A “funky, weird, tingly feeling”

Jetlag- my constant companion….

Though I was completely wiped out after day one of the preparatory orchestra retreat, I find I wake up long, long before my alarm goes off, only to fall in and out of sleep until it finally starts screeching. At this point, I enter a 50-minute standoff with the snooze button, feeling disgruntled and catatonic. They’re already making breakfast downstairs, and they seem to be piping pure bacon fumes through the building’s heating system. This heavenly aroma is the death-knell for my sleep.  Any hope of a last few minutes rest fades as I lay in bed drooling at the thought of a caloric cowboy breakfast.
Breakfast lives up to the nearly intoxicating smells- bacon, eggs, homemade hash browns and fresh biscuits. Cowboy life is looking better all the time- they even have some fresh fruit on offer to assuage my guilt. Tragically, the coffee is perilously weak….

The fourth piece on the concert is Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra Overture. One of my few frustrations of the weekend is that some of the solo wind players have not yet put the work in on their little virtuoso passages that dot the piece. It puts me in the unenviable position of having to drill the thing in rehearsal time—something we did rather extensively on the first day. The bad news is that now those same kids are complaining of swelling, numbness and “funky, weird, tingly feelings in my mouth.” Also, one of the trumpet players is suffering lip fatigue….

As I’m doing my final prep for rehearsal one of the section coaches can be heard complaining “I was sleeping fine until they started pumping pure bacon fumes into my room.” At least I’m not alone…

We start at 9 AM. My main theme on day one had been sound- getting them to listen to all of every note that they played- they can make a beautiful group sound, but sometimes don’t. We made great progress, but there is some backsliding this morning. Normal, as they’re even more tired than I am. After some tweaking and just before lunch we run the Egmont- it’s so good I don’t want to do the concert, as I’m sure it will be an anti-climax. The coda is spectacular. I’m not sure how this particular group of kids is getting this result.

I let them out a little early for lunch, and then nearly an hour early in the afternoon. Since we’re performing this program in the evening, I want to make sure that the “funky, weird, tingly feeling” doesn’t get the best of us. As it turns out, people are all full of speculation- it seems I’ve never let anyone here out early before… There is some question as to whether I’ve ever let anyone anywhere out early before (I have, quite often).

Three-thirty I leave the heavenly confines of the Bar-M and head back to Pendleton at full speed, desperate to find some good coffee before the shop closes in the afternoon. There’s a little time to clear my head and change clothes before the concert.

Concert is much as I expected. We start with the Rossini- they’ve really bought into the rhythmic energy of the piece I’ve been trying so hard to get across in the rehearsals, and they do a great job of keeping the ppp sections soft and contained before the two great crescendos. Sadly, swollen tongues get the best of at least one of the woodwind solos, but that’s life. Bach double is good and the little girls play very well. Egmont, though, is just amazing. Again, these are not technically advanced players, but they each play the piece like it’s their head on the chopping block at the end. West Side Story is fine, but a bit of an anti-climax- it sounds a little light-weight after the Beethoven, which is probably a good sign.

Travis is, of course, there. He’s also conducting the new, junior string ensemble. He’s blown away by the Egmont- neither of us is quite sure how this group pulled that off. He and I, our youth programs coordinator and a couple friends go out after the concert, and I somehow end up singing Karaoke- Jimi Hendrix, no less. How horrifying (I’ve never been talked into it before)- blame it on Egmont. No flip-through of M2 in the cards tonight. Way too tired.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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1 comment on “A “funky, weird, tingly feeling””

  1. radiowilson

    I must add a comment on Ken’s ability to work with young musicians, bringing them closer to the MUSIC than just getting the correct notes, rhythms and dynamics out of their instruments. We have had a few students who, for whatever reason, failed to grasp the fact that sitting for a bit waiting for the conductor to work through a difficult passage with another section is an opportunity to learn about music.

    It really does not help one improve their cymbal crash or flute trill to know the difference in playing at the bridge or fingerboard, flat hair or not, on the string or off – but in many ways it does improve one as a musician. Usually these students eventually realize the knowledge they are gaining from Ken and improve their listening and overall participation – though some simply do not and end up leaving the group for some convenient reason or another.

    This is partly why our performance of Egmont was quite thrilling. All of the students (and coaches!) had been made fully aware of the background of the piece, as well as being well prepared in listening to the other sections of the orchestra and playing quite well as an ensemble. Of course there are the many challenges of getting young musicians to watch the baton, but these were well drilled by both Ken and Travis. In the end we all were joining the revolution! “Dank U Veel” Mr. Woods!!!!!!

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