Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lucky Seven?

Forgive me if I get a bit high on myself this evening. I'm still in kind of a state of shock.

Today was the 7th annual regular (classics) concert of the Kashima Philharmonic (motto: "Stop sucking and BLOW!!!") This was the concert I'd complained about before...

...the one featuring The 7th... in Beethoven's 7th Symphony... of my favorite classical works...

...a piece we had no business even trying to play...

...a piece which I wound up not playing anyway...

...but I did wind up conducting in rehearsal...

...meaning I was shouldering much if not most of the actual training load...

...even though I had no business even pretending to do so...

Now I can't help thinking back to all the disbelief and uncertainty I felt when it was first announced we were doing The 7th. I still remember the utter shock I felt when they first asked me to start directing the rehearsals, still hear my protests getting drowned out by the urgings of the other members. I can recall clearly the hideous knot in my stomach when I first picked up the baton and gave the first wave to start the first movement.

I'll never forget all those hours I spent with a baton in one hand and my self-confidence in the other. I came very close to dropping both of them when the lead oboe player, himself an experienced music director (and a friend of the professional conductor who directed this performance today) noisily took issue with my conducting style. I listened to his advice but made it clear there were lines drawn, and I intended to stand my ground even if behind my hazel eyes I was worried sick I was wrong. I was facing musicians I had performed with numerous times, musicians I had come to respect, some of whom had more experience than me if not more training, and here I was telling them how to play. I wasn't always nice about it, either. The trumpets' control was sloppy. The horns and tympani kept falling behind the beat. The woodwinds couldn't match their rhythms or note duration. The cellos kept rushing. Sometimes I was polite. Sometimes I wasn't. On at least one occasion I threw down my baton and yelled, "WHY??!?" when the trumpets bricked a tough passage that was otherwise going really well. I realized there was a very good chance of my being labeled an asshole by the group, but they just kept asking me to continue. I also had the full support of (and got lots of encouragement from) both Mr. Ogawa and our concertmaster, who is quite an accomplished abnd well-positioned musician.

I also noticed the professional conductor, when he directed rehearsals, was saying a lot of the same things I was. That was encouraging, too.

Well, today was the day. I played lead clarinet in the opening number, Berlioz's Hungarian March from Faust (also known as "Rakoczy"). Of course I didn't participate in the next tune, Vivaldi's Concerto for Recorder, Strings, and Harpsichord (because it only included a recorder, strings, and a harpsichord)(DUH!), but I really enjoyed listening to it. And then there was The 7th.

I sat backstage in the stage left wing watching the performance together with a flute player who also had sit out the piece. She seemed pretty enthralled. As for me, I was overwhelmed. My fists and teeth were often clenched, not out of disgust but for encouragement...sometimes together with a silent "Come on...come on...COME ON..." The peppy first movement was solid. The second movement, a surprisingly melancholy work that is extremely difficult to play well (and even harder to conduct) mainly because it's so deceptively simple, was f*****g brilliant (and admittedly had me just holding back tears). The frenetic third movement kept threatening to fly apart, but somehow it held together well enough to get through to that bombastic (What else could I call it?) fourth movement. As usual, the fourth movement is where Beethoven kicks out all the stops, and it showed the orchestra's weaknesses. There were a couple of spectacular bricks in the trumpet section, and the horns and strings struggled with parts that would (and did!) challenge even professional players, but for the most part they were in the groove. Overall, the movement was full of energy and surprisingly tight. Heck, it was pure fireworks! When it ended, my mouth was hanging open.

I was still blown away when I came in with an alto sax to help perform the encore, a tune called "The Lone Ar-Ranger" (a clever arrangment of the William Tell Overture including clips from 30 famous classical and folk tunes).

Afterward I had to listen to the recording to make sure my ears hadn't lied to me. Then I was stunned.

My god...the Kashima Philharmonic successfully performed Beethoven's 7th!

The conductor thanked me afterward for my help. So did several of the musicians who had performed it. It would have been nice to play it myself, but I'm both proud and happy to have had a hand in making it possible. Bear with me if my ego seems a bit inflated for a while....

I guess the conducting lessons are paying off! :-)


  • Absolutely FANTASTIC!

