As Salt Lake City continues to be reminded of the recent 5.7 earthquake with a series of disconcerting aftershocks, I’m reminded of a similarly powerful quake almost 20 years ago.
I was with the Utah Symphony on one of its biannual excursions to southern Utah. We typically performed at the colleges in Cedar City and St. George, as there were few other places in that vast region that could hold an entire symphony orchestra on its stage.
The venue for the St. George concerts was the Southern Utah University Centrum, an arena that held everything from concerts to sporting events. The temporary stage for the orchestra was in the middle of the circular arena’s floor, directly above the Jumbotron.
The featured work on the program was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. A popular work the world ’round, it features arguably the most beautiful French horn solo ever written in the second movement, Andante Cantabile. Every horn player lives for that moment, and that night the solo was performed by our wonderful principal horn player at the time, Shelley Showers.
The first movement, Allegro con anima, went by without incident. But shortly after Shelley began her magnificent solo, the stage began to shake. What was it? A passing truck? Some technical issue? It became clear after about ten seconds that it was indeed an earthquake that was rocking the building.
What to do? Orchestra musicians are trained to follow the conductor. We kept on playing. Shelley didn’t miss a beat even as the Jumbotron above our heads swayed like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. At the point occurred to everyone that it might be prudent to get the hell out of there, the shaking stopped and Shelley and the orchestra simply kept playing.
Talk about professionalism. But I’ve always wondered why Shelley left Utah for the Philadelphia Orchestra not too many years thereafter.
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