Songs of Fire, Songs of Light

10 03 2009

2nd-violins

A few people have been clamoring for this post (I wonder why), so I guess I should get to work on it…

It’s a strange feeling, really…in the days leading up to the concert, there was little else I could think about…let alone talk about. Now that it’s done, I don’t feel like talking about it much – not that I didn’t enjoy the concert (you have no idea how much I loved it), its like a picturesque sunrise that one wants to enjoy in contemplative silence – words just tend to get in the way.

But, with a service provider like WordPress, you just have to use words sometime, I guess, so here…

Maybe in other orchestras, the conductor just shows up in shirt and tails, baton and scores in hand, takes the stage, leads the performance, boom, gets his paycheck and then it’s off to the classiest bar in town to (maybe) get wasted. Not in this orchestra.

No. The show was scheduled for 6PM, this conductor was up and already at work by 5AM. I packed a good shirt with nice cuff links, coat, shiny brogues, a bottle of cologne (my sole attempt at dignity, knowing what lay ahead in the day), didn’t forget the scores and the baton; received a call from the principal percussionist, informing me that he had forgotten the all-important triangle, so I had to shuffle over to school and retrieve that. I was finally on my way to the theater by 645AM (We were supposed to be there by 6AM).

Arrived at theater an hour later, helped the deliverymen haul in the double bass, the cellos, the music stands, the gigantic platforms. Greeted the brass players who were so punctual, it was embarrassing. Set up the stage for final rehearsals at 8AM.

C’est un miracle! The orchestra was actually on time! Which is a good thing, because rehearsals didn’t go too well. I finished the slide show presentation for the concert during the almost 6-hour downtime, where I also did voice overs for the department’s grand recital.

The recital had to be extended by 30-minutes, so when it was finally over, all hell broke loose onstage as we wrestled to get two grand pianos into position, getting one of the astonishingly heavy platforms offstage, and getting the musician’s chairs into position. The timpani appeared out of nowhere (or I wasn’t looking when they rolled them in), the musicians were getting restless…

A note on the musicians: this being our 5th anniversary, I had instructed everyone to break out the formal wear – gowns for the ladies, suits for the guys. Apparently, despite my rigorous research as to what exactly constitutes a gown, some of the ladies still came in numbers several inches too short. But those ladies who came in proper gowns…elegant and royal and refined are some of the adjectives that come to mind. Even Kyu Yeon, our principal second violinist, who vehemently opposed the idea of the ladies wearing gowns and had all these excuses to not wear one, looked…well…awesome is the proper word. I doubt she will complain about wearing a gown again.

So you have all of these musicians between the ages of 10 and 25 milling about backstage (which I had the PAs clear of suitors, moochers, and other useless interlopers), and more than a few of them would come up to me or to my assistant Lyndon (who plays in the first violins) to have their instruments tuned, right while we are dragging the profoundly heavy podium desk onstage.

Finally, everything was ready, the musicians in place (many of whom are desperately practicing everything); the assistant concertmaster urges me to get dressed. I hesitantly oblige.

Last minute instructions, a reminder that we are a family, an earnest final prayer, and the concertmaster and I leave the stage as the theater doors are opened and an equally restless audience shuffles to their seats.

First number, Canon in D, and I am shocked that the violas are actually playing in tune, in time – something that simply hasn’t happened before during rehearsals. They’re actually loud.

Second number, Somewhere in Time…the pianist misses his entrance, but only by a nanosecond, no big deal. The percussionist in charge of the bells (glockenspiel as we insist on calling it) also missed an entrance, but she came in on the beat, and nobody (except us) noticed anything amiss. The strings got their notes right, and I know for a fact that someone in the audience wanted to die from the beauty of it all.

Viva la Vida actually grooved – something we had been trying so hard to achieve in the past months, but had eluded us at every turn. Dynamics were flat? Don’t remember. Don’t really care anymore. Haha!

Iris – so the soloist miffed the ending, leaving us in a confused mess. But we smoked the instrumental bridge section, the orchestra coming to a complete but exquisitely-timed halt every third beat. Haha! Oh well. It’s time for us to move on from that piece anyway.

