they put on a festival honoring him and his music. He asked to stay in a home rather than a hotel, and we got the nod. This meant a few things were put in place behind the scenes:
That old rotary phone I was told not to use had been tapped by the CIA. I hadn’t even noticed the unmarked van parked next to our house. We were followed everywhere. That’s what happens when a high-ranking KGB agent stays at your house during the Cold War. “Tatiana” as she called herself, was there to make sure Kabalevsky didn’t defect. Our government was making sure she wasn’t here to steal secrets from Minnesota companies who worked with the Department of Defense.

Hearing this for the first time was chilling. But after the initial shock, my memories warmed me back up: I was so grateful I saw the whole event through the innocent lens of a nine-year-old. None of the politics I was oblivious to would ever take away the unspoken emotional bond I shared with my new gentle friend, Dmitri.

A score to the Concerto for Violin, written from Dmitri Kabalevsky to a young Michael Sutton

Come and hear Michael Sutton play Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Violin Concerto on Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 3 p.m. Complete concert information is available here.

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Musician’s Musings: Paul Benson

We love to feature Musings from our Musicians, and are excited to share this month’s submission, written by Paul Benson. Paul joined the BSO in November 2018 and we are so happy to have him in the cello section. We hope you enjoy this Musing as much as we do!



HOW TO BE A CELLIST IN TWENTY EASY STEPS!

Step 1 

Start. Do not stop. — This is the most important step of all of the steps. If you can completely fulfill Step 1, you may skip Steps 2 – x

Step 2

Start learning how to play the French horn. — This is an optional step, but still important to get the best cello experience humanly possible. 

Step 3

Get good. — Practice. A lot. Probably more than you should. 

Step 4

Audition for Minnesota All-state orchestra and Minnesota All-state band at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. Have a really good string audition and a really bad brass audition in the deadest room you have ever been in. — This is imperative to the cello experience. Make sure you have a beautiful audition where you practice the same thing over and over again, making sure to ignore the French horn audition and fully focus on the cello audition. 

Step 5

Get into the Minnesota All-state orchestra. — This will completely change the way you think about music, especially in the string world. Enjoy Prokofiev for the first time. This will get you really interested in classical repertoire! 

Step 6

Start to branch out. — Join local orchestra, the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra. This is when you start actually thinking of majoring in music in college. 

Step 7

Apply to the University of Minnesota, planning on majoring in Music Education.

Step 8

Get accepted into the University of Minnesota, still planning on majoring in Music Education.

Step 9

Do not get accepted into the School of Music at the University of Minnesota. — This step is crucial. After this, you will want to practice your tail off for your next audition in 4 months. 

Step 10

Make sure you meet with your guidance counselor at the U. — Your counselor will ask if you have a back-up plan for if you don’t get accepted into the School of Music. Make sure you say “no.” 

Step 11

Practice very hard and get into the School of Music! — After a questionable Bach performance, you will be ready to join the SoM. Now you are able to take lessons from the great Tanya Remenikova. 

Step 12

Do not disappoint Tanya Remenikova. — This is another crucial step. You have to work super hard. 

Step 13

Audition to be in the University Symphony Orchestra. — You will probably shake very badly during your audition. That’s okay; you’re still not ready. 

Step 14

Get into one of the orchestras meant for non-music major students. — This makes you feel like you have something to prove. Continue to work very hard. 

Step 15

About 1 year later, audition for the USO again. — This time is the charm. You’ll make it in after working very hard to get to…

Step 16

Sit in the back of the cello section. — Your new goal for professional playing is to move up from, well, not the back. This will bring about an understanding in yourself – there is no shame in sitting in the back of the cello section. Every member of the section is important. But if you want to sit further up you just have to work harder. 

