Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My First Violin!

When I was four years old, my father came home with a tiny black case.  I didn’t know what was inside but I could tell it was something special. 

“Tami,” he said,  “I bought you a violin.  You’re going to start taking lessons!” 

I felt a sudden rush of excitement. 

THIS,’ I thought,  ‘will be my new favorite toy!’ 

I begged him to let me play right away, but he said, “Not now . . . you have to take lessons.  You will learn.” 

Looking back at this moment, I am amazed at how his words have permeated every part of my experience.  As a violinist, I am constantly learning, striving to fully master an instrument that is as challenging as it is beautiful.   As I reflect on my time with the BSO, I am grateful for the things I have learned.

Playing in orchestra full time is like playing football.
Before moving to Baltimore, I didn’t think much about the Ravens.  However, football is a hot topic everywhere I go– in stores, at church, and even at work!  The Ravens play hard.  They run up and down the field, take hits, and tackle opposing players.   After my first few concerts with the BSO, I felt as though I had been playing in a Ravens game and had been tackled multiple times by a guy named “House!”  “I’m so sore!!!’ I thought, “Am I on a concert stage or in a football war zone?”  Musicians make it look easy, but playing in orchestra is very demanding physically.  Although I have played violin all my life, I have had to condition my body for the physical rigors of playing in orchestra each week.  The Ravens are amazing, but there is another team of enduring champs in town: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Playing in an orchestra is completely different than playing as a soloist.
Before this concert season, I performed primarily as a soloist.  I worked painstakingly to memorize pieces, develop musical nuance, and perfect stage presence.   I carried the weight of my performances, working to present renditions that reflected my personality and taste.  As orchestral player, I walk onstage with an opposite goal in mind: to avoid sticking out.  If I play a solo, it’s a big problem.  I’m either playing out of turn or playing differently than everyone else!  Orchestral playing requires a heightened awareness of the other players onstage, and, absolute commitment to uniformity at every level: in pitch, bow stroke, vibrato, rhythm, expression, and everything in between.   Although these elements play a key role in solo performance, orchestral performance requires skillful synchronization.
Orchestras are exceptionally dynamic organizations.
The modern symphony orchestra is one of the most dynamic music organizations in the community.  In addition to presenting world-class performances, orchestral organizations can make a positive impact on the community. During my time with the BSO, I have become convinced more than ever that orchestras can not only champion great music, but also unite diverse groups of people.  Orchestras can effectively bringing these initiatives to the forefront of music scene.  I am excited to be part of this dual mission and have a renewed purpose as a performer who hopes to make a difference in the world.

After many years, the violin is still my favorite toy!  Whether it is part of my journey to football, learning to play well with others, or discovering of a deeper purpose, it is an integral part of my adventures.  I can only imagine the beautiful sounds, wonderful people, and lessons that lie ahead!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Game of Trust

Tami Lee Hughes
As I child, I loved playing outside with my friends.  The weather in Baton Rouge was warm and sunny most of the year and our backyard was perfect for playing hide-and-seek or simply running around in circles.  One weekend, my friends and I decided to play a trust game.

The object was to blindly fall backward and trust a friend to catch you.  As the oldest and biggest child in the group, I was designated to catch first.  I stood behind the little girl who lived next door and prepared to break her fall.  As she turned her back to me, she looked behind her to be sure I was ready.  She saw two strong and sturdy arms extended in anticipation.  Fully assured I would catch her, she fell gracefully into my arms.  We immediately switched places.  With my back turned to her, I looked behind me to check her position.  Instead of seeing two strong arms, however, I saw two puny arms unfolded from a small frame.  I thought to myself, ‘Are you kidding me?  She couldn’t catch a feather!  I’m going to hit the ground hard!’   I turned around and took a deep breath.  ‘I’ll count to three,I thought, ‘and then I’ll do it.

