Tuesday, January 16, 2018
As a conductor, your worst fear is that you won't be able to move one or both of your arms. With my upper left arm currently broken in three places, there is definitely some concern about that. Granted, it could become a glorified page-turning device, but that doesn't seem like a very good use of a left arm.
Today, I met with a new surgeon and he was confident that without surgery, the arm would heal to 100%. The problem with surgery is that you could get scar tissue that would limit your range of motion, possibly permanently. We took X-Rays today for the third time and the fractures have not moved at all since the initial scans right after the trauma. I'll go back in in three weeks to make sure the fractures haven't moved. If there is no change, the sling comes off, PT begins, and full recovery is only a few months away. In the meantime, he says to leave the sling on most of the time. Its prime purpose is to warn others not to hit me in the arm.
My job is clear: don't fall on the ice, don't get bumped on the T, protect the shoulder while walking on Newbury St, don't pick fights with strangers, and skiing is out of the question until next season. I can do this.
The next three months hold some very exciting concerts that I'm pleased will go on as scheduled. Two concerts at school, one with the dance division and one with the brass ensemble, and the final gala performance of our 10th season with Symphony Nova. They will all happen now as planned.
Cue happy dance.
CT Scan view is from above, looking down on the left shoulder. All three fractures are still attached to the bone and therefore should heal on their own.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
They say bad things happen in threes. Well, I trashed my computer on January 1st when I spilled Diet Coke all over it it and then had a vacation delayed by four days due to the storm on January 4th. This is the third thing and hopefully the last, but it never should have happened.
Yes, the day was very cold at -7 degrees, but I was warm enough and skiing well. The runs are wide up at Okemo Mountain leaving plenty of room to carve turns and feel in control. And then I felt something odd. I looked down and one of my skis had come off and I was still upright! But not for long. I took a nosedive like I never have before. It happened so fast that I didn't even put my hands out in front of me. My shoulder took the entire fall. And it wasn't good. I rolled over onto my back, and lay there for a few moments to assess what had happened. Many people stopped quickly and ski patrol was on me within just a few minutes. I knew my shoulder was not good, but at the moment I just needed to get off the mountain. Remember it was freezing cold.
I could not have asked for a better ski patrol team. They stabilized me quickly, got me onto a sled, and one of them sat on top of me the whole way down to stabilize my arm. It was probably forty minutes from the time I fell until I was at the rescue lodge. They were able to quickly assess that I had dislocated my left shoulder, and possibly fractured the shoulder the as well. One of the ski patrol members was able to get my arm mostly back into the socket and stabilized me for the trip to the hospital.
Thirty minutes later, after a bumpy ambulance ride, we arrived at the Springfield Hospital in VT. I was quickly taken into the x-ray for some of the most painful pictures I have ever had taken, but they did get what they needed and could clearly see that I had a fracture in my left humerus and that it might still be slightly dislocated.
The plan going forward is to see my orthopedic surgeon soon to discuss options. I have never had a dislocated shoulder, or a broken bone in my body for that matter, so I am looking forward to learning more about the recovery process. And as a conductor, I'm curious what the short and long-term affects of this type of injury might be.
Hopefully it's the third and the last bit of excitement in my life for awhile! Stay tuned for updates.
Consider the following scenario - you've always wanted to experience a particular artist live in concert. You’ve been thinking about it for a long time, so long, in fact, that the artist is now past their prime, and they attract audiences primarily due to name recognition. You finally attend the concert, but it’s not the experience you had imagined. To make sure this doesn't happen, I try to see an artist NOW if they are hot. Classical artists include: Gustavo Dudamel, Augustine Hadelich, Gil Shaham, and yes, Andris Nelsons (don’t miss a chance to hear him live!). Popular artists include: Lady Gaga and Justin Collier (you’ve got to check this guy out!). When I was a kid, I got to see Chicago, and even Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons – both phenomenal.
Over the years, there were some artists that I saw late in their career, and regretted it a little. Barbara Streisand was one of those. I had always loved her voice, but hearing her live in her 70s just wasn't what I remembered. I should have gone to see her live sooner – although, to be fair, she rarely performs live. And then there were the artists I just missed out on completely, like Frank Sinatra, pianist Glenn Gould, and the very short career of cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Oh, to have heard any of them live!
I still remember the first time I saw Gustavo Dudamel. It was November 7, 2007, and he was touring the US with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. He wasn't a household name yet, and it was before the job in LA, but I knew he was worth checking out. The energy in Boston’s Symphony Hall was palpable. There wasn't an empty seat in the house and the performance was electrifying. Luckily, we have many years of his talent still to come, but don't wait too long. What if he leaves LA, and goes to Berlin? Luckily, he’ll be in Boston this year on April 25th, and I’ll be there once again.
