Saturday, March 26, 2011

Life as a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra

Jessica Dussault is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and also a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra(LSO). While double majoring in Music and History, she still finds time to devote to being a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. Last year, she had the honor of performing with her chamber music group, the Argyle Quartet, in a master class with the world-famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. Here are some of her thoughts and experiences about being a member of the LSO.

When did you first attend a Lincoln Symphony Orchestra concert?
The first time I saw the Lincoln Symphony was during a field trip to the Lied Center in elementary school. I remember watching all of the bows of the stringed musicians and wondering how the players knew which direction they were supposed to be going.

What instrument do you play?
I play the cello, an instrument that I picked in fourth grade because I was looking for an excuse to avoid standing up all the time. I was also a bit concerned that playing violin would cause me to get a permanent crick in my neck, and so cello presented itself as the ideal instrument. I rented a cello until sixth grade, when I got Chloe. My senior year of high school I decided I would be a music major and my grandma bought me my current cello, Kip Austin. It took months of searching violin shops as far away as Chicago, but I found him just as hope was beginning to fade.

Was it difficult to get into the LSO?
My teacher when I was growing up, Tracy Sands, holds the current record for the youngest LSO member on record at 16 years of age. I had a secret plan to steal her glory at the age of 15, but I didn't actually audition until I was a junior in college. I had been subbing for the Lincoln Symphony since I was 18 and knew that I could contribute to the orchestra, but I had to prove to a panel that I was a worthwhile member. I spent a few weeks working on the audition excerpts and polishing up a concerto and Bach suite, and then took the audition. The luck wasn't with me, and I had to wait another year to audition again. The second time, I listened to a number of recordings, including some with audition specific commentary, recorded and critiqued myself playing the excerpts, and performed them for other music majors. I was awarded a contract and have been playing in the symphony for two years now.

What is it like for you being a college student and a member of the symphony at the same time?
Being in college and symphony has rarely been a hindrance. Besides the symphony's uncanny ability to schedule concerts during midterms and finals weeks, I have never had a school conflict. The Lincoln Symphony schedules concerts and rehearsals months in advance, so I have always been able to plan other activities around LSO services. It's also fun working with faculty members on a peer level instead of on the normal teacher-student level during rehearsals.

How has your experience with LSO been and what have you learned from performing with the orchestra?My experience in the Symphony has been fantastic. Professional rehearsals move quickly and demand a lot from the performers, but they're often enjoyable because everyone in the room is prepared and attentive. At the university level, the rehearsal process can be frustrating because individual musicians do not yet know the music. At the professional level, musicians know the music, write down notes from the conductor constantly, and listen attentively to instructions in between. It's exhausting, but very rewarding because so little time is wasted. Any frustration comes from disagreements of musical interpretation or a sense of pressure because of the need to get through a large amount of repertoire in a short amount of time.

During my time in the symphony, I have learned a great deal about the amount of business that goes on behind the symphony. The musicians' union regulates the rehearsals, from the wages and time commitments of the musicians to the temperature range, humidity, and even the lighting of the hall. The Symphony's Board of Directors, Guild members, and Foundation members are constantly fundraising, planning events, and working on public relations. Without them, the Symphony would not exist.

I have also grown as a musician. Patience, attentiveness, and a good memory are marks of a strong orchestral player, and I have matured since becoming a part of the symphony.

What's your favorite piece that you performed with the orchestra?
I grew up listening to Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, and so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to play it with the Lincoln Symphony. One of the more pleasant surprises I've had while playing in the LSO was when we played Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, the "Eroica" or "Heroic" Symphony. I do not normally enjoy playing Beethoven, and I wasn't expecting to enjoy working on the Eroica, but the LSO's conductor, Edward Polochick, made me change my mind. Polochick explained to us why he was making stylistic decisions, as he wanted to convey his own personal convictions that the 3rd symphony was the first Romantic era symphony. His admiration and love of the piece transferred to me, and I have since considered the Eroica to be my favorite of Beethoven's symphonies.

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