Step 17

Start to work on your senior recital. — Throughout this process, you have good lessons and bad lessons. There are so many times where you doubt yourself. But you’ve come way too far to stop now. You spend more time in the practice room than you ever have before. You need to get your Bach 2 and Saint-Saens Cello Concerto working. There are moments where Tanya offers an easy out – simply only do a few movements from each part. At this, you outright refuse – you do not want to budge, not even a small amount. To do this would be to give up a huge piece of what you believe in, what you’ve been striving for. This is truly the ultimate test. 

Step 18

Start to feel pretty good. Perform your senior recital wonderfully. — You have come such a long way from when you started, but your journey isn’t over yet. You do surprisingly well for your senior recital; you can’t get down on yourself for doing your absolute best. Your brain, which is normally very critical and deprecating, is quiet. You have done it! You memorized every note, you played every phrase. You feel like you’re starting to get the hang of it.  

Step 19

Next steps. — After you’ve graduated from college, there are many paths to take. The one you might end up taking is Focus On Teaching. You got your first job, but you put all of your effort into becoming a better teacher. This means the cello will take a bit of a back seat as you move forward. 

Step 20

Get right back into it. — You move back into the metro area, a place rife with opportunity to perform. You were recommended to audition for the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. This was always in the back of your mind, until you decide to go for it. You work hard to get your audition as best as you can. When the moment comes… You’re in! 

At this moment, you will have to start making decisions on your own. Everyone’s journey to be a better musician comes in many different shapes and colors. I always tell my students that pursuing music is like climbing to the top of a mountain whose peak you will never get to see. What you end up seeing is a vast musical landscape that spreads out before you the higher you climb. You may never reach the summit of the mountain, but what you get to see is where you’ve come from and where you’re going. My hope for them – and myself – is that we all keep looking upwards. 

“I feel that I am making daily progress.” – Pablo Casals

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Musician’s Musing – November 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO board member and associate principal violist, Sarah Oxendale

I didn’t find music; music found me.

As a young girl growing up in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities, I had no knowledge of classical music. I had no family members that were musicians, and in our neighborhood, few families were able to afford music lessons for their children. Playing an instrument had never crossed my mind, until I was 11 years old and I had the chance to get out of reading class.

One day in fifth grade, Mrs. Wilson visited our classroom. She brought along a violin and played a few songs that most of us could recognize: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Row Your Boat, and other childhood songs. She also played music I had never heard before, but instantly I was fascinated by the sound of the violin, with soaring melodies and sparkling notes. Mrs. Wilson handed out paper and asked us to trace our left hand with a crayon. Then, one by one, she looked at each student’s hand drawing and asked them if they would be interested in learning an instrument. When Mrs. Wilson saw my hand, she exclaimed at my long fingers and said “You can play any instrument you want to! Would you like to try the string bass?” I shook my head no- the violin had found me. Orchestra class was once a week during reading class, and although I loved reading, I loved doing things with my friends even more. A few of my friends signed up for orchestra, and I went home and told my parents I wanted to play the violin.

Many things attracted me to the violin. I, of course, loved the sparkling and dazzling sound of the instrument. I also loved the look of the instrument- carved out of wood and lacquered a beautiful orange-brown color. Most of all, I was drawn to the process of learning how to play the instrument. I loved the tactile experience of holding the violin in the left hand and the bow in the right, and learning how to coordinate the movements to produce a sound (although it took some time to learn how to stop squeaking!). Learning how to move the fingers in my left hand with rhythm and precision took a lot of practice, and I found myself, even at a young age, practicing for hours to master each song for orchestra class.

By the time I was 13, I was fully immersed in orchestra. Mrs. Wilson, who had inspired me to begin violin, recommended to my parents that I take private lessons. I did, and with the help of my teacher, I successfully auditioned to join the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. There I got my first experience with “real” classical music. In the symphony, we played entire pieces instead of short excerpts, and we had a full orchestra including winds, brass, and percussion instead of my school string-only orchestra. Yet I still didn’t love classical music. As I told my mom, I loved playing classical music but I didn’t like listening to it.

