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!