Monday, May 21, 2007

that conduciveness thing

The New World Symphony just got written up in the Toronto Star, by classical music critic William Littler: "An attitude conducive to music-making". Littler found some Toronto natives to outline the program's assets:

"I want to be an orchestral musician and the New World Symphony is preparing me. I couldn't be in a better place at this moment," says 27-year-old Toronto violinist Ann Okagito.

Toronto clarinetist Robert Woolfry [sic], 29, agrees, pointing out that "we are all here trying to get a job and having a great experience at the same time. I already hear my playing improving because of the high standards."

That should be Robert Woolfrey (shown here), and I guess he and Ann are both better at sticking to talking points than I am! Or maybe Dan Wakin worked harder to dig past all the application-brochure stuff. Littler goes on:

"I knew there were great musicians being trained in Toronto," says Michael Linville, dean of musicians. "But we aren't just interested in people who play at a high technical level. We are looking for people who have a lot of personality in their playing and a good attitude."

Ah, yes, attitude. Symphony orchestras are notorious repositories of cynicism and discouragement. It was his discovery of this truth, Linville suggests, that helped motivate Michael Tilson Thomas to found the New World Symphony Orchestra all of 19 years ago.

One of the continent's foremost conductors, Tilson Thomas has stayed loyal to his Florida project despite demands of an international career and the music directorship of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He has done so with the not-so-hidden agenda of vanquishing negativity in the mindset of symphonic musicians.

"When I was a young musician," he recalls, "among veteran players in orchestras I noticed many were dissatisfied and blasé, yet there were others who, after 30 years, were still inspired. So I asked myself, how do you get to be like the people who still have joy in their work? And it turned out that they were the people who were in love with the process of music making.

"I see that attitude with my young colleagues here. Every member of our faculty feels the same way. And they realize that music making is not just about them as individuals. It is about communicating with a larger world."


I have heard MTT describe this before - he sometimes sounds a bit like Peter Pan, wondering why all the other children had to grow up and get so jaded. I'm ususally pretty idealistic myself - I wonder if that got me in? - yet I had never thought of New World as specifically addressing this issue, or selecting for positive outlook and attitude. It sort of gives a new meaning to 'affirmative action', doesn't it?

I wouldn't make too much of the attitude factor though, or suggest applicants start walking into their New World auditions with grins plastered on their faces. I doubt Tom Hadley will be impressed, and as he knows, it's very hard to accurately screen for a love of music making. We all have that love, but the audition process itself can often grind it away and obscure it - and here at New World, where the audition process never ends. If you're not taking one, the girl next door is, and she probably wants to play some excerpts for you and hear what you think. So we depend on our fellow musicians to give us encouragement - in addition to corrections and criticism - and to help us maintain a positive attitude.

Often, I feel like that's the most important thing I can offer someone, especially a harp or clarinet player whose techniques and excerpts I barely understand. I still love to listen to them, and I try to ask helpful questions - what kind of character and color do you want to create here, what is the committee looking for there, do you have an image or a story that helps you start this one? Okay, maybe your rhythm went haywire there, but what is the style and groove you want to project overall?

For the past few weeks since the season ended, New World has felt less like an orchestra than a support group for audition-afflicted musicians! I feel much less afflicted than I have in the past, though I also have a lot of new goals and plans I'm trying to realize. Even if none of them work out though, I hope that I always maintain the qualities of joy and inspiration that MTT talks about, even when I'm far from Florida and way past Peter Pan age!

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