Alive and Well

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous quote, the death of classical music in America has been greatly exaggerated.

This Saturday, November 9, 2019, I will have the great pleasure of guest conducting a concert of the Salt Lake Symphony at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on the University of Utah campus. The orchestra by and large comprises a group of amateur musicians who perform throughout the year simply for the joy of it. In preparation for a concert, they rehearse once a week on Tuesday nights for five weeks. Why at night? Simple. Because during the day the musicians have full-time jobs, most of which are not in music.

The program we’re doing is daunting by anyone’s standard. The major work is the Symphony No. 3 by Aaron Copland, a massive, 45-minute composition that requires the forces of a battery of a half dozen percussionists, piano, celeste, two harps, and a full complement of brass, woodwind and string sections. To put it mildly, it is a challenging piece in terms of ensemble playing, its dozens of rhythmic pitfalls, and technically difficult parts for all involved (yours truly, included). I performed it in the violin section of the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood last summer, and even given Tanglewood’s park-like setting, it was no walk in the park.

Yet, the Salt Lake Symphony is performing it at the request of the musicians themselves, and they have been up to the challenge. And it must be mentioned that the remainder of the program is hardly less challenging: the rowdy overture to “The Cowboys” by John Williams, and the muscular “Estancia” Suite by the Argentinian composer, Alberto Ginastera. To be able to retain information from one rehearsal to the next is hard enough from one day to the next, but when rehearsals are a week apart, it is impressive how much these musicians manage to hold on to the progress we make.

The Salt Lake Symphony is by no means unique. Virtually every community has at least one orchestra of one sort or another. School orchestras, youth orchestras, community orchestras, college orchestras, semi-professional orchestras. And of course, fully professional orchestras. Yes, the orchestras at the top with multi-million dollar budgets have the most accomplished musicians. That goes with the territory. But those are also the ones we hear about in the news when they’re struggling financially, which is often. I think because we hear only that sliver of the whole picture, pessimism about the future of orchestras in the U.S. has been skewed. The reality is that orchestras in this country, thanks to organizations like the Salt Lake Symphony, are alive and impressively well.

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4 thoughts on “Alive and Well

  1. Dear Gerald,

    Classical music is alive and well here in Victoria, on Vancouver Island–
    Victoria the garden capital of British Columbia.

    We’re spoiled for choice!

    Last Sunday heard the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra open their fall concert
    with a resounding rendition of the ‘Bach” Toccata in, TA DA DAH!!!!, all without an organ.
    The slow, steady build up to the full on crash was awesome!! I loved it!

    And tomorrow morning, in anticipation of Remembrance Day, the choir I sing with, Newcombe Singers,
    will be part of a Friday memorial in the Rotunda of the Legislative Buildings.
    Such an honour, a yearly participation in the life of the city.
    We’ll be singing a jazz setting of the WWI Aviator’s poem “High Flight”.

    Music keeps me sane and socialized through this entry into retirement.

    Be well, Sir.

    Best regards,
    Fran in Canada

    Rev. Fran Dearman,
    newly retired from active ministry, at home in Victoria BC.
    I read e-mail at random intervals, at the Public Library;
    if your message is time sensitive, please telephone:
    home study land line: 250.592.4835
    dire emergency cell phone: 1.778.835.8616


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fran, Congratulations upon retirement! Though it might be a bit of a transition, I think you’ll find opportunities to do things you never had time for or maybe never even had thought about before. It’s an adventure, for sure!


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