Monday, November 16, 2009

A Lesson From Marylou

After reading these enlightening words of Boston Symphony violinist Marylou Speaker Churchill who passed away a few days ago, I feel at once inspired and saddened. Speaking about the work of an orchestra musician, she asked: "Is playing in an orchestra a joy or a job? It's wise to make it a joyful job, but remember that no job employs you completely. Working for money is never the real reason for doing any job. You must love what you do, and then you will find happiness and joy in your work. In actuality you are always being employed to express all the best qualities you are capable of, such as intelligence, wisdom, beauty, balance, grace, sensitivity, awareness, love..If you are miserable, it's your own fault. Make excellence, beauty, and truth your goals, and you will rise to that level."

These words, of course, have touched me. In my joyful job of teaching I can put Marylou's ideals into action, with the goal of positively influencing young people. The students I mentor are receptive to lessons, not just related to the beauty of music and art, but in the cultivation of life sustaining values. Regrettably, as I look back on my own years of orchestra playing and the politics involved, I have to admit that all it takes is one rotten egg to turn upside down the workplace, creating a hostile environment. Reading events such as this and this reminds me that orchestras can be breeding grounds for toxicity. I urge young musicians to educate themselves of the realities of a profession perceived by the public as loftier than most.

Almost three decades ago, I went on tour with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to Europe. I was twenty-one years old at the time. It was sobering to witness the players in the orchestra turn into mealy-mouthed monsters. If you wish to watch a bunch of kindergartners hurl mud in the sandbox, accompany a group of orchestra musicians backstage during the breaks, or to committee gatherings where mob mentality prevails, or on tours. It is in these instances especially, that players are reputed for launching vitriolic attacks against their colleagues. At the time of the LA Phil tour in 1981, principal violist Heiichiro Ohyama fell victim to such abuse. His colleagues instigated a revolt to have him ousted from the principal post, although Mr. Ohyama had been offered his position by none other than Music Director Carlo Maria Giulini. By renouncing the principal violist, weren't the players contesting their music director's judgment? What made them feel emboldened to do so?

You will find that guiding lights, such as violinist Marylou Speaker Churchill, are a rarity in orchestras. I'm certain that she will be missed by colleagues in Boston, and throughout the world. Hopefully, in years to come (that is if orchestras even survive) there will be more musicians like Marylou.
photo of Marylou Speaker Churchill courtesy of New England Conservatory

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