When I entered high school, my musical world broadened. I began studying privately with a new teacher, Lynda Bradley-Vacco. My high school had many opportunities for musicians outside of regular orchestra class, including chamber orchestra, pit orchestra with the musical theater, and all-conference and all-state orchestra groups that I joined by audition. It wasn’t until I was playing music several hours a day, several days a week that classical music found me- I finally began to understand and appreciate classical music. I learned to hear how music evolved with history, from the sturdy Baroque sounds of Handel and Bach to the passionate sounds of Debussy to the unusual and even strange sounds of 20th century music. I began listening to classical music constantly and for me it became an outlet for expression, a respite from stress and worry, and a reflection of joy and happiness.  I learned how to apply my musical skills to bring expression and personality to the music. Around this time I also learned that I loved something even more than the violin- the viola! Compared to the violin, the viola is slightly bigger, with a lower range, a deeper sound, and more richness and depth. There are fewer sparkling, dancing melodies, but more interesting harmonies and beautiful singing tones that spoke to my quiet personality more than the flashy, center of attention violin. With the support of my teacher Lynda (who was primarily a violist herself), I began to learn the viola and decided to switch exclusively to viola when I began college.

Inspired by my teachers, I decided to pursue a degree in music education, hoping to become an orchestra teacher myself. However, as I began to take education curriculum courses, I realized that my love of music did not include a love of teaching. I began to explore other career options outside of music, and I discovered occupational therapy. Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals that work in the rehabilitation process, helping people with disabilities or injuries to gain or regain skills that they need to function in daily life. My particular interest area was hand therapy; this is a specialty of occupational therapy that helps people recover from injuries and surgeries of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. From my experience as a violinist, learning how to teach my hands to work and refine skills to play an instrument, I knew that I would love helping others with rehabilitating their hands to be able to do the things they love to do. I learned that some hand therapists specialize in working with musicians and treating musician injuries, and I was fortunate enough as an OT student to do a clinical internship with the musician’s clinic at Sister Kenney Rehabilitation in Minneapolis (now a part of Courage Kenney Sports and Physical Therapy).

After graduating with my Doctorate in Occupational Therapy in 2008, I began working full time as a hand therapist. Unfortunately, during my studies I had put my viola aside, as I did not have opportunities or time to play my instrument. Classical music was still an important part of my life and I missed my viola, but my passion for my career, and then my family, came first.

Then, music found me again. In 2013, I had stopped working and was a stay-at-home parent to my infant twin daughters. Lynda Bradley-Vacco, my former teacher, sent me a Facebook message one day and asked me if I’d like to play viola with the orchestra she was leading, the Bethel University Orchestra. I jumped at the chance to start playing and performing music again. I pulled my viola out of storage and dusted it off, and to my surprise it felt easy to play, even after taking a seven year hiatus from playing. My hands remembered what to do; the hours and hours I spent refining my skills paid off as muscle memory. It took a little bit more time to refresh my speed at reading music and understanding rhythms, but I worked hard to gain those skills back to perform with the Bethel Orchestra. Music found me and I felt back at home doing something I loved. Lynda was proud of me for returning to my passion for music, and I was grateful to her for giving me the opportunity and inspiration.

Less than a year after we had reconnected, Lynda tragically died of cancer. For me, and for so many of her former students, the pain we felt could only be expressed in music. Her funeral included music performed by a full string orchestra and honored the gifts of faith, love, and music that Lynda gave each of her students. I decided that reconnecting with her and finding music again had a purpose, and that I wanted to stay involved in music in part to honor her legacy. Years ago, Lynda had played occasionally with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and had spoken highly of her musical experience with the group, and I decided that I would audition to join the BSO. I’ve now been a member of the BSO viola section for 3 years and I’m grateful that yet again, music found me.

