ReBlog: Music Settlement President/CEO Charles Lawrence on Opening Night

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 ·

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I have a song to sing, O! Sing me your song, O!

I had the great pleasure to attend the opening night performance by The Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 this past Saturday. As many of you know, the Orchestra was celebrating its Community Music Initiative as well as returning to Severance Hall for another season of glorious music. The Orchestra is an unparalleled treasure for all of us and it is great to have our neighbor back in residence, just two blocks away.

For me, the “joy” of the evening was multifold. First, there was the pleasure of the music itself, still vibrant and affecting, despite being 185 or so years old and so frequently performed and recorded. Then there was the gala spirit of the event itself - the anticipation and excitement of opening night, drawing an audience primed for enjoyment, sharing a communal experience together. The Orchestra even invited the Jazz @ The Music Settlement [J@MS] combo to perform in one of the foyers before the show - they were awesome, and it added greatly to the celebratory nature of the evening. I also trace part of my enjoyment of orchestral music to the interplay of the artists, a preference that may have originated from my roots in theatre stage management, so my house right orchestra seats allowed me a great view of the “action.” I was able to watch Music Director Franz Welser-Möst’s interaction with various members of the orchestra and the chorus very closely. I especially enjoyed his connection with Concertmaster William Preucil, in which the most imperceptible of gestures and nods spoke volumes.

Then there was the task of getting one’s arms around the massive undertaking being presented that evening. With the full chorus, orchestra, and four soloists all sharing the floor, there wasn’t an open space anywhere on the stage. Just being witness to the scope of the event immediately put one in mind that they were going to experience something very grand indeed.

But what really defined the evening for me was the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, an all-volunteer ensemble from nearly fifty communities around Northeast Ohio. I spent much of the fourth movement (with the well-known “Ode to Joy”) with my eyes glued to the members I could see of the chorus, and found their intensity and proficiency mesmerizing. To me, their commitment crystallized the impact and legacy of music in our community. Their task was not for the faint of heart, and they rose to the occasion magnificently.

Throughout the fourth movement, I found myself wondering what the experience was like for a member of the chorus, and as I read my program later on, I realized that several members were (not surprisingly) employees of The Music Settlement. I determined then and there that I needed a first-hand account to share with all of you today from their point of view, so I have asked two staffers - Music Therapist Dwyer Conklin, and Emily Catalano, receptionist from the Early Childhood Department - to share their thoughts while the glow of the evening remains. I’ll start first with Dwyer’s thoughts:

Listening to great performances is always a good experience but being a part of one takes the cake. Beethoven's Ninth is challenging in many ways, especially as it is such a well known piece, that it can be hard to "live up to the hype". But being a part of such a focused ensemble that strives to ensure a high quality of musicianship pushes one to another level altogether. This concert was a fabulous experience from the music listener in me that enjoyed hearing a masterpiece played and sung in a masterful way. And from the performer in me, to be a part of making the experience was truly a joy. Freude!

I’ll let Emily have the final word:

The only problem with talking about Cleveland Orchestra Chorus is that I feel like the first couple of lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.” Where do I start, and stop? It’s hard to put in a nutshell my feelings about this singing privilege. This begins my 16th season with COC, and I don’t know what I did with my free time before that lucky day in 1994 when I auditioned for Garreth Morrell. We talked a minute or two before I sang, and he said, “You have an accent, don’t you,” and I thought, “I’m done Finished. At least I tried.” Then I got the much hoped for letter that said, “Welcome to the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.”

For me, all of these years later, rehearsals are always exhilarating, and at the end of a rough day, or a long week, the music is salve to my soul and a panacea for everything, without fail. Walking out on stage for a performance is an emotional rush for me like none other I can imagine. The first thing I do when we sit down is to look at all of those faces in the audience who have come there because they need what the music will give them. Next, I look at the lights in the ceiling, and imagine that those are all of my family who are gone, but have the best seat in the house, wherever they want to sit (maybe even next to me). And every single time, without exception, I’m filled with gratitude for all they did to make music such a constant part of my upbringing. The music program in my hometown of Madisonville, Kentucky was outstanding too, and I still call my chorus director there every time we sing at Carnegie Hall. I tell her, “You know, Miss Williams, I hold you partly responsible for this.” She always says, “Thank you, Emily. That’s an accusation that I happily accept.” She’s in her late 90’s now.

Sitting there among 150 of us, and 100 of The Cleveland Orchestra, I’m moved by the fact that we have religious, social, political, and personal differences of all sorts, but when we gather for the purpose of making music, NOTHING else matters but the music. Differences…..canceled. Troubles…..forgotten. And Emily, on top of the world.

Thank you, Dwyer & Emily, we are all very lucky to have the gift of music in our lives, in whatever form it takes. While many of us have lifestyles (or levels of talent) that prevent us from doing much more than singing in the shower, we should never fail to thank those who give of their time to bring joy to our hearts through live performance. That is an “Ode” whose chorus we can all enjoy.

Have a great week!
Posted by Charlie Lawrence at 10:16 AM


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