Violin Concerto in D minor – it actually got people interested in classical music again! Sharie put so much rosin on her bow, it looked like she was setting the strings on fire (I didn’t teach her that trick – how serendipitous!). The theater was utterly silent during her cadenza, which made the final entrance of the orchestra that much more explosive. My favorite part is still the last three measures, where the strings crunch on the beat, the timpani hammers the rhythm home, and we end on a huge A and D interval. I can still hear the whoops coming from the audience – some of which I know was directed towards the comely-yet-stunning looks of the soloist – the occupational hazards of being talented and beautiful.

Fureai – Ahhh…my favorite piece in the first set. OK, so I remember that the first violins still sounded too detache for my taste, but when the big crescendos began and the brass kicked in, ohhh…the tingles! If there’s a piece I would like to perform again soon, it’s this one.

Pirate Suite – Most of the audience went home with this one in their heads. One went so far as to tell Ana, our principal violist, to tell me that the only thing missing was water. The Kraken kicked major behind, with the detuned double bass, piano, and bass guitar playing more tightly in sync than they had ever done during rehearsals, the soft beater on the bass drum sounding like an infernal, malicious heartbeat…I heard that even those backstage got goosebumps.

INTERMISSION: I’ve never seen The Orchestra so happy before – they were all hugging one another, cheering each other on, happily wolfing down more than their share of the sponsored dinner. I couldn’t so much as sniff my burger…I had to content myself with a slightly acidic energy drink. Our first set made the choir nervous – apparently, we sounded that good.

Gloria was a shock – I never imagined The Orchestra, with its modest resources, could produce such a thick sound. I remember the tenors missed an important entrance midway through the song, but who cares? Ha!

Lacrimosa seemed to be the favorite of the choir. The lighting director put on quite a show, but I didn’t notice any of that. I do remember that the snare drummer had his eyes riveted on the baton, and he kept perfect time.

Titan and Return of the King – Isa’s double bass solo was surprisingly loud. It wasn’t perfect, but really, now that its over, does it matter? I remember the brass actually responding to my conducting towards the end of the slow part of Return of the King. I had to develop a gesture on the spot to control their cutoffs, and it actually worked. Cool.

In Lux Aeterna, it was all loud. Strings, percussion, choir. I should have written parts for brass.

We ended with Hallelujah (We had to sack Amen because it was just too difficult for the choir), and frankly, I’m glad we did. The trumpets drowned all the mistakes out (Ha!), the choir sounded reasonably confident – the final “Hallelujah” was glorious, and the timpanist told me that he actually found himself worshipping. Now that’s a compliment worth remembering!

I suppose the experience was different for everybody, but I suspect the difference is only more glaring between audience and musicians. The audience tends to focus on the actual performance – was it in tune, in time? Was it loud enough? Were the dynamics present?  The musicians (although I could be speaking for myself) tend to focus on the cumulative whole – from rehearsals all the way to the performance, including the intermission. An exchange of text messages last night with The Cat  made me indeed realize that the things the audience sees and hears, I quickly forget about. Case in point, if the audience marveled at the light show that accompanied the more…ahem…fiery songs, frankly, I didn’t even realize there was a light show. If the bass drum in Viva La Vida wasn’t loud enough, I actually don’t remember anymore. In fact, I don’t really care. We can’t repeat the performance anytime soon, so we can’t fix anything anymore.

I remember during the 6-hour downtime thinking “What if I were conducting a professional ensemble?” and I quickly realized that while I could have had a highly polished performance, it wouldn’t mean anything, because what makes every concert of The Orchestra special is the fact that for the past 10 months, we struggled together – to learn the songs, to develop the technique necessary to play them, to develop our relational skills so that the lower-ranked players would actually obey and learn. We learned to love one another, despite how we actually felt about each other – Kyu Yeon has become a formidable principal, not because of her skill (which is very formidable – and intimidating), but because she has chosen to take responsibility for her section. Her sectionmates affectionately call her “Mom”, and from hereon, the principal second violinist will be called “Mom” or “Dad”. I bet that even when she has moved to the first violins, she will still keep an eye on the second violins, just to keep them in line.

