I feel like I’m watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyone’s talking about how the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is being forced to jump off the bridge – from their current status as full-time orchestra, to some sort of shadow of their former selves, as part-timers. And then I wonder – what would it be like if the ISO never existed?
From my personal experience as a pianist and a composer, it’s hard to say where I would be without the encouragement early on from many of my ISO friends. Fresh from receiving my master’s degree in piano performance in 1990, I moved back to Indiana and began teaching at the University of Indianapolis. After a few years of talking about composers in my music appreciation classes, I inadvertently became a composer. At first, I was writing and performing piano music, but eventually, I started writing for other instruments. When I finished my first string quartet, Michael Schelle, Professor of Composition at Butler University, suggested I show it to some musicians in the ISO who champion new music. I made a cold call to Ingrid Bellman (cellist) who said she would be happy to read through the piece. She rounded up a quartet, which included Dean Franke, assistant concertmaster. They asked me to meet them at the Hilbert Theater during their break so that they could play it in front of me. It was an incredible deal, having such fabulous musicians play my music. Hearing the music come to life, and hearing their encouraging words about my work, gave me the inspiration to keep doing what I was doing, keep writing. The piece was one of the winners in a regional chamber music competition, and received a live radio performance on NPR in Nashville, TN.
One spring day, I was inspired to write a cello/piano duet that I titled “Spring.” I made a “warm” call to Ingrid this time, and she asked me to drop off the piece at her house. She called the next day, but I wasn’t home. This was at least 8 years ago, and still today, I have Ingrid’s message from that day saved on my answering machine. She so passionately talked about the piece and why it resonated so much with her. When she came to my house to rehearse, I was so moved by her performance (and so was my hardwood floor, which vibrated its approval when she played.) Ingrid suggested I write more music of the seasons, so I ended up writing a suite called “Seasons” for cello and piano. Through the ISO’s education program, Ingrid and I have played these duets many times and worked with hundreds of children. ( I was the first composer that the ISO brought on as a partner artist.)
Of course, Ingrid introduced me to her husband, David (principal clarinet) who played the first clarinet piece that I wrote, a trio for clarinet, French horn and piano titled “I Know.” He and Rick Graef (French horn) recorded the piece with me and really made it their own. When I asked Marvin Perry (principal trumpet) to play a new trumpet/piano duet with me, he not only made it sound incredible, he also helped me with a compositional decision. I knew a particular section needed the trumpet to be muted, but I didn’t know which mute to use. He said something like, “come on over, I have 14 of them.”
When I started writing jazz, I met more ISO musicians who I found out were interested in playing jazz (and who were quite good at it.) Having my jazzy friends Jim and P.J., along with Ju-Fang Liu (principal bass) Dean Franke and Mark Ortwein (bassoon, bass clarinet, saxophone) in my home to play my new tunes and improvise together was so exciting, and again, their encouragement inspired me to continue writing.
I could have written about how much I have enjoyed listening to ISO performances over the years, and how important music is to the community, and what a treasure we have to hear musicians of this caliber come together week after week for amazing performances. I could have talked about how much we need to support the arts, because if we don’t have art and music and artistic expression, we don’t have life. I could have talked about the hundreds of thousands of children the musicians in the ISO have encouraged and inspired through their teaching and performing. But instead, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences with members of the ISO. Passionate, brilliant, funny, generous and kind people who have come in and out of my life and my living room to play with me and encourage my growth as a musician and composer. Incredible musicians who love and are inspired by the music of the masters, but also believe in the importance of the creation of new music.
This is what the ISO has meant to me, and I am just one person. I have to wonder how many stories are out there, and what the impact looks like when you multiply it by the thousands of people who are not only audience members, but people who connect to the symphony in so many other ways.
At the end of the Jimmy Stewart movie, when he thinks all hope is lost, the whole town shows up with donations. Here’s hoping that before it’s too late, we find a way to save the ISO.
September 9, 2012