People often ask me what it's like to sit on the Powell Symphony Hall stage as a member of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Thrilling is the first word that comes to mind!
It also is a privilege. I feel honored to sit among 92 of the finest musicians in the country and to perform with them week after week. The sounds that I hear created on this stage are world-class and inspire me.
One of the best things a musician can experience is the joy that is achieved when a performance goes particularly well or when the piece you are playing consumes you completely. It's as if time stops and all that remains are the sounds swirling around you, taking over and pushing aside everything else. The orchestra seems to work magically, as if all of us are on another level altogether. When that happens to me, I forget that this is a job. It is a feeling I would have always hoped for regardless of whether I could make a living at it. Those are the moments that make it worth the long haul to becoming a professional musician.
It takes a lifetime of dedication before one can get to the point of becoming a performer with a leading orchestra like ours. I've studied the violin since I was three years old, growing up in suburban Chicago, and over the years I grudgingly practiced even when I didn't want to. As a teenager, I gained a better sense of what it might be like to perform for a living and decided to pursue music as a career. By the time I was headed for college, I knew for sure that I wanted a future on the stage. After many years of conservatory and college, like thousands of other music students before me, I started taking auditions. Although I wasn't optimistic, I signed up for the auditions in St. Louis and‹on a very lucky day for me‹I won a spot. Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of this fantastic ensemble, one that has been a recognized force in the international music scene for decades.
I also am asked about musicians' schedules. In a word‹busy! The typical workweek has four rehearsals and two or three concerts. Sometimes we'll also have a special concert to rehearse or several daytime education concerts added to the mix and that makes for a lot of repertoire. There is always a stack of music on the stands at the beginning of the week and by the weekend, we know it all.
Many of us also teach privately. I usually have half a dozen extremely talented kids playing for me every weekend‹some of my colleagues have more than twice as many students. We also practice quite a bit on our own, at home. It's not unusual for me to put in five or six hours a day of rehearsing and practicing. When I'm working on many different projects, I am with the violin for as much as eight hours a day. It's definitely a full-time commitment.
For a professional musician, there is no such thing as standing still. Even though I've been lucky enough to reach this level, I still seek ways to further my own musical development. Playing quartets, trios, and even duos provides chances for me to explore and discover fantastic works of the great composers‹providing an outlet for me to expand my musical understanding. As you might imagine, there is a big difference between playing with three other people and playing with 100.
One of the great benefits given to us here is the abundance of performance opportunities for smaller groups. It is such a special thing to be able to interact with the audience in these smaller, more intimate settings, such as the "On Stage at Powell" events that are held several times during the season. Musicians and audience members sit right on the stage together and the experience is quite different than that of a regular symphony concert. We not only perform as a small group, but also speak about the works and about working together. The audience asks lots of questions, and it's fun to learn what people think when they hear us play. Being able to share something with the listeners is why I love performing so much.
When you have an audience, it's not just musicians making great music together; it is a community of people sharing the same moving experience. Having the opportunity to play for such appreciative audiences gives me great joy, and it is what I always dreamed of doing. Without you, whether here at Powell, in a park, or anywhere else in St. Louis, I wouldn't have these moments. None of us would. Thank you for supporting the Symphony, this landmark St. Louis institution. I am honored to be a part of it.