Ok . . . here we go . . . 1. . . 2 . . . “Wait!” I shouted. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“Yes!  I’m ready!”

Alright . . . I can do this . . . 1. . . 2 . . . 2 ½ . . . “Did you hear my mom call me?” I asked.  “I thought I heard something!”

“No!  Now hurry up and fall back!”

Deep breath . . . 1. . . 2 . . . 2 ½ . . . 2 ¾ . . . “Ah man!  I need to go to the bathroom and it’s an emergency!”  I took off running, leaving the trust game far behind.  I learned an important lesson that day: Trust is a matter of life and death.

Three months into my time with the BSO, I have settled into my performance schedule and have grown to admire so much about the group.  Maestra Alsop and the players display the highest level of technical and artistic mastery, professionalism, and passion, but from my perspective, these factors alone do not define the orchestra’s success.

The orchestra really thrives because of trust.  Maestra Alsop has full trust, confidence, and respect for the players.  She knows that every musician will play the right note at the right time and commit to the inspiration she provides. The players, in turn, trust Maestra Alsop.  They have faith in her judgment on musical matters great and small and hold her artistic vision in high esteem.  In addition, the players trust each other.  Each player depends on others in his or her section, and in other sections, for melodic support.  With trust as a cornerstone, the BSO’s success is not a reflection of individual expertise, but of genuine cooperation and teamwork. 

As an adult, I still cling to the idea that trust is a matter of life and death.  My closest friends are the most trustworthy people I know and I love cultivating new friendships with people I believe I can trust.  I’m truly grateful to spend a year performing with an orchestra that demonstrates this concept so beautifully through music.  Because of trust, playing with the BSO is not a mere exercise in musical proficiency, but a joy!

-Tami Lee Hughes, December 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Success unshared is failure." (Tami Lee Hughes - BSO Fellow)

A few years ago, while reading about John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products, the following words hit me like a bolt of lightening:

Success unshared is failure.

This is DeJoria’s personal mantra.  A self-made billionaire and philanthropist, he has donated millions of dollars to fight hunger, develop community programs for inner city children, and provide resources for medical causes.

I could hardly contain myself as I read the sentence over and over again:

Success unshared is failure.
Success unshared is failure.
Success unshared is failure.

Each word has meaning but together, the words create something so powerful: the guiding principle that our greatest success is not realized through accomplishments for personal gain, but rather, through the active use of our talents to make a difference in the lives of others.  

Tami Lee Hughes - BSO Fellow
Tami Lee Hughes - BSO Fellow
During my time with the BSO, I have the opportunity to work OrchKids, a program that provides music education, instruments, academic instruction, meals, and performance and mentorship opportunities to students in Baltimore City neighborhoods.  On my first day with OrchKids, I entered a classroom filled with wiggly, giggly kindergarten students who are not only learning to tie their shoes, but also to play the violin.  The students can hardly contain themselves when it’s time for class as they proudly take their instruments to their assigned spots in the room.  They soak everything in as fresh sponges, from note reading to playing techniques to learning new songs. Each time I visit, I can’t help but think of how the class resembles my own kindergarten experience.  Like these little ones, we were full of energy with a spark for learning.  However, we had limited resources for exploring our creative talents.  Through OrchKids, the young students I see each week are not only learning to play a beautiful instrument, but they are also developing a creative identity, learning to think in new ways, becoming disciplined, and grow in responsibility.  The impact of the program extends to every area of their lives, including who they will become and how they will achieve academic success.  One of the elements I most appreciate is the interaction between the OrchKids students and instructors.  The students are comfortable with the teachers so they love to ask questions.  In the kindergarten class, one student often says with a big smile, “Miss Tami.  I need help!”  He really enjoys playing the violin and wants to get it right.  When class is over, he sometimes gives me a hug before I leave the room.  It’s his way of saying, “Thank you for helping me!  I’m glad you’re here!”

