Once again, NSO cellist Yvonne Caruthers is sending daily “postcards” to Polyphonic about their residency – this year in Kentucky. Here’s a link to some pre-concert publicity from the Commonwealth Journal in Somerset, Kentucky; and here’s a link to the NSO’s blog about their Residency, which includes some fun photos of the musicians (including Yvonne) presenting a countdown before their departure.
Thanks to Yvonne for sharing her experiences with Polyphonic’s readers.
It’s that time of year again, when the NSO packs up and heads out of town (Feb 17-25) for our annual American Residency. This year we’re going to Kentucky. The orchestra is playing evening concerts in Louisville, Owensboro, Paducah, Lexington, and Somerset. We’re also playing a children’s concert in Paducah. That’s six concerts in 8 days, with a lot of travel in between towns, since it’s 4 hours by bus between Paducah and Lexington.
Our music director, Christoph Eschenbach, won’t be making this trip with us. Instead, our conductor will be Hugh Wolff, who is no stranger to the NSO– he was an assistant conductor with us early in his career. I’m sure Hugh will connect well with our audiences, as he has a lot of experience with outreach. Our programs are a mix of American and European repertoire, with Copland (Appalachian Spring) and Daugherty (Route 66) alongside Beethoven (4th symphony) and Ravel (Daphnis).
One of the missions of our American Residency program is to bring music to “under-served communities.” Another mission is to spotlight the work already being done in each state by their local orchestra(s). We hope our visit will be widely publicized, particularly
in Louisville, because the Louisville Orchestra (LO) is facing a very tough situation. Attorney Liza Hirsch Medina came to Washington recently to fill us in on the LO situation– it doesn’t look promising. However, those who support the LO have begun a campaign to “Keep Louisville Symphonic.” (That slogan might not be as catchy-sounding as “Keep Austin Weird,” but the impulse behind it is similar.) Current plans are for LO players and NSO players to perform a joint concert on 2/18 in Louisville. Iʼll keep you updated on these events.
In addition to the orchestra services (six concerts), I’m also involved in 11 other events, ranging from teacher workshops, to chamber performances in schools, to a telecast-taping, so I’m busy using my last days before we leave getting ready for all these events (as well as my usual NSO services and teaching, etc).
I feel very confident about our school program (Connections: Science and Music, for cello, violin, and tuba), since we just did 8 performances of it at the Kennedy Center in early January. All weʼll have to do is show up at a school, set up our props, and do the show. The hardest part is finding storage for all the props, which range from my carbon fiber cello to a fur coat and a laundry hose, with a tuning fork and a metronome thrown in too. Our stagehands are taking along a large hamper for such items, which will be loaded onto our truck Tuesday afternoon, after our last rehearsal (along with our instruments!).
Teacher workshops are a mixed bag. During past residencies, I’ve sometimes had as few as 3 teachers show up, after spending hours getting materials ready to put in their hands…that’s a disappointing experience. The topic of my workshop is how to connect music to other classroom subjects. There’s a lot of interest in this topic, but it’s challenging for me, since most classroom teachers have very little working knowledge of music. To my surprise, during our Alabama Residency, I found myself talking to a group of music teachers– who wished I was talking to their administrators, since those are the folks are in charge of budgets. Iʼm keeping my fingers crossed that in KY my workshops will have good turnouts and receptive listeners.
I’m doing a sectional (which I thought was supposed to be a masterclass) at the University of Louisville the afternoon we arrive, followed by a pre-concert lecture about the NSO’s evening performance, and then the actual performance. I’m hoping someone remembers to get me a sandwich and a bottle of water somewhere along the way. Speaking of sandwiches, I understand that a hotel in Louisville served the very first “Kentucky Hot Brown.” I’ve read descriptions of these sandwiches (turkey, bacon, cheese, tomatoes), so I’m hoping I’ll have a chance (and time) to eat one!
Owensboro KY is supposed to be famous for BBQ, while western KY has burgoo (a type of stew). Both of those are overshadowed by KY’s legendary distilleries, Mammoth Cave, and thoroughbred race horses kept on immaculate farms.. there’s so much I’d like to see and do, but as usual, I’ll run out of time, transportation, and energy, and suddenly it will be time to catch the flight back to Washington!
