Orchestra and Symphonic Music Talking about Music

Lonely for music

I miss music.

I miss going to the concert hall. I miss the anticipation, seeing the artists come onstage and get ready to play. I miss the upbeat, the intake of breath, the communal exhalation as the concert begins. I miss immersing into the sound, feeling all the molecules in the air and in my body vibrating together, resonant in rhythm and harmony and in tune with the musical mind of the players and the composer.

I miss the musical journeys, the stories, the surprises and eloquent joys of discovery that unfold along the paths of sound. I miss the humor and passion and anger and longing and love that music can express in such a vivid and physical way.

I am grateful for all the ways that musicians are reaching out to us, playing solos on youtube or facebook, even creating online choruses. We need that in this time of scary isolation.

But live music is different. Musicians respond to the sounds they hear, and react to where the sound is going, not to what they’ve already heard. They are playing the note that’s coming into being, and that sound, as it emerges, blooms into the next sound and the next. They constantly adjust to one another, staying resonant and in tune, sharing creativity at the deepest level. They’re playing the future into being in a constant forward flow. And we lucky listeners are along for the ride.

So, thank you to every musician who’s reaching out through your phone or computer screen to communicate with us. To every presenter and music school who’s finding ways to keep musicians and music students engaged. And until we can all be together again, everyone please stay happy and sane. Someday we’ll be back in the concert hall – maybe not sitting quite so close together, but still – I can’t wait to be in the room where that happens, with you, resonating in that musical air.

Lolly Lewis is a recording producer, amateur singer, and the founder of Amateur Music Network.

Community Talking about Music

Kathy Angus: singing like a big girl

This is a guest post by Kathy Angus, a retired SFUSD teacher and former arts administrator.  She is currently on the board of AMN and the Chrysalis Foundation.

I recently retired from teaching in the SFUSD public schools. When I first thought about writing a blog post for AMN, I thought I’d focus on the importance of music as a creative force in kids’ lives. For five years, I worked with a music educator from the SF Opera to create (write, compose, stage) a 15-minute opera, based on a social justice topic my 4th and 5th graders had studied all year. The topics ranged from Immigration to civil rights to the environment. It was one of the most transformative experiences some of my students had during their elementary years. But then I realized it transformed me as well, and actually set me up to pursue something I loved, but dreaded sharing, after I retired.

I realized that I am a recently declared amateur musician who grew confidence to participate in community singing groups because of the musical projects and collaborations in my classroom. It’s so much more relaxing to act and sing with 10-year-olds than with adults, where my voice would dry up. Those notes that were so beautiful in the shower stuck somewhere behind my tongue when in the company of others.

I love music down to my toes. I’ve danced since the day I could walk, so I’m one of those people you hate to sit behind at the Symphony because I’m incessantly bobbing my head to the beat, or tapping my knee, or shaking my shoulders — you know what I mean. What it means to me is that music is in my body, and, over the years, I shared my art with audiences in concerts and musicals. The musicals were a mixed bag, however, since the usual instruction was, “It’s ok, you’re a great dancer, but you don’t need to sing.” After a few of those comments, I was too embarrassed to even try to learn. (And, of course, my kids pleading with me not to sing in the car didn’t help.)

Then one year while I was teaching — by then I was into my 60s — the SF Opera Aria program came into my life. We practiced vocalizing through exercises and songs, and then created our own songs, which years later are still stuck in my brain. With a musician coming into my classroom every week all year, and then practicing with the students in between, I found the miracle of repeated practice that gave me the confidence to join a Community Choir, and then another, and then to start taking voice lessons.

I love AMN for their efforts to spread the joy of amateur music making through their workshops and network tools. Someday, I may be ready for Ragnar Bohlin’s brilliant choral workshops, but for now, I’m happy just singing however I can and appreciating the work and practice it takes to improve.

When I worked for Milton Salkind at the Conservatory of Music, he used to frequently stress that “everyone loves to sing.” How right he was! Let’s sing our way through these difficult times and find the joy that lies inside of us.

