Monday, September 03, 2007

Music City Without Musical Boundaries

Last week while sitting outside with the kids I was catching up on some work-related reading and came across an article in Symphony magazine about Nashville. The story likely emanated from the American Symphony Orchestra League conference there this past June. The writer interviewed a number of musicians either in the Nashville Symphony or newer Nashville Chamber Orchestra, all of whom play either as session musicians or engage in some other form of crossover musicianship.

The ultimate message of the story: Nashville is a city where musicians work.

I'm getting very excited for what turns out to be one of fewer trips to Nashville this year than hoped. I'll head down again next month for the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual World of Bluegrass Fan Fest. There is a week-long conference associated with this event but my present occupation will only allow me a day or so extra time off to get down there. Then again, after three solid days of bluegrass and networking, I'm usually reminded that a week would either kill me or have me signing a lease up on 21st Avenue.

Last year during my visit I spent some time with a professor who teaches at The Blair School of Music at Vanderbuilt. He himself explained that per capita, Nashville probably has more musicians than any other city. Last week as the kids and I were listening to a narrative from a children's cd about Beethoven, I realized how like Vienna Nashville is in that respect. My children don't yet understand why Vienna was so critical, but they do understand Nashville, and I suppose that's a way of introducing why Vienna was so important to music of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nashville is complex as an American city, but there is an unmistakable vibrancy where it comes to the music. Everyone can speak the language. Here, most folks may know The Cleveland Orchestra and at least have some reverence for it -- although many associate its best days with George Szell rather than appreciate its more recent successes. The other side of the coin seems simply to be Rock and Roll, owed to the mythologized Alan Freed and Cleveland's contribution to that era of American music. Between the two and outside of the occasional standard Pops events at Blossom, there is very little crossover and very little room for ingenuity. Conversely, the bluegrass scene here is so underground and so undersupported that even I miss things on occasion. "I miss Goose Acres" is code for "I'm a bluegrass person too." So in Nashville, while a lot of the "noise" is the hard-core, touristy country music stuff, even that is increasingly tempered by the new and interesting combinations of music and musicians as well as outreach and education that is continuously in motion on behalf of America's musical heritage. I sure do hope I get to the Ray Charles exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

While there are other places that focus on certain key qualities or periods or genres within early country music or bluegrass, Nashville is a place that ties all music together and makes unique creative efforts more possible -- and helps musicians that think about doing things differently feel a little less isolated.

This is why I find Nashville so invigorating. There are other industries there and other things to do, but essentially if you are a musician and you want to work, it's very high up on your list. And to me, the attraction of being in an environment in which what is on my mind is also constantly on other people's minds is very hard to ignore.

Nashville cats wear many hats. Bluegrass musicians are probably working in multiple acts, working on solo projects, producing, teaching. Classical musicians may work in one or both orchestras all the while serving as arrangers, composers, teachers, conductors, or session musicians. There is a lot of collaboration, in particular with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra which prides itself on its mission and motto, "Music Without Boundaries." Sam Bush did several concerts with the NCO last year, and singer-songwriter Darrell Scott served as artist-in-residence. The photo at right shows Jerry Douglas with Stuart Duncan peforming with the NCO for the Music Without Boundaries Gala at the opening of the beautiful new Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.

So, yes, it's damn hot down there, and thanks to climate change may be continually hotter. And yes, it's pretty far away from my friends here and some of my family. And yes, I have a lot of other things to focus on in the immediate future. But I like knowing that down the road there is a place that makes sense for a musical monkeybrain like mine, where bluegrass fiddlers who don't even read music get a thrill out of showing a classically-trained violinist how to chop, where a banjo has a place in a symphonic piece, where it's all really just about the music.

(Check out Nashville Chamber Orchestra's blog, Uncovered, for a sneak peek inside the excitement of crossover Music City.)


At September 03, 2007 10:36 AM, Anonymous amm said...

I'll help ya pack! : )
And shoot, it's only 90.3 on the deck here right now (at 10:35 on Sept. 3), so no problem. Think of the money you'd save on all those silly winter items like coats, scarves, mittens, and hats!

At September 03, 2007 4:59 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Down to the 90s? Wow, that is quite an improvement. Now I just have to materialize the perfect opportunity with the right people at the right moment for the right reasons and at the right amount of money. Ohmmmm...

Until then I'll just see you in a few weeks!



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