    I am thrilled that you had such a good performance.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 5:19 AM  

  • Wish I'd been there, but your marvelous description has given my ears a taste! Pardon my synesthesia.

    Savor the experience fully. Let it go to your head and pervade all of your senses.

    By Blogger San, at 6:45 AM  

  • P.S. I'm going to add you to my blogroll, so I'll remember to check in on you.

    By Blogger San, at 6:47 AM  

  • Otsukaresama deshita. Sorry to have missed it. That must indeed be gratifying and I hope you let yourself float on cloud nine for while. You deserve it.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:10 AM  

  • Good job man.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:54 PM  

  • Awesome, Mr Minstrel!

    You haven't been this inflated in ages. Here, have a pin, but you don't have to use it yet ;)

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:55 AM  

  • Just visiting a few blogs and came across yours...

    Wow, life in Japan as a gaijin must be interesting! I used to live and work in China as a waiguoren, and it was fun but challenging.

    And related to the post... good job! ;)

    By Blogger Zhu, at 2:26 PM  

  • Pandabonium - Otsukaresama desune! I totally agreed that it's "the moment" for Moody...more please, my friend. I am sure the audience (past of future) wants more so keep up the good works!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 10:05 PM  

  • pssstttt... you are tagged with Christmas spirit! ;)

    By Blogger Selba, at 12:33 AM  

  • Wow, MM, I'm quite impressed with your stamina - to keep at something that seemed beyond you and the orchestra and succeed! You are rightfully proud and happy :-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:00 AM  

  • Man, I salute you... I can't play music even if my life depends on it... still, that didn't stop me from trying the shakuhachi, and later the guitar... the end result being, zilch...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 10:43 AM  

  • I thought this one was going to be about The Magnificent Seven
    but hey Bethoven's 7th ain't bad

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 11:18 AM  

  • Dave
    Thanks, old buddy!

    Thank you! I'm happy to hear from you! Do you mind if I post a link to your site? I'm sure people that visit here would like to see it!

    I forgot to ask you if you wanted tickets. I wound up not selling all of mine, and there were some empty seats this time. You missed a pretty good performance!

    Don Snabulus

    I think I'll enjoy being inflated for a while, m'lady! I'm sure some of my students (and coworkers) already have pins of their own at the ready...

    Welcome! Please come again!

    Our next scheduled concert is going to be a very different sort of animal, and it looks to be a spectacular event! I hope it all works out...

    Alas! The mad tagger strikes again! ;-)

    Thank you! My only worry right now is that the orchestra's planning committee might get a bit too big for their britches and start trying to do difficult symphonies on a regular basis. Some of them are suggesting Brahms. I suggest they wake up and lay off the pills!

    Music is something you either do or you don't. It has always been a significant part of my life. I just hope you don't give up completely.

    Maybe not the Magnificent Seven, but definitely a winning roll in craps (and the orchestra was definitely NOT crap this time!).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:36 PM  

  • Ho ho ho... the tag is my Christmas gift to you :D

    You should be worry if I don't tag you anymore since passing a tag is one way of showing my care to a person *wink*

    By Blogger Selba, at 8:14 PM  

  • MM, I don't know, sometimes setting your sights beyond what you think your capabilities is a good thing. Do you think the higher difficulty level can be achieved? Or does everyone get burned out in the process?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:05 AM  

  • Awesome! Congratulations, MM.

    Is this allowed to be added onto The Minstrel's Muse?

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 9:03 PM  

  • Selba
    Actually, I am relieved!

    Oh, I firmly believe in pushing our limits, since it has done us good so far. However, there is such a thing as trying to take too big a leap, and that can be dangerous. After all, one must learn to walk well before one tries breakdancing. Otherwise you can end up hurting yourself. The Kashima Philharmonic has come a long way in its seven years of existence, but we should still be aware of our limits even as we test them. Could you imagine an intermediate-level piano player trying to play a Liszt concerto? Not in front of an audience! Neither should the Kashima Philharmonic attempt Brahms just yet.

    What, are you hoping for a recording? Hmm...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:16 AM  

  • Sorry moody I thought I posted to this a long time ago... must have been a word verification mistype.

    anyhoo Great Job and congrats

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 1:28 AM  

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