What a week. It’s been busy in a lot of ways, but the evenings have been particularly intense as the South Bend Symphony gears up for a serious Masterworks program. The work ethic in our rehearsals has been very high, and everyone has brought their A game – and still it’s a hard program. I can’t wait to present the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, and Liszt’s first Piano Concerto. Saturday night at the Morris. Details HERE.
The symphony Board threw an event last night for current, former, and hopefully future members and donors, including a Young Professionals Network, and they had some cocktails and then sat on the stage for our rehearsal to enjoy being up close and personal with the orchestra. I was asked to speak at the event, and to introduce people to the concert experience, which I did with pleasure. Here’s the text of my speech, which I PRETTY MUCH remembered all of as I spoke…
My name is Jennet Ingle and I am the Principal Oboist of the SBSO. As such, it is my job to tune the orchestra, and I get a lot of questions about it so I thought I’d start by telling you all about this activity, which opens every concert and rehearsal.
Although the principal oboe gives the tuning note, we speak about the concertmaster tuning the orchestra, and this is a holdover from early ensembles. Traditionally, the first violinist acts as the leader of the orchestra whenever the conductor is not on stage, and since a conductor cannot be bothered by such a mundane thing as tuning, this task falls to Zofia Glashauser. At the beginning of every session, she will stand up, which is our signal to be quiet, and then she asks me for an A.
We use the note A because all string instruments have an open A string, so it’s the most efficient choice to get everyone onto the same page. We use the oboe NOT because I have some sort of magic always-correct A, and not because, as myth would have it, oboes can’t tune their instruments so everyone needs to tune to us. The sound of the oboe is easy for everyone to hear, and the tone is very clear and pure, so that’s why the job has traditionally fallen to us.
Now, I don’t necessarily know where a perfect 440 A is every time, so I do use a tuner on my stand. My instrument is very flexible so I could place the note HERE, or HERE, or HERE. The tuner keeps me honest, and the orchestra appreciates that. Because the A is the first note an audience hears, it is sometimes the most stressful solo on the concert. I want the attack to be pleasant sounding, not like THIS, and I want the tone to be beautiful, of course. I have to give the right A but I don’t want to be fishing around for it, in public, like THIS. So I have to hear it in my head before we start, and place it where I want it, and hope that the reed cooperates.
Once I play the note, the winds will tune first, adjusting their instruments by pulling their joints in and out. The brass take the second A, moving their tuning slides to match me as closely as possible. Finally the strings will tune, using tuning pegs at the scrolls of their instruments as well as fine tuners on the tailpiece. You’ll see this happen at the rehearsal, and at every performance we play. We could do it backstage, or individually in private with our own tuning devices, but this public tuning has been a part of the ritual for hundreds of years, and probably won’t change this year, at least.
As you attend our rehearsal tonight, take the opportunity to really unabashedly watch us. I think that the most inspiring thing about a full orchestra is seeing this mass of humanity – 80 or so people – all working as hard as they can for a common goal. To play these instruments at a high level has taken us years and years and tens of thousands of hours of work.
Look at how hard we are concentrating on this difficult music. Watch the strings, and how physical their activity is. Notice how fast their fingers move in technical passages, and how hard they work with their strong bow arms to create loud dynamics.
Take a look at the winds and brasses, and notice how differently each person relates to his instrument. Watch how much we have to fiddle with them when we aren’t playing to keep all of the delicate mechanisms functioning – we are on-the-fly mechanics, sometimes, as well as musicians. Now realize that all the sound you hear is created by the breath, and what it must mean to have that much control. Notice the extremes of loud and soft and ask if you could ration your air through a long pipe with that much power, for two and a half hours.
Realize that the brass instruments only have a few valves each – so that every note they play is created by one of a very few combinations of fingers and a precise amount of tightening or loosening of the lips and facial muscles. Think about being kissed by a brass player and how much strength and control he must have in all those tiny muscles.
Totally independent of the music we are playing, which is indeed great, I think I could watch an orchestra for hours, just marveling at the feats a human body is capable of. I hope you enjoy and are inspired by our rehearsal today. I hope you come back on Saturday to hear the polished, completed, thrilling performance of four difficult and beautiful works. I hope you’ll come over and over, because it is our pleasure to have you here, and we need you here. Without an audience, we are just practicing.
Thank you so much.