From its inception, the 2013-2014 Artistic Challenge seemed pretty open-ended. We were charged with “owning” Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. Yo-Yo Ma would play the cello, with Carlos Miguel Prieto on the podium and the Civic Orchestra on the stage. But the stage was dark — actually we didn’t even know if there would be a stage. What does ownership look like? We had no idea.
In November 2013, the CSO’s Director of Foundation and Government Relations, Kevin Beck, presented the fellows with a workshop on grant writing. In anticipation of the workshop, Kevin may have worried that this subject would have us bored stiff – but I hope he quickly saw that, in fact, we were all eager to hear what he had to say! As a young musician who plays in a few newly-formed ensembles, I’ve been thinking a lot about grants and how they could help my groups to reach their goals.
As musicians, we are accustomed to opening ourselves up to an audience. However, most of the time, we communicate messages through the sounds we make on our musical instruments. At the culminating concert of the 2013/14 Artistic Challenge, I, alongside eight of my Civic colleagues, bared my soul in front of 2,500 people. This time, all I had was a microphone.
On March 26, the Citizen Musician Fellows visited Hibbard Elementary School to work with students of the YOURS Project orchestra program of the People’s Music School. This was our second interaction with the young musicians, many of whom came to Symphony Center earlier in March to watch a Civic Orchestra rehearsal in Buntrock Hall. An afternoon at Hibbard Elementary reminded me again how to be a constructive member of a musical eco-system.
The Citizen Musician Fellowship through the Civic Orchestra of Chicago is in its inaugural season. The fellowship is an extension of the Citizen Musician Initiative, training eight musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in four key areas: Artistic Development; Citizen Musicianship; Entrepreneurship and Professional development.
One of my favorite discoveries in Chicago is the Zhou B Art Center, a beautiful six-floor warehouse art gallery in Bridgeport. On the third Friday of every month, Zhou B holds open house exhibitions, showcasing artwork by international and local artists. For their most recent Third Friday, I had the pleasure of putting together a chamber music performance featuring several members of the Civic Orchestra, including participants in the Brandenburg Project.
On the afternoon of Thursday, December 12, I had the privilege of accompanying Yo-Yo Ma on a visit to Senn High School to speak with a group of 60 students in anticipation of Civic’s open rehearsal there that evening. In advance of this visit I had worked with CSO and Yo-Yo’s staff to identify topics of discussion and questions for me to ask him. As he asked me questions about myself for the rest of the car ride, I could tell that I was in for an unexpected afternoon.
As part of the 2013/14 Artistic Challenge, the Civic Orchestra has spent months exploring Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote with the ultimate goal of, as Yo-Yo Ma says, ”achieving a deep sense of ownership over the piece.” In late January, one of the biggest challenges awaited us: the Civic Orchestra was scheduled to hold two conductor-less rehearsals of Don Quixote as an exercise to work collaboratively amongst ourselves and develop our own musical interpretation of the piece.
I have found out that not only can I play the bass, but I can be a stagehand, personnel manager, concert programmer, and assistant librarian. I have also learned what it means to take a sense of ownership over a project and the personal empowerment one can feel from it, as well as how important one’s colleagues are to the success of any project.
Creating music from nothing can be a challenging, mystifying, or even terrifying task. However, this is exactly what the Fellows were asked to do in a recent workshop, and the outcome was totally unexpected. Spoiler alert: I loved it.
One of the tasks of the Citizen Musician Fellows is to conceive of and coordinate training sessions – like master classes or mock auditions – for members of the Civic led by CSO musicians. On Wednesday, December 4, nineteen regular and associate Civic brass players had a two hour training session with CSO principal trumpet, Chris Martin. By the end, we were all smiling – even though our chops were exhausted – and had learned more about how to play together, a skill and a sound concept I hope we continue to develop over the rest of the season.