The Musicians of the Nashville Symphony would like to welcome our newest members to the orchestra. Julia Harguindey joins us as Principal Bassoon while Alec Blazek fills the position of 2nd trumpet. Melissa McCarthy Steinberg takes the helm as our Principal Librarian. Stay tuned as we get to know the newest members of our orchestra.
Noted television producer, actor and singer Seth MacFarlane came and did a show with us last night. Afterwards, he joined us for a group photo –
Kristi Seehafer, a member of our first-violin section, is celebrating an important milestone – the 5-year anniversary since her diagnosis with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. During her initial surgery, the doctors learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Only during her initial PET scan (pre-chemotherapy), did they find that the cancer had spread to her bones, and was Stage 4.
Kristi wants people to know that the most important lesson she learned is to listen to your own body. Her cancer was discovered only four months after a normal mammogram. She also wants people to know that a cancer diagnosis, even Stage 4, is not a death sentence. Kristi is now considered cancer free, and will return to normal (rather than diagnostic) mammograms next year.
Now, she has returned to the exercise she loves most – running. Kristi had planned to run her first full marathon just after her initial surgery. Although she walked a half marathon one month after finishing chemotherapy, it has taken this long to recover from neuropathy and the effects of treatment.
She has come full circle, running 100 miles each month, belongs to the Fifty States half-marathon Club, and values her friendships there. (Although she has run full marathons, she prefers half marathons, saying they are “more fun.”).Her goal is to run a half marathon in all 50 states. She just finished her sixth half marathon in the Club, and recently participated in five half marathons in five days in five states (the New England Challenge). Another running goal is to run an event with her two nieces, one of whom is already a runner.
Kristi credits her current healthiness to running, a dietary supplement she now takes, and her diet, which stresses alkalinity through eating high-alkaline foods like vegetables, while limiting acidic foods such as meat, wheat, sugar, and alcohol. She stresses that anyone can become healthy, even with a serious health issue.
Kristi grew up in Wausau, WI and during high school played piano in her brother’s polka band, often getting up after late Saturday-night wedding gigs for her other job, singing at a Christian Scientist Church (no, she was not a Christian Scientist). She attended Concordia College, beginning as a voice major, then switching to violin. While at Concordia, she played in the Fargo-Morehead Symphony and Opera.
The first professional orchestra concert she attended – Kenneth Schermerhorn conducting the Milwaukee Symphony – made her realize her love for playing violin in a symphony orchestra. After living life for several years, she returned to college, receiving her Masters of Music from Northwestern. It was a challenge being older than the other students, but obviously Kristi thrives on challenge.
Her goals now are to continue running, and eventually figure out what to do when she retires.
Kristi has a very enlightening blog at http://kristiseehafer.com/
As we enter 2016, the NSO will hold a series of auditions for principal bassoon, principal librarian, section second violin and second trumpet in January, March and May.
Auditions details for 2016
Auditions generally follow a rather standard process: An ad appears in the International Musician, and usually 100-300 musicians fill out an application online. The audition list is sent to potential candidates, and those committing to take the audition send a check to reserve an audition time. Unless the candidate withdraws before the deadline, the check is returned at the time of the audition.
Sometimes, depending upon the number of applicants, the audition committee that is chosen by the orchestra committee, along with one or two members chosen by the music director, may review the resumes limiting the number of people invited to the audition. Those who have not been invited may submit a recording with specified excerpts for reconsideration by the committee. Once all the candidates have been invited and paid their audition deposit, they travel to Nashville for two or three days while the audition committee listens to candidates perform the same orchestral excerpts behind a screen for as many as 60-80 times. After each hour the committee votes — by simple majority — which candidates will be advanced to the next round.
There are semi-finals, super semi-finals, finals and super finals that finally reduce the numbers to (we hope) the best candidate, who will be offered a position in the orchestra. The committee controls all rounds of the audition until the finals, when the music director takes over and the committee serves from that point on in an advisory role.