I hope to send photos every day to Polyphonic so you can follow the NSO’s progress around the state, and I’ll try to include “the day’s top stories,” so check back often for updates.
Yvonne Caruthers, NSO cellist
Our flight from DC to Louisville was uneventful, and we arrived a few minutes earlier than predicted. A warm welcome reception was set up for us at the hotel, with a local HS band, the mayor of the city, and the head of the KY Arts Alliance. We each got a “goody bag” and snacked on fruit and brownies as we checked in. What a nice way to start our trip!
As nice as it would be to have personal helicopters whisking us from location to location, I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. We have Blue Grass Tours line to transport us… slightly ironic given that our concerts are about as far from bluegrass on the musical spectrum as it’s possible to get. I walked around the block to stretch my legs before my first event this afternoon, and happened upon the Louisville Visitor Center, where I stocked up on walking maps and recommendations about museums and other places of interest, such as restaurants within walking distance of our hotel.
All too soon it was time to head to the sectional I was teaching at the University of Louisville. Paul York is the cello professor, and his class of students was preparing to play Mahler 1st symphony at an upcoming concert. An hour and a half passed quickly as I worked with them.
After the class I only had an hour before I was due at the hall, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, where I was to talk about the evening’s concert at a reception for the Center’s top donors. But lo and behold, who’s that welcoming me to the reception? Stephen Klein, the NSO’s former executive director, who held that position with the NSO when we embarked on our very first Residency back in 1992, to the State of Alaska! I couldn’t believe it! I had seen him once or twice during the past few years, but I hadn’t realized he was in Louisville. We spent an enjoyable time catching up.
Whitney Hall, the largest performance space within the Center, has a lovely spacious quality (which is what we all miss the most about the acoustic of our hall at home). After the concert ended, Hugh Wolf asked us to play Hoe Down as our first encore. The audience loved it, but not as much as they loved our second encore: Carmen Dragon’s lush arrangement of Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home. About 30 measures into the piece I realized many members of the audience were standing, and many of them were singing. By the time we finished, I felt like we were participating in a memorial service of some sort… I’ve never seen such a heartfelt response to a state song!
We closed with Stars and Stripes, for a rousing ending.
Luckily my cell phone chimed with a text message at 7am today. It woke me up, which means that the alarm in my room hadn’t gone off. Not good.
Around 8:15 I started dragging my instruments (three of them) and props to the hotel lobby for our 8:30 pickup. The van arrived at 8:40 and we set out for Crossroads Elementary, 15-20 minutes away. However, by 9:10 there was still no school in sight, so it was time to look at the map on my phone. It not only didn’t show a school where we were, it didn’t recognize the name of the school when I did a search using the address we had been provided. Our driver got out to ask for directions and discovered that we had been given a teacher’s home address, not the school’s address!
There were many phone calls exchanged in the next half hour, and during one call, one of the teachers told me over the phone, “Our school is so new, it doesn’t have a real address yet, so it’s not on any of the maps.” Aha!
We didn’t even start our concert until 10:30 (when it was supposed to end). Luckily, the principal took it all in stride, and had the students pulled out of classes anyway. The county judge executive (what some locales call their county commissioner) attended our concert, and gave us a plaque proclaiming February 18, 2019 as “National Symphony Orchestra Day.” Wow! We each received T-shirts from the school, as well as oversized thank-you cards hand-made by each class of students.
But there was no time to stand around chatting. As quickly as we could, we packed up and left, headed for Frankfort, KY, where we were scheduled to play back-to-back concerts starting at 1pm. Luckily for us, the music teacher at Crossroads, Amy Cuenca, sent us off with wonderful chef salads for lunch, and some of her home-baked chocolate chip cookies.
Getting to Frankfort took longer than our itinerary suggested it would, so we didn’t arrive at Elkhorn Middle School until 12:45. We were able to start by 1:15, and drastically shortened our program so that both groups of students could hear us by the close of school at 3:00. Whew! In spite of the stresses of the day, there were many rewards. Look at the beautiful poster an 8th grade art student (Celia Ritter) made for me — I’ve never had a personal poster made for me by someone who isn’t my child!