Success unshared is failure.  I am reminded of this every time I open my case and see these four words on a little sign I posted inside.  Having incorporated music outreach into my work for many years, I know programs like OrchKids make a big difference. I love performing and hope to develop a wonderful career as an artist, but I know my greatest achievement will be the impact I have on the lives of others. 
The students make my work truly meaningful and inspire me to make the most of my gifts and talents.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

BSO Fellow - Tami Lee Hughes

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Baton Rouge.  

After a quick breakfast, I grabbed the few remaining items in my room and put them on the back seat of my car- my laptop, a few toiletries, and, of course, my violin.  When I finished loading, I shared hugs and “goodbyes” with my family before getting in the car and turning the key in the ignition.   I took a deep breath and said a prayer as I pulled out of the driveway.  This was a big day for me.  I was beginning a twenty-hour drive across the country to embark on the opportunity of a lifetime: to play with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as its first Fellow.
Tami Lee Hughes - BSO Orchestra Fellow
Tami Lee Hughes - BSO Fellow
A little over one month later, I took a deep breath as I pulled out of my driveway in Owings Mills.  I was heading to my first rehearsal with the Baltimore Symphony. 

A million thoughts raced through my mind.  

Would I remember everything I practiced?  Would I be able to follow the conductor?  Would my sound blend with the orchestra?  When I walked onto the Meyerhoff stage thirty minutes later, I was overcome with emotion.  The hall is even more breathtaking from the stage than it is from the audience . . . the tiers of balcony cascading from the ceiling, the plush red velvet seats, and the beautiful wooden paneling onstage.  I paused for a moment to enjoy everything my eyes could see.

After tuning, we began rehearsing “The Golden Age of Black and White,” a program that featured classic tunes from the 1940’s and 1950’s with BSO SuperPops Conductor Jack Everly and vocalists Karen Murphy, Kristen Scott, and Chapter Six.  When Maestro Everly began the rehearsal, I knew I would love performing this concert.  His baton seemingly became a magic wand, transporting all of us to an age of black and white television, girl singers, doo-wop groups, swing and jazz tunes, and even early rock and roll.  I was captured by the music- the nostalgia, passion, energy, and warmth infused in rich luxurious melodies.  It reminded me of the music my grandmother played on the radio when I was young. 

On the night of our debut performance, I arrived at the hall a few hours early.  There was a buzz backstage as orchestra musicians, singers, stage technicians, and other staff members prepared for the performance.  Although I didn’t feel nervous, I was very excited.  I felt a swift rush of energy as Maestro Everly gave the opening downbeat.  With the audience lights dimmed, the stage came to life.  Lights, costumes, singers, and instrumentalists filled the stage with Maestro Everly  at the center of it all waving his magic wand.  By the time we played my favorite tune of the night, Mambo Italiano, we were in full swing!  The energy was so contagious I wanted to get out of my seat and dance.  For a brief moment I imagined I was in a fiery red dress doing the mambo in the streets of Sorrento.  A quick glance at the audience assured me that I was not the only one dreaming of dancing in Italy!

During my drive home after the concert, I reflected on the evening.  I thought about the sheer wonderment and joy of experiencing live music with everyone- musicians and audience members alike- and of indulging in an era in which I didn’t live but one that held special memories for so many concert goers.  I also thought about how much my life had changed so much since I’d left Baton Rouge. . . there are new faces, new places and new friends.  I sang bits and pieces of the music we’d performed as I got out of the car and opened the door to my home.   

So far, I’m having the time of my life and I love every minute of being part of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 BSO Academy in the New York Times

Every Chair in This Temporary Orchestra Holds a Story

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(This is a re-posting of an article written by New York Times reporter Daniel J. Wakin, who took part in our 2o12 BSO Academy program as a clarinetist. The views expressed by Wakin are not necessarily the same as those held by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. To view the article on the New York Times website, please visit: NYTimes.com. Enjoy!)

