Legacy and Love; Pass It On!

At morning rehearsal, the conductor probably had no idea that his favorite moment in Elgar’s Enigma Variations was documented as such in the violin part. Yet his sentiment was etched above the 6th measure of the variation titled Ysobel by someone sitting on the first stand of the Detroit Symphony.

I enjoy coming across these little forensic gifts or memories shared by the last violinists that played the parts. Sometimes you get lucky in photo copies of well used parts; like a CSI investigation you can uncover previous thoughts, mishaps or hilarious points in past rehearsals or performances.

But seeing “Conductor’s Favorite bar” handwritten into this particular part a made me have another listen to the movement I’d normally written off as innocuous. I thought it was interesting enough that I shared my find with my Facebook friends in a status update:

Facebook status update

And then the mystery began to solve itself as my friend and colleague, Emmanuelle Boisvert, Detroit Symphony’s former concertmaster wrote inquiring if there was a list of conductors names on the last page of the music. I responded to her with the name written at the end of the piece: Wigglesworth.

“Yes, Wigglesworth,” Emmanuelle replied. “Not too long ago, maybe 2008, Kim Kennedy and I wrote that in our part because he was so emphatic about the harmony of that bar….if the conductor really liked a bar, Kim and I would also just draw a heart! But I do recall writing these words in the Elgar!”

And there it was, mystery solved, but more importantly a personal reminder of how legacies enhance the music world. How beautiful that this favorite measure of music was shared, and how beautiful there was a tradition on the first stand of preserving these thoughts and keeping a log of who conducted a work.

Sharing personal favorite bits of music is something many musicians do. There have been many rehearsals where either my standpartners or I, would tap the music in a particular spot and say, “that is my favorite moment.” And upon coming to that distinct spot during concerts, there would generally be a shared smile or knowing wink.

Emmanuelle's handwritten note

Emmanuelle’s handwritten note

Many times, these favorite moments are nothing more than fleeting cadences or innocent lines and phrases that somehow affect individuals for no particular reason. It could be the way a clarinet and bassoon harmony floats over the orchestra, or how the cellos engage in a terrifying crescendo. Whatever, it’s the sharing that is special. And each time a little favorite spot gets shared it is listened to and re-appreciated with fresh ears creating a mini legacy.

There are many moments in various orchestral works that trigger thoughts of particular individuals from over the years. Within an instant of hearing a small phrase or harmony I recall the person I’d sat with and remember how the musical gesture moved them so much they decided to share their feelings. The sharing of a special moment in any given piece immediately reignites the importance and power of music.

New York Times critic, Anthony Tommasni , wrote an article about this topic and even shared some of his favorite spots. At the conclusion of his article, he invited everyone to share their own personal favorite moments. So far, there are over 700 comments from people sharing and explaining why they love a particular moment in their favorite pieces. I’d wanted to share some of the comments but there are so many good ones, I’d just recommend reading them and adding some of your own.

Music is special as it is, but the added sharing of loved passages creates a beautiful legacy. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant trend to see orchestras inviting members of the audience and the members of the orchestra to share their magical moments on either the website or in the program notes in the same fashion that book stores or restaurants do: have a “staff picks” or “daily specials” listed on the shelves or menus?

Do you think inviting people to share their favorite musical moments would enhance a concert going experience and even bring more value to the orchestral world? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

6 Responses to Legacy and Love; Pass It On!

  1. Sue Heineman December 3, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Holly, I love these moments of connection within the orchestra. Many of my parts are covered with the markings of the former principal bassoonist, who held the job for 50 years including the Rostropovich era. The markings in the Shostakovich symphonies are particularly fascinating. Just this past week a colleague and I exchanged our favorite La Mer moments (neither of which involved bassoon… hmmmm…)

    • Holly Mulcahy December 3, 2012 at 10:04 am #

      Thanks Sue! I think these markings are absolute treasures, how wonderful to have a lineage of markings connecting you to other generations in your own parts!

  2. Craig Mulcahy December 8, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    My predecessor, Milt Stevens, played in the NSO for 29 years and it’s a rare day when I play something without his markings. It’s comforting, in a way, since I only got to play next to him for such a short time before he died. Sometimes it’s like he’s making suggestions to do it his way, since he’d explored all the other ways first. His way has turned out to usually be the right way.

    I’ve also run across some of my old markings in music over the years. The one that sticks out in my mind began when I was a freshman in high school. I was in some All State Orchestra or the like and was playing 2nd trombone on Russian Sailor’s Dance. Well that part was written in alto clef, which I had not yet learned at the time. So, in order to play the piece in the first rehearsal, I wrote out the note names above every note. When I got home that night I rewrote the part on staff paper, but I never erased the penciled-in note names on the original part. Eight years later, I was playing second trombone in the Greeley Philharmonic next to my teacher, Buddy Baker. Russian Sailor’s Dance was programmed, and low and behold, it was the EXACT same music. Complete with my not-erased pencil markings. That stunned me and made me chuckle. I leaned over to Mr. Baker and said, “Hey, look at this!” I don’t know what I was expecting him to do, but share in the humor of the situation he did not. He said something to the effect of, “Man, I’d like to talk to the idiot that did that!” As I applied my best poker face and nodded in agreement, I decided to leave out the part where it was me who was the idiot.

  3. Raymond Bryan Horton January 7, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    I’ve played the same copies of the same parts for forty years now, in the Louisville Orchestra, and am amazed at the naive markings I would put in as a youngster – some times I erase them, some times I point them out to my younger section mates.

    For most of that time, our copy of the second trombone part to Wagner’s “Meistersinger” Prelude was very old – probably inherited from the old community orchestra which gave birth to the sturdy professional LO we all admire nowadays. That part is in tenor clef, but had the names of the notes, in DARK BLUE FOUNTAIN PEN, written over EVERY NOTE – but for ALTO clef. Then, in the same blue fountain pen was a bold line STRIKING OUT all of those “helps” and the correct TENOR CLEF names of notes written above (or below, or wherever they would fit at this point). It was an incredible, and colorful sight – I really do not know how our second player could read it. Finally, with the advent of IMSLP.org I printed new parts for all three of us.

    In Christmas concerts this year we played an arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” with choir that had one short low G, pp, in the tuba and bass trombone on the first bar, then the rest of the piece marked “tacet” (similar to the infamous one-note trombone and tuba parts to “Flight of the Bumblebee.”) Our tuba player couldn’t stand the temptation and wrote in a “1&2” fingering for the single note. (That’s an inside joke – that would be the fingering for a jr high or high schooler’s BBb tuba rather than a pro’s CC tuba.)

    • Holly Mulcahy January 7, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Thanks for sharing, that is really quite amusing! I think framing the actual part would be a worthy art project!

  4. Mary Catherine January 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    After acquiring holdership of a former symphony’s library, I spent most of the summer going through 1200+ pieces of music in a theatre attic where they were housed – part by part. There were some pieces that hadn’t been touched since they were placed in the envelope. I liked those the best – kind of like opening an King Tut’s tomb. I had several pieces that were on black paper with white notes. And several more that had full illustrations on the back of the part – the conductors, the guest artist, another musician, backstage worker. The notations to future players were equally as amusing, “ignore all the markings made by me.” Never initialed and very faded.

    Worst part – insects, dust and mold. Sad and made me buy a face mask and gloves to avoid getting some strange illness.

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