Auditioning a new principal librarian
The NSO contract covers both librarian positions in addition to the musicians you see onstage during each concert. Interestingly, while our contract has covered both librarians since 2007, a number of orchestras — including 52-week orchestras such as National (Washington D.C.), San Francisco and Dallas — have recently succeeded in covering their librarians for the very first time. This means that librarians must also audition for an open position, but the audition process is far different. Since I’ve had so many raised eyebrows when I speak about our principal librarian audition, which was held Sept. 28-29, 2015, I thought I‘d share some observations from that process.
Our principal librarian won the Boston Symphony’s position more than a year ago, so this audition was to fill that position. The committee chosen included a broad cross-section of the orchestra: Jennifer Goldberg is current interim-principal librarian; concertmaster Jun Iwasaki and principal second violin Carrie Bailey, who work closely with the library to bow string parts; principal percussionist Sam Bacco, who works with the library when deciding how many percussionists are required; principal keyboard Bob Marler, who often obtains copies of his music in advance due to the intricacy and difficulty of certain works; principal trumpet Jeff Bailey, violist Clare Yang, cellist Keith Nicholas, and bass clarinet Dan Lochrie, who also brought personal experience to their roles as committee members. In addition, the music director was consulted about his requirements for the position when the test and interview questions were formulated.
For this audition, there were 41 applicants. Following the review of candidate applications and resumes, 16 candidates were invited and sent preliminary homework to submit prior to coming to Nashville. Only nine candidates submitted homework but two withdrew prior to the audition leaving us with seven candidates in the preliminary
round. Preliminary homework was sent to all candidates at the same time with a deadline of just under four weeks. Candidates were asked to complete various, real world orchestra library tasks to see how candidates performed when they had time to prepare or fix music.
None of the seven candidates who came to the audition had been part of a bargaining unit, but their collective experience included working in smaller regional orchestras, in larger ICSOM orchestras, and in university music libraries. On the day of the audition, each candidate had two hours to complete a written exam, which tested his or her general knowledge about instruments, music, musical terms and specific library issues. Candidates were then tested on their skills, familiarity with the orchestra’s software program, and ability to follow instructions working under pressure to complete three tasks in 30 minutes using all the resources of the library in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
Finally, the committee questioned each preliminary candidate about what the role of
the principal librarian consisted of, to share work styles, and how they had or would handle specific issues that regularly occur in the library. After the homework, tests and skills materials were reviewed the committee compared notes and chose three candidates to move to the semi-finals. That evening the semi-finalists were asked to complete two assignments – tasks that commonly occur with a tight or strict deadline.
Interviews by the committee in the second round covered the materials and tests performed by each candidate as well as information garnered from the previous day’s interview. Following this round, the committee voted to forward two candidates to the finals. Maestro Guerrero met with each candidate individually to assess their skills and review the results of their work. Once he concluded his interviews, the committee and Guerrero met and agreed that no candidate displayed the skills and knowledge that Goldberg had already. A few days later a meeting and vote were held to offer the principal librarian position to Goldberg, if she was interested. After careful consideration, she recently turned it down. This May a new principal librarian audition has been added to hire a principal librarian.
By Laura Ross
You’ve been a member of the orchestra for 40 years. As you look back over your time in the Nashville Symphony, what stands out the most? Any specific memories, thoughts or feelings?
In a word, change. We’ve changed buildings twice, music directors several times, and all but three musicians, including myself. The level of performance today is staggering. Things we couldn’t attempt when I started are now routine.
Do you have a favorite piece or pieces of repertoire that you’ve especially enjoyed performing with the Nashville Symphony?
After the smoke of 40 years has cleared, two favorite compositions are left standing: 1. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the greatest piece ever written by an American (at least so far), and 2) Ravel’s La Valse, in which the composer rebelliously breaks every rule of counterpoint and orchestration and still manages to create an interesting and fun 12 minutes. You might say it’s a mini-metaphor of my own life. The little boy who would do something just because he was told “no” must make sense and harmony out of life. It’s a struggle, but also surprising sometimes how well things work out.
You also served as orchestra personnel manager for the Nashville Symphony in the late 1990s. How did that experience influence your work as a performing artist?