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Musician’s Musing – October 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO board member and timpanist, Trevor Haining

I’ve been a percussionist for most of my life. It started with pots, pans and furniture. Then my parents got me my first drum set at age two, a Mickey Mouse kit that I allegedly broke within a few days.  Coming from a musical family, I’m very thankful for an upbringing that allowed me to embrace music. Though my focus was jazz drum set, classical and orchestral music still captivated me. In high school my passion for classical music was ignited by attending my brothers Minnesota Youth Symphonies concert. After being inspired by the musicians playing great, challenging music at such a high level, I decided that I had to be a part of it. I made the symphony orchestra with Manny Laureano conducting and it remains one of the best experiences of my life.

I went to college to study jazz drums and with the help of my drum set professor, convinced the faculty to let me play percussion in some of the orchestras on the side. I remember sneaking into the timpani practice rooms, practicing out of method books and playing excerpts, dreaming of one day playing them in an orchestra.

I first heard about the Bloomington Symphony when I was playing a jazz gig one night. Our oboist, Patrice Pakiz, happened to be in the audience. We ended up chatting and she told me that she played in the BSO, that Manny Laureano was their conductor, and that their timpani position was opening up. I remember thinking how much I would like the opportunity to play with the BSO and to work with Manny again. However, having not played timpani since college, I didn’t think I could win the audition. After my dad kept twisting my arm to audition, I decided to dust off my timpani and go for it, and I’m very glad I did. Playing in the BSO has challenged me to grow personally and musically. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play great challenging, inspiring music with an amazing community of musicians. It’s a dream come true.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite composers, Felix Mendelssohn:

“Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.”

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Musician’s Musing – May 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO first violinist, Kelly who shares her experience with the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp as well as the trials and tribulations that led her to the BSO.

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience, Part III

Music has always played an important role in my life.  To simply put a complex experience, it has been a constant vehicle of learning and growth.  In addition to the music, from an early age, the orchestra helped me learn what it means to be a part of a team, to work hard, to build trust and relationships, and to have fun while doing it!  My high school orchestra and teacher made the greatest impacts on my childhood, which inspired the decisions that led to where I am now as an adult.

I became a violin teacher.  It’s a job I love and look forward to every day.  But despite that, I was still missing what made me fall in love with the instrument – making music with the orchestra.  So I set my sights on the Bloomington Symphony.  Their reputation and quality was something I wanted to contribute to.  So, I practiced my solo and excerpts and wasn’t sure what to expect – I had never auditioned for a panel before.  Nervously, I played and failed.  It was rough, and in reality, I was unprepared.  It was hard to hear the critiques, but important, since I was already planning on auditioning again.

Next summer came, and this time it was going to be different.  I set a practice regiment, joined a sight-reading orchestra and sought out a teacher for myself.  Alas, it still wasn’t enough and I failed the second audition.

Another year went by, and the Bloomington Symphony had announced that Manny Laureano would be taking over.  This sparked a different motivation in me than before – I had been listening to him play trumpet on stage with the Minnesota Orchestra since childhood.  He was a musical hero to me and I saw this as a huge learning opportunity to play under him.  I increased the practice time, focused my efforts, and began studying under another teacher, Pam Arnstein of the Minnesota Orchestra.  In addition to being an incredible musician, she is equally amazing at teaching and helped my playing reach new levels than before.  I went in for my third audition and passed!  At last, I was in the orchestra.

Why I Play: Kelly Carter

Since then, my time with Bloomington Symphony has been priceless.  The repertoire and demands of Manny and the orchestra have elevated my musicianship to a place I never thought it could be.  I’m extremely grateful and owe a lot of my progress to the group.  I’m pretty sure this also contributed largely into my acceptance in the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp held last summer.

Fantasy Camp is a 3-day experience allowing amateur musicians to feel what it’s like to be in the Minnesota Orchestra – something I had dreamed about since beginning the violin.  The camp was demanding and expected the music to be fully prepared for the first day.  By doing this, it made room for us to focus on the music making right away, instead of learning the notes.  We also attended talks on conducting with Sarah Hicks, Q&A with Michael Sutton, and rehearsals with Osmo.  But what I was most looking forward to was playing with the orchestra.  We received our seating assignments the second day and BAM!  That’s when the camp became surreal.  My seat was next to Pam.