And look at this crowd of students — there were so many for the 2nd concert this afternoon that they brought in extra chairs, yet some of the students still ended up sitting on the floor. We were also introduced to the county’s art supervisor, and the science supervisor — what an honor for us.
It was rather a quiet drive back to Louisville after all the excitement. And I must confess that I did not attend the side-by-side concert with NSO and Louisville orchestra musicians. I was too worn out. But I did see this poster in the window of a shop near the hotel, so I hope there was a good turnout.
I also must confess that at last night’s reception, one of the people I spoke with (who I will not name) said they didn’t think the local orchestra would survive. “Only the big cities will be able to afford that luxury,” he told me candidly. And since this is the week that Borders bookstore declared bankruptcy and closed many of its stores, I feel kind of like Borders. They were a big, popular store that put many independent bookstores out of business. But as more and more people bought books online, and turned to e-readers, even the giant stores began to suffer.
I find myself wondering if the Louisville Orchestra is one of the little guys, while my orchestra is one of the big guys… and how much longer will even the big guys hold out?
Last night the NSO and musicians from the Louisville Orchestra (LO) played a joint concert. I wasn’t involved in it, but after hearing from a random sample of my colleagues, I’m very sorry I missed it. Loran Stephenson and David Howard, cellists; Linda Schroeder and Holly Hamilton, violinists; and Alice Weinreb, flute, all told me what a heart-warming and uplifting experience it was to play the concert, which was held in a ballroom at our hotel, and attended by several hundred music lovers.
The format of the concert was to play repertoire that both orchestras were familiar with, such as Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, followed by one of the LO musicians talking about their experiences in the city, then another piece of music, and another personal story. The NSO musicians were struck by how many of the LO players had a personal connection with our orchestra — they had studied with one of our players, they had attended one of our concerts, or, as in the case of Louisville trombonist Donna Parks, played with us for several months as a sub. It was yet another reminder of how small the music world is!
The high-point of the concert for everyone was a new piece, commemorating Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Alice Weinreb told me, “That was the one that got me.” And as she told me the story I think her eyes got misty again. Then she said something so simple and so profound that I wondered later why it took anyone 20 years to think of it. “We should do joint concerts in every big city that we travel to on a Residency, it doesn’t have to be an emergency situation [like here in Louisville, where the orchestra is fighting for its very existence], we should do it because it creates such a feeling of goodwill.” Later I mentioned Alice’s idea to Linda Schroeder (a violinist). She said,”Yes, because when you rehearse with someone, that’s when the conversations start.”
All the NSO musicians I spoke with mentioned the warm reception from the audience as well, though several of them noted a distinct lack of young people in the crowd.
I wish there were easy answers for the Louisville musicians, but I suspect there aren’t any. Maybe a philanthropist will step forward; maybe the musicians will make huge strides with fund-raising.
While I was out for a walk this morning I walked past the Louisville Ballet. They have a clever sculpture in front of their building. In their parking lot was their official van, which gave me an idea. What if all of us, in whatever organization we play in, drove around in vehicles that showed our affiliation?
Time to go practice for awhile, then get on a bus for Florence, KY, which is on the outskirts of the Cincinnati, OH/Covington, KY region. I did a Google search to see if I could find a photo of the church (!) where we will be performing, and found this article about our concert.
I went to the Salt Lick Bluegrass Festival near Louisville.
$15.00 for admission, $15.00 for the tshirt and $6.00 for the ribs and taters.
Had a great time listening to groups perform. Pro groups come to play on the main stage,
and others perform and jam in smaller side rooms, where I joined in.
I also learned about flat-foot and clog dancing.
Nice folks. Many were local but many traveled in from other states.
Good players, good music!
We began the day in Louisville, but left there around noon to come to Owensboro for a matinee concert (3 PM). Someone quipped during the bus ride, “This should be called the Ohio River tour,” because Owensboro, like Louisville, is on the river. The weather has been turning back towards more typical February temps, but at least we’re not in the upper midwest, which is getting slammed by blizzards!
