I'm approaching my 1 year mark with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and I have to say that I've seen more of Interstate-40 than I ever thought I would. The constant traveling is very fatiguing at times, but Podcasts and the occasional Mozart Symphony marathon have turned it into routine for me. As I was driving back to Memphis earlier this week to spend my week off at home, I began to think about all of the stops along the way, and how music has influenced almost all of my visits in cities and towns across the state over the years. From east to west, I have some great experiences and memories, but more importantly, there is great music.
Classical music is very expensive, and this should be no surprise to anyone, considering the diminishing number of orchestras that pay their musicians livable wages. This does not, however, inhibit some really good sounds in some of the more rural areas of Tennessee. The week before last I was invited to play Strauss' "Die Fladermaus" with the Symphony of the Mountains, with singers from East Tennessee and North Carolina. I went into the gig not knowing what to expect, but the level of the musicians is quite high. Based in the Tri-cities of Tennessee (Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport), the Symphony of the Mountains offers great music to a community that I didn't even know existed! Along with the great music music making, it was nice to see the beautiful Appalachian scenery and to get a feel for small town America in my home state. I look forward to playing with them again, and "discovering" even more of the hidden gems of East Tennessee (no Columbusing).
In college I wasn't a huge partier, but when I did it, I did it pretty hardcore. A number of the guys I worked with when I taught flute and drill at Munford High School lived in Cookeville, TN, which is home to Tennessee Tech University. One weekend my friend Pete and I decided to drive out for their annual "Slip and Slosh" party, which is a party designed for people who like to go down a slip and slide completely drunk. In retrospect I probably should have cooled it a little bit, but you only live once, right? I definitely over drank, and cops eventually busted the party, but these are guys I'm still friends with to this day, and music brought us together! Chances are I won't be slipping or sloshing in Cookeville ever again, but a smile comes to my face every time I pass exit 287 on I-40.
I have to be honest - a part of me resents Nashville being called "Music City, USA", but despite all the honky tonk I fall in love with the city a little more every time I visit. On weekends when I don't have the time to return all the way home, Andy and I meet in Nashville, and I have to say the country music culture is real there. I was surprised to see people walking down the street actually wearing cowboy boots, for instance, and how the downtown area is saturated with western-style saloons and bars. It's not my thing, but I appreciate a city that supports its own culture unapologetically. In our visits I've managed to look past all of that, and I really enjoy the local things Nashville has to offer, like the coffee shops, book stores, and of course, the gay establishments. I actually have yet to perform in Nashville, but I count it on my Tennessee list of music stops because I know I'll be spending a lot more time there in the future. Maybe I should give the ole country twang another try.
What can I say about Memphis that I haven't said a thousand times? Other than it being the greatest place in the world, it's where I learned how to play bassoon, where I met Andy, and where I will always call home. The food is what attracts most people into town, but there's some great classical music going on in Memphis. The Memphis Repertory Orchestra wows audiences year round, and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra has managed to remain the heartbeat of classical music in the city, despite the recent financial issues. When I finally reach the Shelby County line on my drives back, though, I immediately feel the need to turn on some Three 6 Mafia. Yes, when it comes to music most people probably associate us with jazz and blues (which I really appreciate), but the spirit of Memphis is "rapped" up in Hip Hop. Native Memphian Juicy J has grown to become a national name in the industry, and when anyone asks me about the music scene here it's the first thing that comes out of my mouth. If I get to live this life again, I'm definitely going to try and write beats and spit on tracks. Who knows - it might get ME an Academy Award one day, too!
The ASO is currently in a lock-out situation that is beginning to get nation-wide attention from music lovers and professionals alike, and it's truly heart breaking to see such fine music being held captive by people who clearly care more about their pockets than the continuation of a very important art form. Last week I was asked by the concert master of the Knoxville Symphony to draft a letter of solidarity, and this is what I came up with:
"The arts are not for the privileged few, but for the many. Their place is not on the periphery of daily life, but at its center. They should function not merely as another form of entertainment but, rather, should contribute significantly to our well being and happiness." –John D. Rockefeller
To the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra:
It is a universal fact that music is an integral part of our existence as a human race. Whether we like hearing the crisp, classical sounds of composers like Mozart and Haydn, or prefer the pieces by composers still finding their voices today, the sounds of symphonic ensembles must continue to resound not only for us, but for the generations to come, so that they may see the power it holds for our American culture. Music and the arts have been the source of great strength, great change, and great hope for people of all walks of life from every part of the globe, and it is our obligation to ensure this continuation here in the south.
When many people listen to symphonic music, they think of the large orchestras of Europe and try to imagine how people living in London, Berlin, or Vienna could be so lucky to have such amazing music right in their back yards. What they may fail to realize, however, is that world class music exists right here for all to enjoy. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has been a beacon of excellence and an example of true artistry to students and professionals alike for nearly 70 years, and this rich musical tradition is facing opposition. It goes without saying that we must do everything we can to uphold and support the effort toward saving the ASO, and we, the members of the Knoxville Symphony, show our support and stand firm in the efforts toward restoring what has been one of the most important mediums of classical music not only in Georgia, but the country, for decades. As an orchestra, we urge not only other musicians and afficianados, but anyone interested in the continuation of one of the art forms that transcend daily life, to stand with you and support not just your cause, but the cause.
Your colleagues of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Writing for Rainbow Rumpus and Edugaytion has taught me how to make my words nice and pretty, but sometimes I wish I could just be real. Sometimes I wish I could sit here and name all the haters I've dealt with whose goal is to catch me in a lie, or chastise me for something I've done with pure intentions. Sometimes I wish I could call out the folks who have sent e-mails and messages in regards to what I'm doing that they find offensive, and threatening my livelihood in the process. I sometimes even wish I could give a wake up call to these people sitting pretty in their cubicles, deciding the fate of me and my music while they collect their pay check off of what musicians are providing to audiences. I don't do those things, though, because it's a very dangerous game. As Blair Tindall mentions in her notorious book, "Mozart in the Jungle", "...our superiors - counting on the bewildered outsiders not to interfere - [can] twist creative issues to control us. Musicality [is] subjective, and a lack of cooperation...could be described as bad intonation, boring phrasing, or even weak talent to an administrator...".
I think it's time we stop lying down and taking it from people who could never do what we do as musicians. The ASO is amongst the best orchestras in this country, and their management has shown us just how much we should blindly trust those people in the background. Click here to find out how you can help the ASO stand up against the ugly underbelly of this industry, and break the trend of musicians having to accept the final word from a suit and tie.