I was the last person to be a playing personnel manager. Its influence would not show in my performance now, but was profound nonetheless. Being in charge of people changes you. Once you have truly walked in the shoes of both sides, you can never go back; you can never again see things quite the same way. One thing I learned that I did not know was how much the rank-and-file members of the office staff love the musicians and what we do. They take low-paying, difficult positions which are under-appreciated, just because they love music and musicians and want to help. When you get to know them, you wish you could have an attitude and outlook such as theirs.
Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony? If so, with whom and where? How did you get involved, and what do you enjoy about these additional performance opportunities?
I began playing outside jobs for the same reason everybody else did — our job at NSO didn’t pay enough to live on, so we all went looking for extra work. You name it, I’ve done it. Recording, television, touring, weddings, pit work, arranging, contracting and much more. I played in live shows at the Opryland theme park for nearly 20 years. The specialty for which I am best known is a strolling violinist, playing requests all over the spectrum — everything from Mozart to Free Bird to old TV commercials from the ‘60s. My outside work has taken me to most of the United States and Canada, as well as Japan, Korea and mainland China. I even had my own rock ’n’ roll show for many years with 20 strings and a drummer. Touring probably was the most instructive of my outside jobs. When you spend a long time living in one place, it’s easy to think that place as all there is. Only seeing the world in person can bring home how much bigger it is than you ever imagined. It gives you perspective.
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
My mother and father, who never dreamed that both their sons would be musicians. It was a foreign world to them, but they truly believed in us. In return, they demanded hard work and excellence and monitored me constantly to make sure I was delivering. They said I could accomplish anything if I wanted it badly enough. Though we lost Dad in 2011, I still hear him saying, “There’s no such thing as can’t.”
Nashville has changed since you joined the orchestra. What do you like most about our city now, and what do you miss the most?
The best thing about living in a city for 40 years is that almost every place in it holds a memory from your past. For instance, I can look at the downtown skyline and remember playing for the openings of many of those buildings. I miss the Opryland theme park most. It was the heart of Nashville’s tourism industry. There I made all my best friends in Nashville, one of whom became my wife of 27 years.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing – do you have hobbies, volunteer or participate in any civic or social organizations?
Life doesn’t leave much room for hobbies right now. When I retire in a few years, I have a number of projects planned, starting with seeing more of my two granddaughters, now ages 5 and 4. I have written my memoirs up to 1988 and will continue with this as time permits.
What’s the last book you read, and/or what are you reading now?
The last book was Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. I have just started a biography of baseball player and “philosopher” Yogi Berra. You can see I’m interested in history. My favorite author is James A. Michener, and I own and have read all his great historical novels.
What would you most like people in the audience to know about the Nashville Symphony?
That the job of a musician resembles a professional athlete, NOT an office worker. They would understand us much better by keeping this in mind.
Is there any question you wish I’d asked, but didn’t?
Perhaps this one. Question: From where do you draw your inspiration as a performer? Answer: It’s been different at each stage of my career. As a young musician, it was the music itself. As a middle-aged musician, it was the money. Now I’m an old musician. What else would you call a 40-year player? My inspiration is my audience. The more fun they have, the more I have.
For our latest pied Piper concert, many of our musicians dressed up in appropriate attire. The concert was titled “Get Wild with the Nashville Symphony!”, and featured Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.
My mom was interested in giving me something to do, so she started me in the Suzuki violin method when I was 6 years old. My older brother was doing many activities, and she wanted me to have my own niche. She was always interested in both our education and development, and music was a gift that she wanted to provide for both her children. My brother played piano. At that time, I really wanted to play ballet music. To me and my 6-year-old way of thinking, that meant I would play the violin.
As for the violin, I just liked it more than any other instrument. I like that I’m a lot closer to the instrument when I’m playing it because it’s smaller, and that it is at a higher register. If I wasn’t a violinist, I’d probably play the oboe or trumpet because I prefer higher-register instruments.
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
Another big reason why I ended up playing the violin was that I had a great teacher named Carol Dallinger. A childhood teacher can really make or break your development as a musician, and Carol was definitely a big influence on mine. I started studying the Suzuki method with her around the third grade; I now teach Suzuki myself, and Carol has even worked with some of my own students.
