Today, I visited one of the most famous places known to brass players - St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. It's where Giovanni Gabrieli first cut his teeth on antiphonal brass music back in 1598 or so. To see the space, especially the balconies, up close was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
Before heading to Italy, I reached out to Marco Gemmani, the Maestro di cappella of the church. He wrote back quickly and we set up a chance to meet after this morning's service. The choir sang during much of the service and it was a glorious sound in the space. They sing in two choirs facing each other from the balconies above the open space in the middle of the church. They are far enough from one another to need two conductors who face each other and conduct the group across from them, mirroring motions exactly. It made me want to go home and try that in Old South Church where I do so many concerts each year. We do antiphonal music, but with only one conductor, usually standing in the middle. What if we used two? Hmmmm...
Afterwards, Maestro Gemmani took us up into the gallery for an exclusive, behind the scenes look. Gratefully, his wife, Cristina, who speaks excellent English, joined us for the tour. It was brief, but long enough to see the layout and get one photo. She told us that he organizes and performs in over 70 services per year - weekly services plus all of the major holidays and celebrations. She also pointed out four organs in the church, all in different locations used for different purposes. It sounds like he has quite a big job. On a local note, their daughter did a year abroad in Boston at Mount Holyoke College. Another reminder of how small the world can be.
Since they are not seen by the parishioners, the choir doesn't need to dress up. Gratefully though, their music-making was anything but casual!
The impromptu tour ended quickly as another service was about to start, but not before I could get a photo of us together with my cousin Laura Bernard. This was a day not to be forgotten and I look forward to sharing what I saw and learned with the players at home.
This past Saturday was the first day of the rest of my life. I know that's a bold statement (and maybe a corny one), but I’ve only experienced a change this profound in my work life a handful of times. Retiring from playing Trombone was certainly one of them. And now, after 15 years in a blended position at Boston Conservatory as the Associate Director of the Music Division as well as Brass Chair and a Faculty member, I am moving over to a single position as full Professor of Music in the fall. Friday was my last full day in the office and I must admit, it felt pretty weird. Over the last month, I have been slowly moving things out of my office, until Friday when it struck me that there was almost nothing remaining.
Due to our merger with Berklee, I needed to choose between administration and teaching - you can't do both in that universe. In the end, my choice became clear: teach students and work 9 months, or administer for the Faculty and work 12 months. Not only am I following my passion by continuing with the students - but for me it's also a quality of life issue. Time is a finite commodity, and I saw my chance to get a bunch of it back.
Going forward, in addition to my teaching and conducting schedule, I hope to read and travel more, as well as work in other places. Having taught for so many years, I believe that I have something to offer as a guest clinician and conductor. I'm also planning to slow things down a bit. I've been in overdrive for many years and may initially be stumped as to how to handle so much down time. Saturday, I started with a long bike ride, a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts and dinner with a friend. It already feels better.
During my time as Associate Director, I was involved in many projects and I’m pleased to have helped the school and Music Division move forward. I'll miss not having that type of impact with my faculty peers, but I'm glad to be following my passion by directly teaching the musicians of tomorrow. I want to thank the Boston Conservatory community for allowing me to have this opportunity. It came at a time, soon after my retirement from playing, when I was searching for a new direction. It couldn't have been a better fit for me.
Focal Dystonia is a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles in a specific part of the body - in my case, the lip. It’s a pretty new diagnosis, with mentions in books, newspapers, and online increasing over 400% since 1980. At my most recent visit in December 2016, I asked Dr. Charness how many people with correctly diagnosed finger dystonias had recovered enough to get back to playing, and he said that there had been a handful (pardon the pun), including Alex Klein who recently won his chair back as principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony. When I asked him about lip dystonias, he said that there were no recoveries that he was aware of. I shared that I knew some folks who said that they had recovered, but he felt that they may initially have been misdiagnosed. In his practice over the past 20 years, he has not seen anyone recover from facial focal dystonia. Whether there are a few people out there or not, it clearly has been a career-ender for most.
I was 40 when first diagnosed, and it became increasing clear to me that it wasn’t fair to my peers to continue and it was also draining me emotionally. Going to work was traumatic. After two years of looking for answers, I decided on March 13, 1999 at a Boston Pops concert in Lowell, MA to let it go. I hadn’t planned for that to be my last concert, but from Keith Lockhart’s first downbeat, I couldn’t control my playing. It was embarrassing and stressful. I cried through most of the concert because I knew this was it. I went to see Keith after the concert, and asked to meet with him that week. In that meeting, I asked for, and was given, a sabbatical from the upcoming Pops season to see if I could get a handle on this, knowing full well that I had just played my last concert ever.