What happens when you’re half the Sunday paper..

Well nothing gets your inbox hopping like having your picture on the font page of the Sunday edition of the state-wide paper.

The Oregonian ran a huge feature article by their senior music critic, David Stabler, on the Oregon East Symphony’s performance of Mahler 1 two weeks ago. We’d known the story was coming- David and Stephanie Yao, the photographer, had been out for most of the week doing endless interviews and photo-shoots. You can read the article “Round-Up the unusual suspects: Two months after a disastrous fire guts its offices, Pendleton’s unlikely symphony orchestra gives Mahler the ride of his life”  here, and see the video/multimedia piece, which is brilliantly done, here.

In addition to hearing from friends, I’ve had a few requests for comments or clarifications on the piece, which, in the new world of horizontal media, I’m happy to make here.

First, let me say how much it meant to the organization that David and Stephanie put so much into this story and that the editors of the Oregonian thought we were important enough to merit such huge coverage. For a couple of years now, orchestra and musicians coming through town have been telling us that they sense something special is happening in Pendleton- hopefully this also causes a couple of light-bulbs to go on in Pendleton itself that important changes are afoot in their town. I know David had wanted to cover even more ground in the story- it must be very difficult working with editors. I’m glad I don’t have one here.

My one disappointment, and I’m sure this is a reflection of how things got edited in the end, is that there was not as much of a focus on the long-term, local members of the orchestra as there could have been. It’s actually made me feel that I should maybe make a new feature here- “who’s playing.” Something that would give me a chance to highlight the unique musical lives of some of the key musicians I work with in all my orchestras. Stay tuned this week, and I’ll see what I can do….

One factual error- Cheryl Marier has been the orchestra’s principal oboist for 20 years, not 2. She’s been board president twice and was our executive director for four years, during which she gave up her medical practice to run the orchestra. She’s one of the many amazing and inspiring people in the orchestra. She also delivered our current executive director’s baby this year- what other orchestra could that happen in. Also, I don’t wear a watch- I looked at the official rehearsal clock. For the record, we had 21 violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos and four basses in the final concert. That’s far from ideal, but we were fighting a number of scheduling conflicts. The horn player who came only to the concert was not exactly sight-reading- he’s played the piece many times, just not with us, and he was playing sixth horn. The piece is written for 7 horns, but most orchestras use an assistant or bumper to take over or double bits of the first part.

Life’s work

One quote from me is shortened to the point that the meaning of what I said could be misconstrued to be the opposite of what I intended…. Here’s what ran in the story-

Woods… says he plans to stick around. “It’s really important the orchestra get better. It’s my life’s work. I’m doing this not just as a stepping stone.”

What I meant, and this is significant, is that it’s really important to me the orchestra continues to get better. It’s one thing working with a small orchestra for a couple of years when you’re young and trying to build your resume- you can overlook certain things and fight your way through others. Seven years in, I’ve seen people’s lives changed by the orchestra, but I’ve also had friends and colleagues die, get divorced and go through all sorts of intense changes and challenges. At 38, I’m very acutely aware that I am no longer just getting started, learning the ropes, I’m out in the world, doing my life’s work. That means I’ve got to believe in what I’m doing. That applies to every orchestra I work with and every project I’m involved in, not just OES. I’m wise enough now to recognize the value of what I’ve found in Pendleton, but if I ever feel that we’re not continuing to improve or if I feel that I’m getting bored or dis-spirited musically, then it’s time to leave and continue my life’s work elsewhere. When David quotes me as saying “I’m not doing this as a stepping stone,” that’s right- my work with the OES has to be worth it on its own merits, but, again, Pendleton is not my life’s work, my life’s work is just that- the totality of my professional life, and Pendleton is a valuable and important part of it, and always will be, whether I stay for one more year or thirty. All the good things that are happening in Pendleton are happening because we’ve put the focus on the music- if we take the focus off the music and start looking at this as simply a human interest story, all of that will disappear overnight.

The big questions

David’s piece also brings up interesting important questions about how we rehearse and what makes musicians feel the way they do about the orchestra, and I’m going to try to tackle those as honestly as I can in my next posts.

David’s piece also brings up interesting important questions about how we rehearse and what makes musicians feel the way they do about the orchestra, and I’m going to try to tackle those as honestly as I can in my next posts.

 c. 2007 Kenneth Woods 

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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

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

2 comments on “What happens when you’re half the Sunday paper..”

  1. Reid

    Ken, I’ve been thinking about what you’ve said about “life’s work”, and have this comment: Perhaps, notwithstanding your other accomplishments with other orchestras, chamber musicians, or other collaborators, your work in Pendleton may have a greater total impact on people’s musical lives and the region. It is a work of which you can be very, very proud no matter if you end up conducting the NY Phil to multi-platinum albums.

  2. Kenneth Woods


    Thanks so much for the note and especially for the thoughts. I’m gradually getting wise enough to realize how lucky I’ve been with my career path. I think one thing that’s great about our scene in PDT is that everyone is valued- in larger, more complacent, organizations and communities, it’s easy to focus just on big fish and big numbers. One thing the OES stands for is a recognition of the value and potential of each and every person who becomes part of the orchestra or gets involved in the youth programs…..

    Hope all’s well


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