BALTIMORE — The judge’s assistant who practices her viola in a courthouse jury room. The retired neurosurgeon who once flew surveillance flights for the United States Navy and who took up the clarinet at 63. The accountant who began oboe lessons to connect with her severely disabled daughter.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra brought together these musicians and others — a total of 104 amateurs of startling variety — last month for a weeklong fantasy camp of lessons, rehearsals, master classes and, finally, a concert at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
It was a musically enthusiastic, even obsessive, bunch. Most spend countless hours a week practicing and playing in wind bands or community orchestras or chamber groups, in many cases more than one. It’s an older group. Many returned to music with fervor in retirement or in homes recently emptied of growing children. For some, music-making is the backbone of their social ties or an escape from the pressures of work.
Credit: Matt Roth for The New York Times
“It’s these kinds of people who guarantee the interest in classical music,” said Andrew Balio, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter. “They do everything in life well,” he said. It’s also these kinds of people, the Baltimore Symphony hopes, who will buy more tickets and make more donations.
Among the participants in what the symphony calls the BSO Academy were Deborah Edge of Washington, a double-bassist and retired internist who works part time for an organization that helps the homeless. She stopped playing in college, then resumed in 1986, after a 20-year lapse.
Jane Hughes, an oboist who works for General Dynamics, and her husband, William Jokela, a bassoonist and former United States Army chaplain, of Annandale, Va., met in a community band, play in a trio and came to the academy for the first time last year to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. “This is our social life,” Mr. Jokela said.
William G. Young, an actuary from Norwalk, Conn., who practices clarinet an hour every evening, arranged to be in a chamber group with his brother-in-law, Harry Kaplan, a bassoonist and internist from Towson, Md. A half-dozen enthusiastic members of their family descended on Baltimore to hear them perform.
Matthew DeBeal of Laurel, Md., 25, one of the youngest players, spent his Saturdays as a youth studying violin at the preparatory division of the Peabody Institute, Baltimore’s conservatory, and now teaches string playing to middle schoolers in Howard County, Md. Mr. DeBeal, one of the more accomplished musicians among the participants, played solos in the academy’s final concert, on June 30.
Credit: Matt Roth for The New York Times
Ann Marie Cordial took up the viola just three and a half years ago. A judge’s assistant at the Baltimore County Circuit Court, she practices in a jury room across a corridor from a cell.
“That’s part of your sentence,” she said. “You have to listen to me practice.” Her playing, she said, once helped bring a halt to a brawl that involved sheriff’s deputies and a defendant just sentenced to life in prison.
The retired neurosurgeon and cold-war-era Navy pilot, Edward Layne, 78, of Cockeysville, Md., took up the clarinet 15 years ago. He called his first moments on the stage at last year’s academy “one of the signal minutes” of his life.
“I looked around, and I couldn’t believe I was sitting there,” he said.
Barbara Bowen, an accountant from Reisterstown, Md., plays oboe in three community orchestras. She started the instrument at 10, played through college, then took a 22-year break.
“The reason I went back into music was the connection it gave with my daughter,” who has multiple disabilities, Ms. Bowen said. “If I could change my career tomorrow, I would be a music therapist.”
For many of the first-time participants, the unusually demanding repertory, the high skill level of some fellow campers and the unforgiving standards of a professional orchestra came as a bit of a shock. Gradually, over the course of the week, confidence grew. Technique sharpened. Coherent musical lines emerged.
The reality of it struck on Monday, June 25, when the campers gathered by instrument in rooms at the Baltimore School for the Arts for the first rehearsal before the Saturday concert, which featured works by Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Falla.
“I couldn’t get a proper note,” said Dianne Cooperman, 65, of Rockville, Md., an information technology consultant for federal agencies and a self-taught French horn player. “Everything sounded generally out of tune. I was a mess. I didn’t want to play anymore.”
Ms. Cooperman faced the extra challenge of a tremor from Parkinson’s disease, which causes her knee to shake. Horn players generally rest the instrument on the right thigh. Because of the tremor, Ms. Cooperman had to use an extra chair to support the instrument.
The next day’s master class, in which the members of the section were to play for the orchestra’s principal horn player, Philip Munds, did not go much better for her.
Credit: Matt Roth for The New York Times
“It sounded like somebody was dying,” she said. “The more it came out bad, the more nervous I got.” Mr. Munds set her mind at ease and imparted a tip about hand position that brought immediate improvement.
As the week went on, Ms. Cooperman’s confidence improved. She timed her medicines better, so they took maximum effect at rehearsals. Her performance went up a notch. On Saturday afternoon she took a long nap before the concert, then went over her parts mentally without playing them on her horn.
Days later, she wrote about the experience in an e-mail: “I told myself: ‘I am incredibly lucky! Who else gets to attend five first-rate concerts in a row while sitting in the midst of the orchestra?’ All tremors, jitters and self-doubt were banished with that one realization.”
“And the good news is,” she added, “I definitely played all three pieces, especially the Falla, the best I had played them by far! I left no footprints as I walked off the stage that night. I was floating three feet off the floor.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Out West with the BSO

