An appreciation for your contribution

Dear Sir

As you were the 19-year-old 2nd trumpet player who last year (or the year before? Was it 2007? Let’s keep it vague, shall we?) who offered me his candid advice (“Ken? Can you, um, speed it up a little”) on one of the key tempi in a piece a piece I’ve conducted and played more than almost any other, which you were playing for the first time and had never seemingly heard before, I now wish to say: thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It’s been several months, possibly even years, now, and every time I think of you, I just find the whole thing even funnier. Not just “quiet chuckle” funny, but laugh-out-loud funny. I could just hug you, you cute little guy.

Really- you didn’t know the piece, couldn’t play the part, came late to rehearsal, complained loudly about the rehearsal schedule and couldn’t count. And you didn’t seem to be able to tell when you’d mis-counted (to be fair lots of composers write passages in which the entire rest of the orchestra plays in unison for eight bars with the 2nd trumpet in canon a bar behind), because you hadn’t really listened to the piece! I love that part of it. Did you seem to be able to keep track of where we were starting from, or were you talking from the moment we stopped to the moment I gave an upbeat, leaving you scrambling to find your place every time? Aha- it was the latter!

And you still had something to say to me about that particular tempo. Outstanding, sir!

I’ve come to see that it never occurred to you that I might have actually thought about that tempo (for decades) in relation to the form of the piece, or actually consulted the printed tempo markings and metronome markings provided by the composer, or the recorded performances of those who knew the composer. And how could you know if I had discussed it with mentors and teachers, or even read books about it?

Why? Because you hadn’t thought about the piece at all, except in terms of how tired it was making you, and how much less tired it might make you if I went faster. I love it! I really do.  I realize now that you had concluded that I was probably pulling that tempo completely out of my a*s, just as you were retrieving so much of your contribution to that project from yours. I admit- I’ve been known to hunt around my a*s for the tempi to the odd bel canto overture I’ve never come across before, but that piece? Really? I find those tempos in the SCORE!

If only I could have let the composer (now sadly deceased, as so many of them seem to be these days) know your thinking, I’m sure he would have gladly rewritten his symphony to make it less taxing for you. He might also have been persuaded to include that little canon of yours in the first movement unison passage. Sigh…..If only he and you could have met, I’m sure he would have found you just as charming as I have.

Fantastic. Well done, sir! Your indelible contribution to my musical education and edification never ceases to make me smile with delight. I’m simply utterly delighted and amused to have met you. The memory of your insight shall stay with me always! Your astounding self-confidence will not soon be forgotten.


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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

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