Our rehearsals felt like it went by quickly but I was ready.  We took our places on stage for the concert and it all just hit me.  Here I was standing on Orchestra Hall, playing in partnership with my teacher, under Osmo, in front of a sold-out hall.  We played Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz and the crowd went wild.  It’s an indescribable feeling of joy, appreciating the circumstances, work, and support that put you there on that stage.

Without the Bloomington Symphony, it wouldn’t have happened.  I would have never known what preparation meant, or how to quickly interpret the requests of a demanding conductor, let alone my playing quality.  They have helped me grow over the years and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of the orchestra’s growth now too.  Since graduating, I had missed that feeling of camaraderie, and am honored that I have found it again with this family of musicians, the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

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Musician’s Musing – March 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO first violinist, Jessica Cheng who shares her experience with the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp.

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience, Part II

Fantasy Camp with the Minnesota Orchestra was an incredible experience. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. All I knew is that my friend, Cynthia, expressed interest in participating, and she managed to sucker me into doing it as well. I had initial doubts if this was going to be worth my time since I had to take time off of work. But as I look back on the two days that I spent in Orchestra Hall, I can confidently say that the time was well spent.

 

Some highlights from the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp:

– I had the privilege of sitting next to Rui Du, the assistant concertmaster. I was extremely humbled (and intimidated!) by his talent, but the best part about sitting next to him was getting to know him outside of his profession. We talked about our Asian backgrounds, our families, and how this event was something that he also enjoyed. We also talked about how we are both transplants to Minneapolis and the associated challenges that transplants often face. This ability to empathize with similar issues made me realize that I, Jo Schmoe with a corporate job, am actually not that different from a professional musician.

– The orchestra knows how to have fun. I remembered mentally preparing myself to be as professional and serious as possible on stage, especially in front of Osmo. But my nerves quickly faded away when I saw everybody smiling and joking around, including Osmo. You could truly tell that these musicians loved playing together. And there’s definitely some ‘class clowns’ in the orchestra (e.g. viola section, Peter McGuire, dare I also include Michael Sutton?)

– I am proud of the musicians that the Bloomington Symphony brings together. We are a talented bunch. I was taken by surprise after the second rehearsal when Jonathan Magness, second violin, and I were chatting and he told me that I sounded great! I was thinking, “who? Me?!” The compliment has since resonated with me, so Jonathan, if you’re reading this– thank you. That meant so much to me.

– If you have never played at Orchestra Hall, you absolutely have to. The acoustics are out of this world. The ability to play in such a beautiful and pleasing space was worth every penny.

– And last but not least, the highlight of the entire experience was the standing ovation from a completely sold out concert. We struck our last chord of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, and the roar of clapping and whistles was overwhelming. As I looked out, I saw a row of my closest friends and colleagues, and my heart was filled with so much joy. In that moment, I realized that I had just played with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I was so happy that I was able to share that moment with the people who are so important to my Minneapolis community.

I thank the Minnesota Orchestra, Sarah Hicks, Osmo Vanska, and my fellow amateur musician friends for making the Fantasy Camp so fun. I am honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the world in an incredible venue, and I look forward to doing it again!

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Live Performance of “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra with Manny Laureano, Music Director and Conductor, performs “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations on Sunday, February 25, 2018 at the Masonic Heritage Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.

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“Stories and Enigmas” :: Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first edition of the “Musings” for the “Stories and Enigmas” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 25, 2018.

Camille Saint-Saens, composer

Relationships formed through music often turn out to be ones that are the motivation for great works and smaller, flashier works that also invite a look into the characteristics of a performer. “I like this about you and I’m going to exploit those things you do well in a piece I want to write for you.” I would imagine initial conversations about a proposed work go along those lines. Brahms had Joachim and Camille Saint Saëns (1835-1921) had Pablo de Sarasate whose virtuosity was a standard during the day.

