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 – January 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Principal Cellist and former Board President, Laurie Maiser.

 

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience

I’m a small-town Minnesota girl.  Born and raised in Austin, MN, it was a special event when we would have a school event to trek up to “The Cities” to see the Minnesota Orchestra.  As a student cellist, the MO was the brass ring – the incredible group of hometown professionals I daydreamed about being a part of someday.

But then 25 years passed, in which I switched from my Music major to Economics, worked in IT, married, and had kids.  The aspiration switched from performing at Orchestra Hall to just making time in a busy life to attend the concerts.  Then one day last spring I had three people send me the same email – the Minnesota Orchestra was hosting a Fantasy Camp

Fantasy Camp was a 2+ day event in July, culminating in a performance of Berloiz’s Roman Carnival Overture on stage in a side-by-side with the Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vänskä.

I wrote about it a lot on social media, so when the BSO Board asked me to write a blog post about my experience and what I can bring from it back to BSO, I thought it would be easy.  No problem, I can do that in a week.  That was a couple of months ago.

Turns out, it was harder than I expected.

The experience was sublime, no doubt.  The performance flew by so quickly…. followed by rousing cheers and a standing ovation. The crowd was full of our “plants” – each camper got 10 comp tickets – but still, the crowd reaction was icing on the cake. Two thousand people cheered us on. The MO musicians smiled and congratulated us as we walked off the stage – they were gracious and classy at every turn.

But what did I learn?  What can I bring back to BSO?

There were little cello things I thought of right away – how I learned so much from sitting next to Tony Ross, principal cellist, and trying to mimic shift timing and bow articulation.  How well Osmo Vänskä can imitate the roar of a motorcycle.  How the cellists all stick their end pins right in the floor – and have metal files backstage to keep them dangerously sharp.  But most of you don’t care about that.  So I kept thinking.

I left that camp a changed musician, but why?  If it wasn’t the little things, then what were the big ones?  I think I needed some time to live with these changes to put them into words, but I finally found some.

Preparation, preparation, preparation.  Without doubt, the level of preparation of MO musicians is exemplary.  We were told when accepted into Camp that we needed to know that music when we arrived, and they weren’t kidding.  We had sectionals on our own, but our rehearsals with the MO musicians were little more than run-throughs.  When you walk on that hallowed stage, you are expected to have every note down.  How much would we all grow if we had that mindset whenever we played?  We are largely amateurs in BSO – we all have other commitments – but what if we all did our best to come into that first rehearsal performance-ready?  What if we could use those rehearsals to work on ensemble and musical expression, because the notes were already there?

Think like a conductor.  Sarah Hicks, Minnesota Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, did a seminar for us on The Art of Conducting.  She went through the preparation of a conductor– what they must think through, what decisions they must make – before they lead an orchestra.  This was truly eye-opening.  I always study recordings of our BSO repertoire, but am laser-focused on the cello line.  This inspired me to listen differently.  What else is going on?  Which line are we taking over?  Where do we fit in the context?  I hear music differently now than I did before, and even catch myself conducting in the car.

The orchestra is a family.  BSO’s own Concertmaster, Michael Sutton, was tasked with talking to the campers about what was loosely titled “Auditions.”  They couldn’t have put that job to anyone better suited.  We heard his personal story, asked a bunch of questions, and eventually through his candid and colorful storytelling heard some hysterical “inside jokes” of the orchestra that – more than anything all week – connected us to the MO in a personal way and made the “fantasy” come to life.  What can each of us do to bring that culture of professional respect, personal courtesy, and a playful sense of humor to our playing experiences?   How can we make coming to rehearsal a personal pleasure beyond the music?

Above and beyond all of this, however, I walked out with overwhelming gratitude for the Bloomington Symphony.  You see, unlike some of the other “campers” I met there, I did not leave camp wistfully wondering when I would get to play symphonic music again. I have an incredible opportunity every week to make music at a high level with truly wonderful people.  I can keep learning under the inspiring leadership of Manny Laureano and Michael Sutton – who through their examples make every rehearsal like our own mini Fantasy Camp.  I’ve always been proud and grateful to be part of the Bloomington Symphony, but never more so than now.  Like any incredible vacation, Fantasy Camp was a tremendous thrill to experience.  However, at the journey’s end… there’s no place like home.