Here's another report from the Mild West, where the Baltimore Symphony has been touring. Violinist Ivan Stefanovic offers this report from the weekend the orchestra spent in Berkeley:

Dear blog readers, greetings from a land of huge eucalyptus,
old olive, stately pine and tropical palm trees, town of many incredible farm-to-table restaurants, unsavory but entertaining characters on the sidewalks, ever-present fog and mist in the hills, and, of course, great coffee shops.

The BSO arrived in Berkeley on Thursday evening after battling rush-our traffic and crossing a bridge (not the Golden Gate) that, height-wise, makes our own Bay Bridge look like child's play.

The town is not very big, and the hotel we're staying in is near University of California at Berkeley, whose campus is adorned with the aforementioned beautiful tree specimens.
The campus paths are strangely empty and quiet this week, as most students are gone for their Spring Break.

On Friday morning, the BSO had two concerts. The matinee, "LIFE: A Journey Through Time," was tailored for school children, as it featured the incredible photographs of nature by the world-renowned National Geographic photographer Franz Lanting.

Music that accompanies the movie was written by Baltimore native minimalist composer Phillip Glass. It requires at times razor-thin precision on part of the conductor in order to match the rapid movement of photographs on the big screen that hangs above the stage.

Our Music Director Marin Alsop, who has done this score (and many other live movie scores) many times with great success, yet again managed to bring it all to life with great accuracy. The children in this concert showed almost too much enthusiasm while we were playing, but that just may be preferable to them being bored.

The evening concert started with a pairing of two fanfares, by Copland and Joan Tower, which gave our brass a chance to shine even in the less than ideal acoustical environment.

Our featured soloist was the energetic, yet so cool and composed percussionist extraordinaire, Colin Currie, who displayed his rhythmical superiority (which he still matched with great sensitivity in slow and calm sections) on many instruments, and while he darted from one part of the stage to another in order to reach different groups of instruments.

Jennifer Higdon, who wrote the Percussion Concerto, ingeniously paired the soloist in front of the stage with orchestra's own percussion section in the back, often having them play off of one another in rapid succession, and especially so in the extended and rock-like cadenza.

Our guys were a great match for Colin, proving that the great distance between them and the soloist that they had to overcome didn't matter to musicians with great ears.

Second half of the concert featured Prokofiev's great Fifth Symphony, which gave a chance to the orchestra, under Marin Alsop's leadership, to show both its expressive capability and great sense of drive.

The Berkeley audience responded accordingly, and was quickly rewarded with a short excerpt from Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances."

Keep cheering us on from afar!