Sarasate was a true musical prodigy with an ability to perform that were unquestionable beyond his years. Born among the bull bull runners of Pamplona, his father saw to it that he would begin his music studies early. Great musicians tend to meet over the course of their lives and the friendship that ensued between the two artists brought forth several larger works including two of Saint Saëns’ concerto and the very popular “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.” The work is predominantly in A minor with a cheerful nod to a lighter dance-like section in C major that is clearly an acknowledgement to the Spanish heritage of his premiering soloist. In fact, the entire piece has that Moorish quality that may take us away from the usually bitter cold of our local weather and take us to sunnier climes!

Enjoy this preview of Michael rehearsing with the Bloomington Symphony – Manny Laureano, conductor

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Stories and Enigmas featuring Michael Sutton, violin, and Gary Briggle, narrator. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 25, 2018, at 3 p.m., at the Gideon S. Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center (11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Masonic Heritage Center Box Office, or by calling 800.514.ETIX.

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Musician’s Musing – February 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Principal Percussionist, Paul Madore.

 

From Jazz to Classical

 

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved music. So much so that my earliest childhood memories center on drums, phonograph records, or a combination of the two. I distinctly remember pounding away on a Quaker Oats oatmeal canister, trying to play along with the calypso rhythms I heard as “Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean” spun around on our RCA “suitable for mono” portable record player. (Yes, I realize I’m showing my age here.)

Before I was old enough to read, I could go through my parents’ LP collection and pick out whatever they requested, much to my mother’s delight and bewilderment.

From there, it was a short leap from just listening to music to wanting to learn how to actually play it, and I begged my parents to let me take drum lessons. My mother spoke with a local drum instructor who advised her to wait until I reached the ripe old age of seven before making that commitment.

When my seventh birthday finally arrived, my parents could no longer delay the inevitable and told me I could start my drum lessons. I was so excited! I still remember my first lesson with Mr. Riccardo. He had a music studio set up in the finished basement of his house. As I walked down the stairs, I peered up at the photos on the wall of his trio playing at the “Marco Polo”, a local Italian restaurant that featured live music.

At the foot of the stairs was the main area of the basement, and as I rounded the corner, an alcove transformed itself into a musical Valhalla, with a piano, a stereo, and most importantly, a real set of 4-piece Slingerlands in blue sparkle finish! I had never seen a real drum set before, and was surprised to find a foot pedal behind the bass drum. Having previously only seen pictures of a drum set photographed from the front, I had somehow imagined that the bass drum’s only purpose was to support the small tom-tom and ride cymbal. Clearly I had much to learn…

Fast-forward to 6th grade, and I by now I was playing in a real rock and roll band! The original band name was “Mantissa”, which is some mathematical term that I’m still unfamiliar with. We quickly opted for the easier-to-understand and more picturesque “Red Moon”. We were a power trio of sorts, and did covers of classics like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Smoke on the Water”, along with some half-baked instrumental originals with inscrutable titles like “Japan” and “Corn Kernels”.  I felt super-cool, because the other 2 guys were in high school, and here I was with them playing at high school dances that I would have been too young to attend, had I not been one of the performers on stage.

As I grew older, my musical tastes became more refined, and in addition to playing in the school concert band and jazz band, I enjoyed listening to jazz and funk, and tried to emulate the style of my favorite drummers. I was a big fan of that outdated musical hybrid term “Jazz/Rock”, and I immersed myself in the crisp drumming styles of Bobby Colomby (“Blood, Sweat and Tears”) and Danny Seraphine (“Chicago”).

When I was 15, I auditioned for and won a spot in the percussion section with “America’s Youth In Concert”, a nation-wide concert band and choral group that played such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York and the bicentennial in Philadelphia, before embarking on a month-long tour of Europe.