I’ve been thinking all day about the many connections the NSO has built up over the years through our residencies. The first time I was aware of it was in South Dakota, when a woman came up to me before the concert and asked if I could talk to her husband at intermission. She said he was “too shy” to ask, but that he really wanted to talk to me.
As he approached during our break, I felt like I had met him before, but when he told me where, I nearly fainted — at the earthquake and volcano research lab of the University of Fairbanks in Alaska, during our very first Residency! Geek that I am, I had called the lab to ask if we could tour their facility while we were in town; they agreed, and I wangled some tickets to our concert for two of the researchers.
Ten years later the man from Alaska was working in SD, and saw the ad for an NSO concert. I don’t know what astounded me more — that he remembered the NSO or that I had run into him again in SD. Since he was working at a satellite imaging facility, he offered to give me a tour of it, so I went.
I think I forgot to mention that on the first day of this trip, when I worked with Paul York’s cello class at the U of Louisville, Paul told me that David Hardy, our principal cellist, had given a master class for his students when the NSO was in Mississippi and Paul was teaching at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
There were also the many connections that the Louisville Orchestra musicians mentioned at their joint concert with the NSO on Friday night.
This morning I had breakfast in a lovely tea room in Louisville, called Hillbilly Tea. The place wasn’t busy so I chatted with the waitress. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she used to play the violin, and that she missed it so much she wants to get back to it. She also told me she grew up outside of Huntington, WVA… did I know where that was? Which of course is where we played one of our concerts during last year’s Residency!
And this morning I got an email from Amy Cuenca, the music teacher at the first school where we did our Science and Music program here in KY. Amy wrote, “We all learned a lot from your presentation and were extremely impressed with your virtuosity on your instruments. The science teacher and I also were inspired by your presentation to collaborate on some music and science lessons in the future.” That made me so happy!
It’s so nice to feel like we’re succeeding on personal levels and helping musicians in the communities we visit. It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s work that needs to be done, and work that makes a difference.
The bad news of the day is that Moonlite BBQ, here in Owensboro, which advertises that it has the “best BBQ,” closed at 3 PM today so we missed it by just a few hours. Sigh.
It was wonderful to have an hour this morning to practice (what a luxury!). The weather forecast is for heavy rain this afternoon, so I went for a walk too. Last night I asked at the front desk how much I would be charged per page to make copies (since I’ve been told that 30 teachers are going to attend my workshop tomorrow, not 15; I don’t want to be caught short with my handouts). The young woman at the desk said there wasn’t a copy machine in the hotel’s business center, but since she wasn’t busy, she offered to make copies for me. And she did, all 225 pages! Her copier wouldn’t do double-sided pages, so there was a lot of extra work for her. I guess it took the better part of an hour, but she remained cheerful throughout and none of the pages came out upside down or backwards, so she’s a saint in my book.
I noticed at breakfast today that Cynthia Steele from the NSO and Carrie Nath from the KY Arts Council were busily going over logistics for tomorrow’s outreach events in the Paducah area. It’s not an easy job. Natasha Bogachek (violin) and Stephen Dumaine (tuba), who both perform with me at noon in Paducah on Tuesday, are also scheduled to play at 7PM (Natasha) and 6:30 PM (Steve) in Lexington the same evening. A complicating factor is that Paducah, in the western part of the state, uses Central Time, while Lexington, farther east, uses Eastern Time. If Steve and Natasha are in a car exactly at 1 PM, and drive for 4 hours without stopping, they will reach Lexington at 6 PM EST. These sorts of things seem like good ideas when they are proposed several months in advance, but actually making them happen? That’s another story.
The father of one of my students emailed me yesterday, asking if I’d have time to meet his aunt who lives in Paducah. At first I didn’t think it was possible, but my event for this afternoon got canceled, so I arranged to try to meet her before the concert. Here she is, Mary Helen Wegmann, 88 years young.
She used to work for Community Concerts Series, which is the organization that used to send artists into under-served communities. That’s how I saw Leonard Rose in Spokane, WA, when I was first starting to play the cello. Mrs. Wegmann also told me that the Arts Center in Paducah draws audiences from four states (Missouri is to the west, just across the Mississippi River; Tennessee is only a few miles south of us; and Illinois is to the north, on the other side of the Ohio River).