AMN mentors Talking about Music Woodwinds

Jerry Simas: home-grown musician

This is a guest post by Jerome Simas, clarinetist with the San Francisco Symphony and a founding AMN board member.

I’ve been a professional musician for so many years now that I’m not even sure I could figure out how long. I grew up in a family that was so passionate about music. Metropolitan Opera broadcasts blaring throughout the house during weekend chores, Boston Pops on PBS, folk singers visiting our house when my sister was a 1970s high school student, marching band practice, and the best-of-all story of family lore of my mom apparently putting me in a laundry basket underneath the piano while she accompanied her amateur singing friends from church and community theater: Fiddler on the Roof, Church hymns, Arthur Fiedler, and La Boheme are all just a big blur in my musical DNA.

My father was an accordionist of some renown in Sacramento and the Bay Area back in the heyday of the post WWII can-do optimism. He played gigs, taught lessons, repaired instruments and kept all seven of us Simas kids fed and clothed…that is until the Beatles hit our shores, and no one wanted to play the accordion anymore. So off he went to other professional pursuits. The clarinet seemed like a natural fit for me…a reed cousin of the accordion. My mom was relatively frugal with expenses, but music lessons were something she could get behind. Sacramento Youth Band, Sacramento Youth Symphony, state honor bands in Fresno, Santa Cruz, and Long Beach…Mom and Dad always made time for these things.

I have three of my dad’s accordions sitting on shelves in the garage. I also have a ukulele that I bought as a fun gift for my partner, Robert. That, too, is sitting forlornly in a corner of the living room gathering dust. Now that I’m home for an undefined period of time and with actual time to practice the clarinet the way I want to and should, I’m finding myself more drawn to these other instruments that remind me of family and days gone by. I don’t even know where to begin, but begin I shall.

During this time of uncertainty, let music be your go-to place. Make music if it means singing your own tunes, producing your creations on your computer, or fumbling your way on a dusty old accordion or ukulele.

I’m blessed to have landed a gig with the San Francisco Symphony with our deep connection to the symphonic greats, world class conductors and soloists, tours (weeps inwardly that we had cancel our last and greatest tour with dear MTT), and playing for our marvelous audiences in San Francisco and beyond. Since my involvement with AMN, I have also been so inspired meeting with and mentoring the Bay Area’s wealth of music makers of all levels. We’ll get through this national crisis. Along the way, the rhythms and melodies of who we are will help to ease the way.

Community Talking about Music

17 reasons to love amateur musicians!

A friend just sent me this great article by Ariane Todes! You should read the whole thing HERE. Ariane is a terrific writer who lives in London and runs the website Elbow Music. Check it out!!

17 ways amateur musicians contribute to the classical music world:

  1. We go to concerts
  2. We offer solo performing opportunities for young stars, orchestral players and international celebrities who need try-out gigs
  3. We support venues by booking concerts in them and usually filling them up
  4. We promote classical music to our non-music friends who might never have engaged before
  5. We commission composers and perform new works
  6. We raise money for charity
  7. We hire music from orchestral libraries
  8. We buy gear – strings, music, accessories, cases, sheet music
  9. We buy instruments – old and new. (Judging by some of the intense conversations I’ve had about modern instruments, there seems to be more openness and enthusiasm towards them in amateur orchestras than among professionals)
  10. We benefit local schools by paying to rehearse in their halls. (We’re usually desperate to find good rehearsal spaces. Are you listening, whoever is planning Simon Rattle’s new concert hall?)
  11. We offer an alternative outlet for conservatoire students who choose not to become professionals
  12. We pay musicians for lessons
  13. We influence young musicians – whether as parents, relatives or friends
  14. We support young conductors, both through concerts and masterclasses
  15. We offer chances for recording engineers to practise their skills
  16. We support young players by going to their concerts, spreading the word and lending them instruments
  17. We support the local economy. (Rehearsals usually end in the pub.)