I was going to call this post Ben Folds is Awesome, then it evolved into Mahler is Awesome, and now I’m thinking it’s just all awesome…
Last weekend we performed for the 150th anniversary of the founding of South Bend. Our Sesquicentennial. Or something like that. The South Bend Symphony played on a big outdoor stage, backing up Ben Folds, who was phenomenal.
It didn’t surprise me that his songs were great. I was pleased that the orchestral arrangements were expertly put together and easy to follow, which is not always the case. I wasn’t surprised that he was a superb live performer who really brought the audience along with him through every song. I was, however, surprised and delighted at just how gracious he was to the audience about our orchestra.
Normally, when we have a guest performer, they own the stage for a couple of hours, and give the orchestra a bow at the end of the first act and perhaps say a nice word or two before the last number. “Let’s hear it for the South Bend Symphony! Yay! See you in the lobby for CD sales!”
In this case, though, Mr. Folds made the effort several times to point out the good work we were doing. He called out compliments to a few soloists BY NAME during the concert, and made it clear that they were OUR players and not touring with his band. He did a long improvised number, in which he featured all of the various sections of our orchestra and was clear about the expertise we brought to the table. And, finally, he gave a TRULY EXCELLENT speech – out in front of the crowd, facing them directly, using the mic – about supporting their local symphony orchestra and why it is important and that it is important.
This is my thing, right? I talk about classical music all the time. I try to make clear that music making is an experience that is ALIVE, and that I am personally active in the field, and that what we do is real. I love to be an advocate for my chosen profession, and I have long felt that it is EVERY musician’s job to make it easy for people to love what we do.
So I tell you, genuinely, that Ben Folds, indie-rock star, made that speech better than I’d ever considered making that speech, and I am now inspired to get better at making that speech myself. I think I probably don’t say it enough and I probably don’t yell it loud enough or to enough people.
For the record – come to the symphony. Attend chamber music concerts. Come out and hear live music. It’s an experience that is better in company. It’s better live.
This weekend I’m playing Mahler 5 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and although this is not my favorite Mahler symphony, if you come I can pretty much guarantee you an intense experience.
You will hear incredibly sensitive woodwind playing, expertly orchestrated to be perfectly audible. You’ll hear triumphant, noble, climactic brass chorales and fanfares. You’ll hear 50 string players pulling together in unison, somehow lined up perfectly despite the technical difficulty of their parts. You’ll hear the character of the music changing every few seconds, as the mood of the piece dances mercurially from one emotion to another. I love it, but a review of Mahler’s music is not what I want to talk about.
What I really want to say is that the experience of attending this concert is more than just the piece of music itself. It’s seeing 80 people on the stage working incredibly hard for a common goal: to understand, interpret, and present the vision of Gustav Mahler, in all of its complex, emotionally fraught, messy, glorious fullness. It’s being in the room, with hundreds of other people, having this experience together which will only happen once. This exact group of musicians will never present this exact program again in this exact way, for this crowd.
There’s no knowing what might happen.
I find that so inspiring.
This is why I love my job.