When I was in seventh grade I joined the school band, as a trombonist, taking last chair at the end of a long row of boy trombonists. At the end of the school year, the band instructor, Mr. Chalupa, said the sole tuba player was graduating. Did I want to switch? Thinking about how long it would take me to reach first chair with my chosen instrument, I said yes without hesitation. From then on I enjoyed the attention I got as the only girl playing a sousaphone. I believe I even got pretty good at it.
Our band adored "concert season," rising as one to the occasion of playing the most glorious classical music. We blew away our competitors at annual state contests, earning perfect scores every time. Personally, I loved classical music not only for its challenge, drama and beauty, but also because it was the only genre in which my part surpassed oom-pah-pah duty. I'll never forget the thrill of playing, for example, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
I've always wished that I had kept up the tuba after graduation -- or switched to, say, the much cooler stand-up bass. And so I felt a twinge of that old regret when I heard about a new amateur orchestra forming in the Champlain Valley.
Violinist David Gusakov and cellist Dieuwke Davydov will serve as conductor and manager, respectively. "I don't remember who spoke first," says Gusakov, "but a few months ago we had the same idea to create an orchestra."
Gusakov is a former instructor at Middlebury College who gives private lessons to some 25 students in a carriage-house studio outside his Bristol home. He's a longtime member of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and leader of the Burlington-based Amateur Musicians Orchestra, as well as an ace fiddler with local bluegrass and jazz-swing units. Why take on yet another project? "I like conducting," he says simply. Also, with the exception of student groups, "there's been an orchestra vacuum in the Middlebury area for a long time."
Davydov, who hails from Amsterdam, teaches cello and chamber music at Middlebury. She also performs in the VSO as well as with pianist Diana Fanning in Europe and the U.S. For musicians who are not professional enough for the VSO but are reasonably skilled, being in this kind of orchestra is an experience unlike any other, Davydov notes. "People want to play together, and play the kind of music you can only play with an orchestra," she says. "It's wonderful for people to take part in."
And what might that music be? Bach? Bartók? "It's a little tricky until I know the size of the group," hedges Gusakov, who says he aims to be a "humane" conductor. "It could possibly be a chamber orchestra -- 20 to 25 members -- and if it is we'll be doing mostly Baroque, a smaller repertoire." But if he gets the desired full orchestra, with 45 to 50 members, "We'd be looking at later composers -- really any composers, but not the most complex. I would like to do symphonies and concertos and choral works." His dream piece of music is "any Beethoven symphony."
Are there enough closet players around Addison County and beyond ready and able to make the orchestral commitment? Gusakov thinks so. "We've heard from about 45 people so far," he says. "Many people are in string quartets or nice little groups, but it's a whole different experience to play in big groups," Davydov adds encouragingly. And anyone can join.
Anyone, that is, who can pass the "friendly" auditions. Those will be held May 23 and 24, and will involve "playing a scale, a movement or piece of a movement of choice, and a little sight reading," says Gusakov. "The whole thing will take 15 minutes."
He has already scheduled the new orchestra's first concert for November 15 at the Middlebury College Center for the Arts. Talk about optimistic. The program is TBA, of course, and the rehearsal schedule will be six Mondays starting in mid-September. Davydov is currently looking for a place to hold rehearsals in Middlebury.
I guess it's too late for me to train my fingers around a bass viol or, for that matter, to re-learn the bass clef. But I'm both envious of and happy for the dozens of Vermont musicians who, after years making music even when no one was listening, may find this orchestra their just crescendo. Meanwhile, if anybody wants to start a kazoo ensemble, let me know.