Earlier today, a few of us from the NSO made a stop at the National Quilt Museum, which is absolutely fabulous. Photos aren’t allowed of the quilts, as the museum doesn’t own the copyrights to the quilts. You can’t even begin to imagine what’s going on in the quilt world these days — patterns, colors, textures, themes — all of them worthy of fine art museums. While we were there a woman introduced herself to us, May Louise Zumwalt; she’s the director of the museum. She was excited that we were from the NSO, because last month she was in DC visiting her son, who asked her to come specifically at that time so they could hear our 50th anniversary concert of JFK’s inauguration.
Talk about a small world!
But that’s not all — Paducah is home to the Luther Carson Four Rivers Performing Arts Center. If you’re reading this and have never been here, you’d rightly assume that this might be a fancy name for a restored movie theater. But it’s not, it’s a world-class performing arts center. I gasped when I saw it — it would look at home in any large city of any country! And it sounds great too! The stage is big enough for touring shows (“Avenue Q” will be here in April), and there is a lot of exposed wood for a warm, resonant, yet spacious sound. And we pulled off a miracle tonight. There are three notes at the end of Appalachian Spring that are nearly impossible to play together. The strings are holding a chord, and the harp and glock (from opposite sides of the stage) play three notes together, one at the beginning of each measure. No matter what any conductor does, unless you have a perfect hall, those notes rarely sound in unison. I watched Hugh Wolff carefully tonight as he cued the notes. The first one was perfect — you couldn’t tell it was two instruments playing, it sounded like one note. He gave the second cue, holding his breath, hoping it would also be perfectly in synch. It was! Then came the 3rd one. I’m sure he was thinking he wouldn’t get lucky enough to have all three come out perfectly, but “ping!” there it was — exactly together. He let the string chord die away and the audience was completely silent as well.
Who knew we had to come to Paducah to play the end of Appalachian Spring exactly as Copland imagined it?
I want to add something here about Hugh Wolff. Not only is he a fine musician, but he doesn’t ask for first class hotel rooms, with a driver and a limo, or any of that. He rides the bus with us, he studies his scores as we travel, and he stays in the same hotels as the orchestra. There’s no grand-standing on or offstage, just solid music-making. I’m sure he’s saving us money by being unpretentious, but I think the best part is that in his quiet way he puts the emphasis where it belongs: We’re here together to play music.
As I write, I’m comfortably ensconced in my hotel room in Lexington, but a lot has happened in the last 36 hours, so it’s very nice to rest for a bit.
Yesterday morning the NSO played a children’s concert in Paducah. Here is the Carson Four Rivers Center, seen here in the daylight.
Steve, Natasha, and I played another of our Science and Music concerts immediately after the NSO’s concert, upstairs in a smaller room of the arts center. It took a bit of tech-wizardry to get all our equipment set up for the concert, but everything finally was in working order.
While I was working on that, Steve and Natasha warmed up. The views out the windows, overlooking the Ohio River, inspired Steve to move his chair so he could enjoy the scenery while he practiced. I must confess it was a little distracting during our concert to see river barges going by. Oddly, most of the students at our Science concert had attended the NSO’s concert an hour before. One teacher told me, “We have to get the most for our money when we take a field trip.”
We ended our concert a few minutes before 1 PM so Steve and Natasha could leave for Lexington, where they both had concerts that evening. (They made it, but I won’t swear that Steve observed the speed limit.) My next appointment was at 3 PM, in the little town of Eddyville, about an hour from Paducah. I was chauffeured by Craig Kittner, from the Kentucky Arts Council. He told me he had verified directions the day before, so I read them to him whenever he needed help navigating. We did just fine until we got to Eddyville, and our next instruction was “turn right on Outlet Rd.” There was no street sign, so we thought maybe we hadn’t gone far enough. When a street name still didn’t show up by the time we got to the next light, I pulled out my iPhone to consult its map.