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“Music in 3D: #4” Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the second edition of the “Musings” for the “Music in 3D: #4” concert that will be performed on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Concerto for ‘Cello in B minor by Antonín Dvorák

Antonín Dvorák

Some composers find their niches quickly and write defining pieces soon in their careers. Others learn more and truly deliver the works that become associated with their names, later in life. This was certainly true of this magnificent work for ‘cello by Antonín Dvorák (1841 – 1904). He had written a piano concerto which has gone into the dustbin of musical history. His next effort, the Concerto for Violin in A minor, has become somewhat of a standard for great soloists, but has not occupied the same place as those by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Sibelius, Beethoven, or Mozart. To be sure, when one hears the Violin Concerto, it leaves one wondering why it’s not heard with greater frequency.

The fact is that Dvorák simply didn’t believe that the solo ‘cello was a powerful or compelling enough voice to soar over the body of an orchestra. Fate took a hand, however, when he decided to go to hear a premiere by a composer and education colleague at New York City’s National Conservatory, where Dvorák served as director. That colleague was Victor Herbert, whose Cello Concerto convinced Dvorák that he had been under a misconception. Dvorák set to work for two years, and in 1896 was able to have the noted English ‘cellist, Leo Stern, play the solo part at a premiere performance in London that changed the world order for the instrument forever.

In listening to the first movement, one is truly struck by the conversational quality of the relationship between orchestra and soloist. The opening is generous and takes its time introducing the solo voice of the ‘cello. When the ‘cello enters, its voice is stentorian and poetic. It shifts from anguished to playful to thoughtful, all the while demanding the best in the soloist’s technical prowess. This movement gives us a peek at a beautiful work of art that occupies a solid place in the repertoire.

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: #4” featuring cellist Nygel Witherspoon, winner of MNSOTA’s Mary West Solo Competition. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Jefferson High School Auditorium (4001 West 102nd Street, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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Announcing April Soloist :: Nygel Witherspoon

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Fifteen year old cellist Nygel Witherspoon will perform the first movement of Dvo?ák’s Cello Concerto with the Bloomington Symphony at their Music in 3D: #4 concert on Sunday, April 2. The concert will be held at the Jefferson High School Auditorium in Bloomington at 3 p.m., and will be conducted by Music Director Manny Laureano.

Mr. Witherspoon is the Grand Prize winner of the Minnesota String and Orchestra Teacher’s Association (MNSOTA) Mary West Solo Competition, which was held in November 2016. The Grand Prize is a $250 cash award and the opportunity to solo with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

To purchase tickets to the concert, please visit the Bloomington Box Office online or in person. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door (cash or check only).

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Auditions to be held July 14

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra will hold auditions on Monday, July 14, 2014 from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. at the Bloomington Center for the Arts. Interested musicians are invited to visit the Audition page for more information. Musicians may also download the audition letter here.Bassoons

Open positions include: Principal Second Violin, Assistant Principal First Violin (two chairs), Associate Principal Viola, Associate Principal Cello, Principal Bass, section violin, viola and cello, Flute III & Piccolo II (must play both) and Oboe III with optional English horn. Other instruments are invited to audition for place on our substitute roster.

We asked a few of our current players why they play with the Bloomington Symphony. Here is what they said:

“The Bloomington Symphony provides the opportunity for its musicians and its audience to really meet classical music where it is meant to be encountered…at close quarters with your neighbors and friends.”

“Performing with the BSO is a joy for me! I began learning how to play violin at the age of 6 and played with various orchestras all the way up through my college years. After graduating from college, I wondered if I’d find an orchestra that would challenge me and keep me growing as a musician. The BSO has done just that!”

“I feel incredibly fortunate to be playing in my 25th season with the BSO. I continue to carve out time to play in this fantastic organization because of the enthusiastic reception from our audiences, wonderful friendships both old and new, and the experience of making music. Music enhances nearly everything I do, and the BSO is an integral part of my life.”

 

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