Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finish What You Started

The Philharmonic and Jinjoo Cho rehearsal "Autumn"
Finish what you started. That’s one of those rules we were taught as kids, or I was at least. You couldn’t start a project and leave the pieces in the middle of the floor when the thing exceeded your attention span. If you decided to do a puzzle, you either finished the puzzle or you scooped up the pieces and dumped them back in the box. If you thought it would be a good idea to bake cookies, you baked them to the last ounce of dough and cleaned up after yourself. That sort of thing.

This weekend, during my orchestra’s first concert of the season, amid all of the activity and the music, one phrase came to mind—finish what you started. That may seem like an odd thing to think about in the setting of a symphony performance, but I can explain.

The process of putting together a Philharmonic concert is a long, detailed one, and for more than ten years, I was completely unaware. At the beginning of each season, I would receive a letter in the mail telling me what the group would be performing and how many horns would be needed for each concert. Then a few weeks before concert date, I would get my music and rehearsal schedule in the mail.

That was all I ever knew. But now I’m involved in the details. That isn’t to say I’m responsible for the details—I don’t do the programming or hire the soloists or make arrangements with the hall, but I do get to have a hand in the process, even if I’m only listening intently. I do that, listen intently and absorb experiences and processes in order to learn.

Last spring, I would occasionally meet with the conductor to help iron out details for the season that began with last Saturday’s concert. He would talk about his programming ideas (“Autumn Concerto,” “Lark Ascending,” Sibelius’ “Symphony No 5”), and I would listen. Literally, I listened to the music and got to know the pieces that were unfamiliar. He would talk about wanting to hire a particular violinist (Jinjoo Cho who is studying in Cleveland) and waiting for her to reply to emails, and I would listen and become familiar with her from her website.

And then I got to work on what I am responsible for. We didn’t do much to promote this concert, which proved an ineffective strategy, as you might expect, but I did create an issue of the orchestra’s newsletter for the event. I read everything I could about the music and composers and wrote an introductory article meant to sell the feel of the concert, and I interviewed the violinist and wrote an article introducing her to our readers.

Then Husband stepped in and filmed and edited a pre-concert video that serves to promote the concert and fill in listeners on some details they might miss otherwise. I helped by creating graphics and then contacted the hall about testing our finished product on their fancy-schmancy projector, and I chose a pretty fall gobo, those cool plates theaters use to project shapes.

Not least of all, I practiced my part with recordings blasting on the big speakers until I was relatively confident—you know me, I’m never fully confident because there’s always the ghost of old voices whispering words of doubt, but you get through.

Anyway, there we all were on concert night, where the video was playing in the lobby, lovely fall leaves were projected on the back wall with that gobo I ordered, and everyone was where they should be—audience in their seats, musicians on the stage, conductor on his podium and soloist in position and ready to play.

We had already opened with Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture” just to wake people up. Then the wind players left the stage and stood in the wings for “Autumn.” Some of us were able to sneak peeks, but most of us listened blindly, seeing only the black walls and ceilings of the back stage area. And that’s where I stood, in the black space as I heard “Autumn” singing from Jinjoo’s violin, anticipating having to return to the stage for my part in “Lark Ascending” (seriously, go listen to that!), and I heard myself saying “Finish what you started.”

Looking back at more than six months of planning, I felt such a sense of satisfaction. It was more than a task complete. It was a job well done, well done by all of us involved, and I was so pleased to be a cog in the machine of it all and that I saw it happen from beginning to completion—finished.


Eric Benjamin said...

What a wonderful view of your experience, Rob, especially as compared with previous seasons. Thanks and brava for all of your excellent efforts in making this happen, not the least, for cheering on the conductor and assisting him to stick with it himself.

On stage, he could not see the effect of the gobos, but he hears that they were really effective. And so, by the way, was the second horn player.

Scout said...

Thank you, Eric.

savannah said...

well done, sugar! kudos to The Husband for his fine work. i swear, you make me almost ready to move back to ohio! ;~) xoxoxoxo

dive said...

I'm with Savannah, Robyn: I want to be there to experience it all.
If anyone filmed it and put it on YouTube, do let us unfortunate outsiders know.