I met Mrs. Koussevitsky in 1976. Not the way most people did though – say at a party, or a donor event, or even a chance meeting at a concert.
When I was a high school student at Tanglewood in 1976, the staff was still telling the students it was perfectly fine to hitch a ride, especially if you were late for rehearsal. I would take them up on it once in a while, and put my thumb out instead of making the one mile walk from our dorms to the Tanglewood property.
One day, a woman in a Model A Ford stopped to pick me up. It's so funny to think back on it now - I thought she must’ve been at least 100 years old (she was actually about 76 at the time, but what does an 18-year old know?). She turned out to be Mrs. Koussevitsky. THE Mrs. Koussevitsky - the third wife of the former Boston Symphony conductor, and founder of Tanglewood, Serge Koussevitsky. He had passed away in 1951, but she would go on to live until early 1978. We had a lovely conversation about Tanglewood, music, and what little else we could squeeze into a five-minute car ride. I’ve never forgotten that chance meeting.
In what felt like a very meaningful event, that chance meeting connected me profoundly to the history of the Boston Symphony, an orchestra I was involved with for many years. No doubt that on some level, that connection was a factor in moving next door to Symphony Hall in Boston over 13 years ago.
If I knew in 2000 what I know now, I would have bought a piece of property in Aspen, CO. That summer I was a student. The program was nine weeks long in those days, and little did I know that the Aspen Music Festival and School was going to become the focus of my summers for the next 17 years (and counting!). In March 2001, I received a very odd email. Well, actually, all of the conducting students received an odd email from the then Artistic Director of the Aspen Music Festival. It was her negotiation with the previous summer’s Fourth of July conductor. I’m pretty sure it was an error to cc all of us on it, but it turned out to be very useful when I learned that the conductor turned down the opportunity, and soon after I received a similar email asking me to conduct that same concert!
I was sure that I was not one of the brightest stars from the previous summer, but years later I learned a few things about why I was asked to do this concert. First, during the previous summer, I had conducted on a children’s concert and had a chance to interact with the audience. I danced with the concertmaster to show the audience what a Waltz might look like and spoke easily with the audience. And secondly, it turned out that there was someone in the office who knew me from my Boston Pops days, and suggested that I might be comfortable in that genre. When I was invited to conduct the concert, I gave it all I had in terms of preparation, programming, and audience interaction. That was 2001. This past summer, 2017, was my 17th time conducting this concert. Since 2013, I have been moving my summer base of operations to Aspen. I have an entire circle of friends out there, great hiking and biking, rehearsals and concerts of several amazing orchestras to attend, and the chance to unwind after a busy (and usually somewhat stressful) year. This would never have come into my life had I continued performing as an instrumentalist. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, right?
As we approach our 10th anniversary, it’s amazing to look back at what has been accomplished. Only 65% of arts non-profits last beyond a few years so it is surprising to all of us that we’ve made it this far. (https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Research-Art-Works-Harvard.pdf) To get here, we achieved a lot; creating and marketing two different names, establishing ourselves in two home bases, and putting on a wide array of performances. By the numbers: 13 orchestral concerts, 20 chamber concerts (many of them repeated), 20 in-school presentations, 5 side-by-side opportunities with youth orchestra, 27 Fellows graduated or currently participating, 23 entrepreneurial classes presented to our Fellows, and well over $1,000,000 raised to pay our musicians and vendors. But how did it all start?In 2007, when I had some free time on my hands – which is always dangerous – I decided to start an orchestra in the Boston area. First, I bought a map, and circled every town that already had an orchestra. Next, I made a 20-mile radius circle around each. Then I looked at demographic data for the towns that were not served, and ended up picking an area with a level of education and median income that I felt could sustain an orchestra. Thus began our first iteration, the Neponset Valley Philharmonic, based in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
It seemed like such a good idea. A well-educated community in need, with the ability to support a semi-professional orchestra. As it turned out… when you pick an area because it has no arts organizations, there could be a reason why. I loved the people down in the Neponset Valley, but we had trouble getting the kind of support we needed to keep operating in that community. So, in 2012, we decided to make the move to Boston. We had numerous meetings about who and what we wanted to be, and ultimately changed our name to Symphony Nova.
Starting in 2014, we created a Fellowship program that fulfilled our original mission to support up-and-coming artists. Our goal is to help recent graduates from music programs around the country by giving them the opportunity to bridge the gap from school to their career. We offer high-level orchestral performances, chamber performances, educational classes, and the opportunity to create concerts from scratch (with the support of our staff).
As we enter our 10th season, we are looking to the future. We have a 5-year plan that will take us into 2022 which includes adding more Fellows, programming more orchestra concerts, growing the Board, and increasing staff support.
We look forward to impacting more lives – musicians, audience, Board, and staff – and are excited to see what the next 10 years hold for us. Starting a non-profit is one of the most difficult things I have ever taken on, but it is also one of the most rewarding. See you in 2027 for the next update!
