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40 T/D/Y #26: Nashua Chamber Orchestra

When I graduated from high school, I stopped taking violin lessons, even though they weren’t actually connected to being in school in any way. Essentially, I had learned all I could from my teacher, who certainly could have continued coaching me on improvements, but as I had no plans to pursue being a violinist professionally, it didn’t seem necessary. However, over the years my teacher had evolved her student string ensemble into a small amateur orchestra for adults, the Nashua Chamber Orchestra, and she invited me to join. So I did, and that kept me active as a violinist for a dozen years.

The orchestra had three conductors in those dozen years: first its founder, my former teacher, and then two others we hired after my teacher decided to leave. Each of the new conductors we hired pushed the orchestra to expand its repertoire, playing both more recent and more challenging pieces. Each of them also championed new music, the first getting the orchestra to premiere a couple new pieces and the second even having us premiere a couple of his own compositions. After years of playing baroque and classical music more often than anything else, I really enjoyed the opportunities to play post-romantic and twentieth-century symphonic music; it was much more interesting than the endless running sixteenth notes of Bach and Mozart.

I had never really liked practicing my parts at home by myself. For several years I still made some effort to do some practicing at home, as there were always sections that I certainly needed to work on in between rehearsals. However, I found that usually I could get by well enough just with the work we did in our weekly rehearsals and by the time the concerts came around I’d play my parts fairly well. Once I started working in Boston, I had even less time, energy, or will to practice on my own, and I stopped doing so.

By that point, though, our newest conductor was leading the orchestra to take on even more advanced and challenging pieces. I began to feel that I wasn’t keeping up, wasn’t able to perform in concert as well as I should, not without spending more time on my own practicing, which I was still reluctant to do. I also started feeling physically uncomfortable; I may not have been keeping a decent posture while playing, and after years of doing so, my body was starting to protest. Finally, about a year after I started working in Boston, I moved close to the city, which meant I now had to make an effort each week to leave work early enough to rush through traffic in time to get to rehearsals, and I wouldn’t even have a short trip back home after that, I’d still have to drive back down to my place near Boston. This combination of factors made me decide at the end of the 2000-2001 season that I needed to take a break, and would not return as a performing member the next season. That effectively put my regular violin-playing on a long-term hiatus that has not yet ended.

However, that did not quite end my involvement with the orchestra. Back at the start of the 1994-1995 season, I happened to learn that the person who had been producing our program books would no longer be available. I really don’t remember why I even thought this, but I looked over the program from the previous year and claimed that I could do it instead. At the time, I was still using my ten-year-old Apple IIc, which certainly was not capable of the job, and I had no prior experience doing any kind of desktop page layout work. At most my exposure would have been watching my friend Jay working on a version of his zine. Still, for some reason the orchestra took me up on my offer, and fortunately my friend Doug’s dad had a relatively recent PC with Aldus (not yet Adobe) Pagemaker, so I had access to the right tools. So I sat down and figured out how Pagemaker worked, and started designing that season’s program by spending an hour and a half meticulously comparing the fonts available to choose a nice pair. Although I was a complete novice, it turned out well, looking better even than the previous year’s program, and that’s how I became the program book editor for the orchestra. (I also started writing the program notes at that time.)

Becoming the program book editor for the orchestra led to two other developments in 1995. One, I bought my first Macintosh, one of the new PowerPC models with a CD-ROM drive, despite my friend Jay’s argument that one of the older and now cheaper non-PowerPC models would be good enough and that CD-ROM drives weren’t important and I wouldn’t need one. As I used that Mac for the next six years and both PowerPC chips and CD drives became required standard hardware for Mac software, I think I made the right decision. Two, the orchestra asked me to join the board of directors. So even after I retired from performing in mid-2001, I continued as both program book editor and the board’s secretary until I moved to Seattle early in 2002. Because I already had the books set up and just needed the new information to fill in, I even produced the final program book for that season, in June 2002, after I had moved.

In the past several years, I’ve been writing about music regularly, reviewing the concerts I was attending, which is somewhat different than writing the orchestra’s concert program notes about composers and classical music pieces, but still related. I’ve been doing volunteer work with the non-profit radio station KEXP, and organizing and running the non-profit Go Play Northwest annual game convention. I joined the association board of directors after I moved into my condo. And just in the past few months, I’ve finally got back into doing page layout work, this time as a paid professional. All of these are things I first gained experience in through my involvement with the Nashua Chamber Orchestra. Along with leaving my supermarket deli job and starting my martial arts training, my increased level of involvement with the orchestra made 1995 a very significant year of changes for me.

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