I typed in the address, and hit “search” for our current location, then watched in amazement as the moving blue dot edged closer and closer to the destination pin — yet looking out the window, there was nothing in sight that looked like the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative, where I was to present a teacher workshop. Craig stopped the van and began thinking out loud. “Maybe this used to be an outlet center but the stores went out of business and now they are using them for other businesses?” What we saw looked like storage sheds, arranged around a courtyard, but we couldn’t drive into the courtyard, we could only drive around the outside edge, past delivery doors. However, I noticed numbers on the doors, and the numbers were getting larger.
Suddenly I saw a small awning over one of the delivery doors, with WKEC written on it. Could this really be the place? Craig and I were both astonished when I opened the door and someone said, “You found us!” Teachers began arriving, and soon there were almost 40 in attendance. At first they were reluctant to ask questions and give opinions, but by the time we ended, I think every person in the room had participated in the discussion, which in my experience is rare indeed. I felt like I had done something worthwhile when I left.
Craig and I set off down the highway for Lexington, and 4 hours later we arrived at the hotel. Before the sun set, I enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and after dark I enjoyed seeing all the stars! Too bad the highway wasn’t wide enough to pull over and stargaze for awhile.
This morning we left bright and early for Nicholasville, where we played our Science and Music program for about 500 students. Our phone maps came in handy again. “Turn left at Main St,” was very hard to find, but we finally found East Jessamine Middle School. The school had a huge screen to project our slides onto, so we ended up perching on the edge of the stage in front of the screen to feel closer to the students.
After our performance, I stayed at the school to lead another teacher workshop, this one less satisfying. For some reason, a team of teachers attended, which meant I had two PE teachers, a home economics teacher, and an engineering teacher, as well as the band and orchestra directors. I’m not sure how useful the PE teachers will find my ideas of how to connect math and history to music. As I left, the home economics teacher took me aside and said, “I really don’t understand why the math teachers didn’t come to this!”
This evening’s concert is on the U of Kentucky campus. I’m giving a pre-concert lecture at 6:30, followed by a 7:30 concert. After the concert there’s a reception at someone’s house, which I may decide to skip because I’ve got another early morning tomorrow for our telecast taping, about an hour out of town.
A quick update on Glenn Donnellan’s adventures: On his drive back from Paducah to Lexington, Glenn noticed a sign for “Home of Bill Monroe,” so he took the exit and asked for directions. The house wasn’t hard to find, and once there, Glenn felt compelled to salute the great musician. “I played Orange Blossom Special in his bedroom. Then I went out on the porch and played my bat violin.” (If you haven’t seen Glenn in action, here’s a link on YouTube.) Tomorrow, when the rest of us are boarding the bus headed to the Louisville airport and our flight home, Glenn will head out on the road again for a few more school performances. He’s an inspiration to all of us!
Natasha, Steve, and I left the Lexington hotel at 7:30 AM today to get to Somerset by 9:15, where we set up for our telecast. The TV studio was tiny, so our audience was also tiny: six students. But playing for even a small audience is better than playing to an empty room. I’m anxious to see what the final tape looks like. It will be available for teachers to access online for their classes. After the taping the students wanted to have their picture taken with us. Clowning around ensued.
None of us wanted to drive back to Lexington, and then make another round trip to Somerset for the NSO’s evening concert, so we opted to stay in the area for the rest of the day. (Natasha had a chamber music concert at 2 PM, at a respiratory care facility.) I had hoped to take a long walk in the afternoon, but it rained all day, so I looked for Kentucky crafts to take home, ate a light lunch, and took a short nap in a hotel day room. This evening, our presenters served a catered dinner for the orchestra, a delicious Kentucky BBQ. It was much appreciated for our last appearance in the state, AND we had a sold-out house for our concert.
We’ve got a 90 minute bus ride back to Lexington, so once again I’m on the “quiet bus,” which is a real luxury. Some people are listening to music, or reading scores and parts for next week’s India Festival at the Kennedy Center. Others are reading books and some are sleeping. It’s going to be a late arrival back at the hotel, probably 11:30pm or so.
And so, quietly, our 2011 American Residency draws to a close.
But when I got home, Glenn Donnellan surprised me with a gift: Eastern Kentucky’s Finest Violin String Rosin Remover, which is peach flavored.
The Kentucky Arts Council made a film about the impact of the NSO’s visit to Kentucky.