Changing performance focus from trombone to conducting was a challenge. I had been a trombonist since I was 8 - that made for 32 years practicing and performing on the instrument. Sure, the first few years might not count, but when do you start counting? To take up another “instrument” at age 40 was a real eye-opener.
For a guy who almost never experienced nerves, you should have seen me at my audition at the start of that summer in Aspen. They were looking for four fellows to do the lion’s share of conducting, and the other 36 of us were going to get whatever podium time was left. I was shaking – pretty badly. In retrospect, I know that my nervousness came from being unprepared, or at least not quite ready for prime time. You can bet that these days I over-prepare. I don’t ever want to feel that again!
That summer turned out to be life-altering. Not only did I learn from the conducting teachers – David Zinman, Murry Sidlin, and Jorma Panula – but I also met many conductors, some of whom I’m still in touch with today. Most are still very active in one way or another in the field. I could not have predicted that the following summer, I would be invited to conduct the Aspen Music Festival’s Fourth of July concert. Now, after 17 years of performing that concert, I am more grateful than ever for that first summer in Aspen, and how it changed my professional focus.
In 2002, a few years after retiring from playing and beginning to look for a new direction, I was approached by the Dean of The Boston Conservatory, who asked me if I was interested in the new Assistant Dean’s position there. We discussed it, but when I learned that the position was 12 months, I decided to withdraw my name, and hope for something that was more on a teacher’s schedule (9 months). Even back then, I knew I wanted to use my summers for artistic and relaxing pursuits. I just wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. A few months later, I was approached again, this time by the new Director of the Music Division at Boston Conservatory, Dr. Karl Paulnack. He asked if I’d be interested in the 9-month position of Assistant Director of the Division. I interviewed, and we hit it off great. He and I had a good run of 12 years together, and I think it’s fair to say that with the support of the upper administration, we reinvented the Music Division. The size of the department increased by 50%, and the quality increased by just over 980%. Ok, just kidding - you can’t really quantify that last one, but just ask anyone who was around in the late 90s how much things changed.
Over the years, as opportunities appeared at the school, I would raise my hand and get involved. I joined committees, taught classes that needed to be covered, volunteered for conducting opportunities – whatever – and created a position for myself that was custom made. As you might expect, after several years of this, I had taken on too many things. Luckily, the new merger with Berklee wouldn’t allow me to be administration AND faculty anymore, so I was able to shed the administrative piece, and become a full-time Professor of Music, markedly reducing my hourly load. 15 years after retiring from playing, I’ve landed in the ideal place. I continue to be grateful for all of the opportunities the school has given me over the years, including this transition to full-time faculty where I can directly impact the lives of young musicians. I know I’m going to really enjoy the opportunity to serve the students in this way.
After I retired in 1999, I never picked up the Trombone again, and within 2 years had sold my collection of instruments. Attending concerts was very difficult during that time. I found myself quite emotional, especially watching friends perform - it was just too raw. It’s been many years since then, and over that time I’ve met many professional musicians whose career was ended by Focal Dystonia - each one of them has a story. Some have moved away from music, like a friend of mine who is now a jeweler. Some stay in music by teaching and others take quite a while to find a direction. Ask yourself - how would you handle it if the career you had prepared for over most of your lifetime fell out from under you? It’s an uncomfortable and challenging question, which everyone answers differently.
In addition to a robust administrative position that gave me financial stability and used much of my skill set, I stayed in music as an educator. I still teach trombone, chair a brass department, teach brass fundamentals and brass seminar, and conduct the brass ensemble at our school. In addition, I conduct orchestra repertoire, the ballet and modern dance productions, and cover the first week of orchestra when we have a guest conductor in. I must admit that it is all very fulfilling, and there are days I’m grateful for losing the ability to play trombone. I know, it’s a shocking statement. But to age in this business, and continue to learn every day is a gift – one that I appreciate daily when I wake up and look forward to going to work.
It’s true - you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. As my playing became less and less reliable, I realized how lucky I had been to work at the highest levels in my field. It never felt like a struggle – not even once. Now that those were days behind me, it was easy to look back and see how much opportunity had come my way, and at a very young age. Knowing how fulfilling this could be, I wanted to help future students and recent graduates to be successful in their own way. I asked myself if this could be my new mission.
As a department chair and advisor at one of the top ten music conservatories in the country, I find that students come into my office – usually in the spring before the graduate, with eyes wide as saucers – wondering what they are going to do next. It was during one of those meetings with a student that I committed myself to helping the next generation as fiercely as I could. Not everyone is going to have that magical career as a full-time performer, and not everyone wants it, but everyone deserves a satisfying career in their chosen field. I want to ensure that each young musician has every chance for self-defined success, and the opportunity for financial stability to support their dreams.