Yesterday was something bittersweet day, as I submitted my resignation from the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra. I auditioned for the RDSO in September 2007 – I was a clueless 18-year-old who was just excited to attend a real audition for the first time, and I was completely bewildered when I was chosen as the winning candidate. I think everyone was, the audition committee included (the finals had been held behind a screen). When I walked into the room to meet the panel afterwards, the first words out of music director Claude Lapalme’s mouth were “We just have one question – who are you???” They took a risk in hiring me – they could tell that I was young and could hear the parts of my playing that weren’t fully under control. I’m gad they took the risk, because my education as a musician wouldn’t have been half of what it was without me getting to be part of that orchestra.
The orchestra at the University of Calgary was giving around four concerts a year at this time, so the roughly six concerts a season I did in Red Deer more than doubled the amount of repertoire I was covering. The professional rehearsal schedule was also a huge departure from the school experience. The U of C orchestra rehearsed once a week for three hours in the evening and would sometimes be missing a substantial part of the instrumentation of the work being rehearsed. Whole sections of instruments that I didn’t even know were involved in the pieces we were performing would mysteriously appear at the dress rehearsal. Standard practice (for me at least) was to show up at the first rehearsal with maybe a couple lines of music learned, figure out the tempos for the rest of the piece, and then gradually practice the part over the coming weeks to hopefully get it up to something close to a performable standard by the concert itself. In Red Deer the standard schedule was one rehearsal on Thursday, two on Friday, a dress rehearsal and concert on Saturday, and then only for major concerts. Smaller shows would just be a dress rehearsal and concert, and on the rare occasion we’d not even have time to completely rehearse a piece before performing it in the concert. On a professional schedule, to put it bluntly, there’s no time to fix it if you didn’t learn it right. You don’t have time to be confused. You have to know the works thoroughly before the first rehearsal, not just before the concert.
A lot of the things I learned in the RDSO were brutal things, like how quietly you have to be able to play in an orchestra, and how good good intonation has to be (i.e. “audience does not feel physically sick from it being so out of tune” is not good enough). The lessons it took me longest to learn were how to keep my ego in check and when to keep my mouth shut. My colleagues were very patient with me.
In 2009 our principal bassoon, the wonderful Bruce Hildesheim, took a leave of absence and I won the audition to cover his position while he was gone. This arrangement became permanent when Bruce moved on from bassooning to take up the cello! I remained with the orchestra when I left for Indiana – I didn’t play every concert (if the pay for the gig minus the plane ticket cost was a large negative number I took the show off for obvious reasons) but I still got back about four times a season to play some great music with great folks and got to see friends and family while I was at it. When I moved to Ontario last year the RDSO kindly granted me a leave of absence so that if things weren’t working out, or if I felt for any reason that it was right to come home, the position would be there for me to come back to.
Among the highlights of those five years were Respighi’s Trittico Botticeliano, Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Nancy Gibson, Mahler 4 with Karina Gauvin, and the unforgettable week in which we were originally supposed to do the Four Last Songs, but had our plans thrown into disarray by the Icelandic volcano eruption. I got a phone call four days before the rehearsal asking “How much of the Mozart Concerto do you have ready to perform?” That week my picture was in the Red Deer Advocate next to the headline “SYMPHONY’S PLANS REDUCED TO ASHES – Plan B Involves a Bassoon.”