I no longer remember many details of the performance – like which piece were we playing when I almost fell off the podium – but I remember the smiles on the musician’s faces, the look in their eyes that told me, “Let’s do this, sir!”. I remember the red of the front-row cellist’s lipstick, the glint of the spotlight on Kyu Yeon’s glasses. I remember the roar of shuffling feet as they cheered for one another. I remember the soul-stirring sudden silence that gripped the theater during the sudden endings of Lacrimosa, Return of the King, and Lux Aeterna. I remember the sacred silence right after the second-to-the-last “Hallelujah” (which was broken by a few over-enthusiastic members of the audience, but somehow remained sacred nontheless).

The Orchestra will undergo some radical changes come next season – we can no longer operate “beneath the radar” so to speak, and I can no longer be involved in all aspects of managing it – all I really like doing is arranging, conducting, and teaching. But for now, I remember, and I am profoundly thankful to God for my job, and the people it puts me in contact with, and the ways that I can influence them in His name.

…and for those of you who gave most of the Saturdays over the past 10 months to The Orchestra – I am fiercely proud of you.

1st-violins

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12 responses

10 03 2009
someone

I watched your concert. It was beautiful. 🙂 I was one of the several someones who “wanted to die from the beauty of it all” (and with Pablo Neruda’s poetry flashing on that tiny screen on the side, it was unbearable…yes, I enjoyed the slide show too! very witty.) But more than the exquisiteness of every piece performed was the unmistakable passion that stirred in those young hearts. I just felt it was there. And it moved me. Congratulations to all of you! 🙂

10 03 2009
cbp

“If the bass drum in Viva La Vida wasn’t loud enough”

my bad. 😀

Sir, I had lots of fun. Thanks again for a lot of things! 😀 engg shmengg count me in next year 😀

THANKS AGAIN

10 03 2009
yanangski

“Canon in D, and I am shocked that the violas are actually playing in tune, in time – something that simply hasn’t happened before during rehearsals. They’re actually loud.”

something magical happened on stage. maybe it was the dress, i’m not sure. . .

btw i wont play the viola next year…

i’ll play the CLARINET! yuhu!

11 03 2009
Eric

Great work! It’s a shame we weren’t able to stay longer to watch the Orchestra but I was able to watch some of the videos. Really wonderful and amazing, sir. 🙂

11 03 2009
The Orchestra: A Family « coffee cup adventures

[…] you missed our concert here’s a more detailed account of our performance: Songs of fire, songs of light (conductor’s point of […]

11 03 2009
violist? :))

thank you for everything sir 🙂
thank you thank you thank you

11 03 2009
Faith-sensei

Oh my gulay Sir where did you get the photos? T_T

12 03 2009
GTI

I got them from the concertmaster’s multiply account 🙂

23 03 2009
Tanya Aritao

Hi Sir Eigen! It’s Tanya. Wow, I wish I could’ve been there to see how far the orchestra has come, congratulations! I think we should have a reunion! Haha!

23 03 2009
GTI

That would be a good idea, actually 🙂 …although be prepared for a few surprises: the skill some of the kids possess is rather shocking. That, and the number of them. Hehehe.

Next time you’re in town, do pay us a visit 🙂

23 03 2009
Tanya Aritao

Ha! I’ve seen some videos and yes, the bar has definitely been raised in terms of skill! I was trying to watch videos that were posted by an ICA alumnus on multiply, but sadly they’ve disappeared, I’ve heard great stuff about the performance. I definitely want to hear Viva la Vida..and I can’t believe you guys did Iris..again. Hahaha.

25 03 2009
GTI

Funny how Iris gets on your nerves during rehearsals – the band isn’t ready, or the vocalist isn’t ready, or both aren’t ready – but how nice it feels and sounds during the actual performance 🙂

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