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June 2011

78 and Counting

June 30, 2011 14:10

The community orchestra I play in, the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra, celebrates its 78th anniversary this year. It's not a special milestone or a round number, but it's a pretty big number. Founded during the Great Depression, the orchestra has raised money for war bonds (in World War II) and been through several conductors.

Before one of our concerts, I was talking to my mother who still lives near Buffalo, where I spent a good portion of my childhood and adolescence. I mentioned being a little nervous, as I still can get before performances. To put the event in perspective, I said, "well, it's just a volunteer orchestra, it's not the Philharmonic." In my mind, I meant the Buffalo Philharmonic: the orchestra I grew up listening to as a kid, the orchestra my teacher was in, the orchestra that partnered with the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra, of which I was a member in high school, for a concert each year. Provincial, perhaps, but if you lived in Western New York, that was "the Philharmonic."

"Actually," my mother pointed out, "your orchestra is the Philharmonic too." She's right. And not only that, but it's older. The Arlington Philharmonic dates back to 1933. According to the Buffalo Philharmonic's website, they didn't play their first concerts the until 1935-36 season.

The oldest member of the Arlington Philharmonic, Phyllis Spence, now almost 95, has played with the orchestra for 77 of those 78 years. She was concertmaster for many of those years, but retired from the position many years before I joined the group. A couple of years ago, she gave me a collection of sheet music. In this collection was her copy of the Franck Sonata in A major for violin and piano, which she played for her senior recital, back in high school.

When I blogged about that, someone kindly suggested that I learn the music and perform it for Phyllis. This seemed like a nice idea, but it was one I approached with more than a little trepidation. I never did a senior recital, myself, or really any kind of recital. And the Franck, even one movement, was a bit of a stretch for me, technically. Still, with my teacher's blessing I decided to give it a try. I wrote about some of my early attempts here: Grabbing me after all, and here: Franckly my dear.

Somehow that first blog seems much longer ago than a mere 2 years. Probably because I put the Franck aside a couple of times to work on other projects: Stamitz viola concerto, Mozartiana solo, Rockin' Fiddle Challenge. And it was not completely straightforward to find a pianist who was willing to take on the piano part. After one pianist who has accompanied me in church declined, I was able to enlist a friend who I first met as a violist. His first instrument is piano, however, and he did an amazing job. We had coaching sessions with both our teachers.

The concert itself was small and intimate, played in the church where the orchestra has played for many years. We performed our movement in a program that also included the New England String Quartet and the Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus. Some of my friends from work came, the orchestra conductor, other people I play chamber music with. And of course Phyllis was there, with her daughter. I'm sure I didn't play as well as she did 78 years ago, but that type of concern seems even more irrelevant than usual in a concert like this. To me, this is the greatest joy of local, community arts: the sense of tradition and the way music can connect the generations.

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