After graduating from high school, I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I studied jazz theory and jazz drumming, played in various big band ensembles and received my Bachelor of Music degree in performance.

While living in Boston, I lived the aspiring “musician’s life” of working a day job to pay the bills, and playing various gigs at night to fulfill my musical passion. That template remained more or less intact, even after moving to Minnesota during the great Halloween storm of 1991.

Since moving to Minnesota, I became more involved in classical music, performing with the Dakota Valley Symphony, while continuing to play in various horn-driven funk/R & B bands, such as “Down Right Tight” and “Under Suspicion” and jazz bands such as “The Stan Bann Big Band” and “Beasley’s Big Band”.

My first experience performing with the BSO was back in 2003, when I was hired as an extra to play triangle and tam-tam in Mahler’s Second Symphony, “The Resurrection”. I was very impressed by the high level of musicianship of the players, and completely blown away by the magnitude of this magnificent work! Having at the time only a limited familiarity of Mahler’s music, I eagerly began exploring his other works and today consider Mahler one of my all-time favorite composers.

Around 2010 or so, I made the conscious decision to concentrate exclusively on performing orchestral music, primarily with the BSO, but also subbing with other orchestras, such as the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Civic Symphony.

When approached about writing this edition of the Musician’s Musings, I was asked to write about my experiences moving from jazz to classical. I’ve always likened the idea of a musician playing different styles of music as akin to a skilled athlete playing different sports. Proficiency at one sport is no guarantee for success at another. And yet, there is a common ground that some people skilled in athletics share. The hand-eye coordination that is required in one game may present itself differently in another game’s execution, but that basic coordination will still be required in some shape or form.

It is the same in the world of music. Certainly there are common fundamental requirements in order to play the correct notes, sing the correct pitches, etc. Stylistically, though there can be many subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Each musical style presents its own inherent logic and set of rules with which a musician must be familiar, or risk sounding amateurish.

A good example of this is evident in Jazz music. When all the players are in sync rhythmically, the music is considered “swinging”. Jazz music is triplet-based, with a typical ride cymbal pattern driving the rhythm: quarter note, 1st & 3rd triplet, quarter note, 1st & 3rd triplet, etc. Though it’s played like triplets, this rhythm is often written as: quarter note, dotted 1/8th & 16th, quarter note, dotted 1/8th and 16th, etc.)

A common mistake for “legit” or classical musicians is to play this rhythm strictly as written, which sounds “square”, “unhip”, and definitely NOT swinging. In order to sound correctly, a certain creative license must be employed, which means the player must not play exactly what is written on the page.

On the flip side of the coin is the seasoned jazz musician, who may know all the standard tunes in the repertoire by heart, or by reading off a lead sheet (a sort of musical shorthand that shows just the melody line and the chord changes), but may not have the sight-reading skills necessary if called upon to sub for a symphony orchestra. And all those European musical terms might feel like a foreign language, because they actually are!

Of course, there are many versatile musicians these days who can bridge both jazz and classical styles. Perhaps the most famous is Wynton Marsalis, whose trumpet virtuosity has extended into highly acclaimed recordings and performances in both sound worlds.

Since orchestral music can have limited percussion parts (or no percussion at all, in some cases), I sometimes get asked if I get tired of waiting to play, or having to “count so many bars of rests” before making an entrance. On the contrary. One of the great things about performing as part of an orchestra is that you get to listen and bask in the collective sound of the group as a whole. This is true even when you’re not playing, sometimes even more so. While I love playing a busy, challenging part and the “go-for-broke” spirit that goes with it, it can be equally enjoyable to just sit back and listen. In fact, I’d rather listen to music that moves me even if there is no percussion, than to play something I don’t connect with emotionally just for the sake of playing. I’ve always believed that to be a good musician, you must first be a good listener. I can think of no greater thrill than being on stage with the BSO when we’re making music at our highest level.

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