-Ivan Stefanovic

(PHOTOS FROM TOP: A mission-style church across from Zellerbach Auditorium; Many choices of salsa in one of the excellent restaurants in Berkeley)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dear blog readers,

I do know that it's been a while. So long a while, as a matter of fact, that you might have (gasp!) moved on to some more frequently updated blogging sites. But despair not, I'm back, after some busy times, and I won't leave you wondering alone for this long again (famous last words). As a matter of fact, it's been so long, that I started the blog below in the throws of our non-winter, just after the holiday season. This is what I wrote:

I do like the holiday season. Not everything about it, mind you, but many things. First, as an avid skier, I love the weather this time of the year—snow is my friend, and I don't mind the cold either (and no, I am not happy that we've not had much of either). Second, I love (most of) the decked-out houses in Baltimore neighborhoods. They range from tasteful white lights in trees to a myriad of biblical characters in various types of plastic, lit up in various colors, from Disney characters of the same make-up, to, of course, the pink flamingoes (that odd, almost quaint Baltimore tradition), all sitting peacefully one next to the other, on people's lawns.

I even like the music this time of the year. Being from Europe, a New Year doesn't start for me until I've watched the broadcast of Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert, featuring many of the eternally elegant waltzes, coupled with the Lipizzaner horses, originally from the Slovenian Republic of my old country of Yugoslavia, dancing in sync with the music. Even the carols don't phase me, at least not in the first week or two of the season (though that period seems to come earlier every year, doesn't it, therefore lasting longer yet?).

This holiday season, I had an opportunity to hear an orchestra concert made up of talented students of A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Montgomery County, that featured some of that holiday music. This is because I was given an opportunity to help them prepare (in a role of a conductor), during three visits, for a performance of Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride, that culminated in that concert.

Most of these kids are learning their instruments without the benefit of private lessons. A lot of them haven't even had a chance to learn how to properly hold their instrument or decipher some of the very basic note reading, let alone learn ways to mold a phrase or deliver dynamics the composer is requiring. But they make up for it in enthusiasm and youthful energy.

This is where their music teachers, in this case Ian Stuart and Liz Jankowski-Carson, enter into the equation. I have always considered the grossly underpaid music teachers in elementary and middle schools in this country to be the real heroes of our music industry. Day in and day out, they deal with kids who are playing on instruments that are sometimes missing proper reeds, strings, or are impossible to tune, kids that are sometimes lacking the capacity to be quiet, listen and concentrate at the high level that is required for any progress to occur in an ensemble rehearsal. Sometimes they have to politely ask and plead, other times turn into task masters the likes of boot camp officers, in order to get anything done. To say that rehearsing a 3 minute arrangement of the Sleigh Ride with these kids for a couple of hours is a challenge is a gross understatement.

Yet they (the teachers) perform small miracles every day. It was intriguing to see Mr. Stewart get them pepped up, yet keep them disciplined and quiet as they were preparing for their performance.

I listened to several jazz, pop and rock music-influenced holiday tunes backstage while waiting to conduct them in the Anderson, and observed the same types of communication that are necessary to pull off a performance anywhere, on any stage. Smiles and stern looks rained on them from their conductors'/teachers' faces, other sections were listened to for cues, eyes darted alternately from the music to conductor's baton, it all was there. Not all the notes were there, of course, and not every nuance came through, but it was all done with a great amount of energy and pride.

The same was true with the Sleigh Ride. I saw the whites of their eyes in crucial spots in the percussion, smiles from cellos in their fun counter-melodies, heard strong rhythm from brass and woodwinds and great dynamics from the violins and violas. The crowd, made up of very enthusiastic parents, teachers, and fellow students, exploded in appreciative applause. A great reward for the many hours of work the kids and their teachers put into the challenging program.

So, even though it may seem like a distant memory now, I remember with fondness the good time we all had in the last holiday season, and look forward to returning to the Loiederman School for more coachings and rehearsals in the spring, when this winter also becomes a just a distant memory.

-Ivan Stefanovic