Sunday, April 10, 2005
Ode To Spring
While many Christians celebrated Easter a couple weeks ago, Orthodox Easter falls on May 1 this year. I've found Russian Orthodox services to be especially moving and fascinating ever since I first attended one at a cathedral in Zagorsk almost 20 years ago.
Beautiful spring days like today always bring up a lot of different memories for me, but I often harken back to my senior year of high school when I was asked to join the Perrysburg Symphony Orchestra. They needed another trombone and the high school band director had recommended me to the conductor. Thus began my short tenure in community orchestra--I headed to college in the fall and never played trombone again, despite Jon Hallstrom's best efforts to convince me to join the Colby symphony.
So in the spring of '87 we played a series of concerts featuring Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture, second only to Beethoven's Ninth in my pantheon of classical music. One of the great things about the piece is that in addition to playing some rousing parts throughout, Second Trombone gets a lovely solo...
The Russian Easter Overture is based on themes from the musical tradition of the Russian Orthodox church, with the tenor trombone solo representing the medieval chant of a priest. The composer marks the solo "a piena voce" - at full voice; thus, interpret the solo as a vocalist would.
The solo is written with little indication of dynamics or expression, so most trombonists play it at a comfortable mezzo-forte with a broad, rich tone. I find it easiest to let the line itself dictate the interpretation: crescendo as it ascends, decrescendo as it descends, and taper the volume at the end of the phrases. Traditionally, the repeated notes in the 8th measure are played softer, with a long cresendo/decrescendo in measures 11 through 12. The player needs a big breath between the first two C's in measure 11: the last note is held underneath a violin cadenza, and sometimes the Concertmaster takes quite a bit of time to finish!
Right now I'm listening to an old recording of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Daniel Barenboim conducting) and it's simply marvelous. The sun is out, Sam is grooming in the sunlight on the window sill and the solo just started (269k MP3). I got to play it often in rehearsal (early on the conductor had to admonish me to approach it more confidently), but in the end didn't get to do it in a concert--there was one performance when it looked like our excellent First Chair was going to necessarily miss it and I would've had the solo as our senior Second would take the other part.
What especially stands out in my memory from that time, besides the wonderful acoustics of the Catholic churches where we played (does that count as ironic in the context of Catholic/Orthodox division?), was the fact that the shows were running around Easter, so crosses and other things were shrouded in cloth. I vividly recall one Saturday in particular, walking around the grounds during intermission and seeing an amazing splash of purple--brilliant, stunning color like that from your most intense childhood dream--illuminated by the bright sun, draped over a cross, slowly dancing in a light breeze.
For most people Spring is green, but for me it will always be purple.
April 10, 2005 | Permalink
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You had trombone lips from an early age -- see the young tyke pic on your profile...
Posted by: gootch | Apr 10, 2005 12:28:30 PM
I think you made the right decision about the Colby symphony. I heard they are only 19th ranked.
Posted by: Thersites | Apr 10, 2005 3:18:59 PM
Aha! I see you did play trombone. It's like we're twins or something! It's a fun instrument. Marching band was great because we got to be first so we didn't hit anyone with the slide (or I guess that's the reason:). I've thought about joining our community band, but it's been a long time since I've played any difficult pieces.
Posted by: oldwhitelady | Apr 10, 2005 8:53:50 PM
I've never heard the PSO, but I remember going to see a lot of concerts of the Toledo Symphony at the Peristyle at the Toledo Museum of Art; one of the more interesting concert venues around (and apparently much improved with new acoustics recently). But I do remember going to band concerts of the PHS marching band, and I remember vividly that one of the first signs of fall in Perrysburg was hearing the rehearsals of the marching band practicing in the early morning on the field behind the old junior school on Indiana Avenue or on the field behind what was then Elm Street Elementary.
So you played the slush-pump, eh? I thought you reminded me of Glenn Miller. Just stay away from small planes, please.
Posted by: Mustang Bobby | Apr 11, 2005 8:44:18 AM
MB - Yeah, my folks used to take me to the Peristyle a lot when I was growing up--Dad and I would attend the Mainly Mozart series on the weekends, amongst other things. When we went I always insisted we look at the mummy in the Ancient Egypt section, which is still right by the entrance to the venue. The mummy itself has been moved to the vault due to light damage, but Stef and I just happened to see it on display in The Unseen Art of TMA (PDF of newsrelease) exhibition last year, which made me very happy.
Posted by: NTodd | Apr 11, 2005 4:00:48 PM