I was also fortunate enough to learn from Almita and Roland Vamos while I was studying at Oberlin. They’re both very well known and they have such a clear, defined way of teaching – they’ve pulled together various methods and refined them in their own way, and every student of theirs is very well-trained and disciplined, which is very important at the undergraduate level.
What are the unique challenges of playing the violin?
The violin can be very difficult to learn as a child because it’s unnatural and uncomfortable. When you grow up as a violin student, your hand develops in a different way with a distinct curvature, which takes awhile to get accustomed to. Even now, my hand pronates in a way that makes playing something like the guitar almost impossible.
As a professional, there are still challenges. You always have to be sensitive to intonation, and the instrument is much more physically demanding than people probably realize. We have to be in good shape, and it’s important to find the right balance between practicing on our own and giving ourselves the time needed to recover.
If you could meet one composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach are probably my three favorites. But if I could meet one, it would definitely be Brahms. He was such and eccentric, lovable, cute, and humble man. Brahms came from a lower-class family and had a very modest upbringing, but he overcame a lot thanks to his sheer love and need for music. He also had to follow in the footsteps of Beethoven, which had to be intimidating, and was apparently a little bit slovenly — he didn’t like to wear socks or ties. Plus, he had a beard, and I really like beards!
Which composer writes the best music for violin?
Shostakovich’s work is gratifying to play on violin. It is more forgiving in performance than Mozart, for example, which is like playing on glass (every note must be perfect). The Shostakovich Violin Sonata is one of my favorite pieces, and it isn’t performed nearly as much as it should be.
Can you explain the difference between first and second violins?
First violins tend to play the melodies, though that’s not always the case. Second violins don’t usually play the higher register and will have a lower voice in the case of a fugue. I do like playing first violin because it is a bit more challenging. First and second violin positions are simply determined by what is available at the time of auditions. It doesn’t mean one position is more or less talented than the other.
Describe what you’re thinking and feeling right before a concert begins.
That’s something that has changed over the years for me. I used to be focused a lot on the audience right before a concert, but now I’m more immersed in my parts and the music that we’re about to play. I think about the audience more now at the end of a performance, and I always hope that they get as much out of a concert as we all do.
I love sitting in the first violin section and really enjoy my colleagues. We all deeply care about our performance, and depending on the night, I can be pretty social with them onstage before we start performing.
How did you wind up auditioning for the Nashville Symphony?
My aunt (harp) and uncle (bass trombone) – who are the only members of my family who are also musicians – had both played with the Nashville Symphony, so I was certainly familiar with the orchestra and had visited before. I had been living in Brazil for about two-and-a-half years, but I was back in the States studying at a program in Chicago, and I actually won my audition here in Nashville while that program was still going on.
What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Once in Brazil – this was the absolute worst – I was late getting back onstage for the second half of the concert after intermission. Everyone was already seated and quiet, so when I walked onstage, everyone in the audience thought I was the conductor and started applauding! There had to be at least 1,000 people there, and they were all laughing once I took my seat in the tutti violin section.
You have been involved with the Suzuki violin program for some time now, first as a student and now as a teacher. Why do you believe so strongly in the Suzuki method?
Carol Dallinger actually studied with Dr. Suzuki, so that obviously had a role in me pursuing it. But I chose the Suzuki method because it is so organic and well planned-out. The method is based on the way children learn to speak their native language, which makes assimilation easier so they can learn the instrument in the most natural way possible.
It’s a philosophy that really resonates with me. Suzuki students start at an early age, and the method stresses the power and importance of listening, practicing frequently, group and individual teaching, and heavy parental involvement, among other components. There are so many Suzuki teachers out there that I think it has led to a slightly inaccurate portrayal of the method – on the surface it may appear easy, but it’s definitely not all fun and games. Suzuki believed that every child has unlimited potential, and he was a demanding teacher who instilled incredible discipline in his students.
I am currently the secretary of the Middle Tennessee Suzuki Association, and I help organize the workshops and master classes that the organization provides for Suzuki students in the area. It’s also very exciting that I can now bring Carol in to teach some of my own Suzuki students as well.
What part of town do you live in?
I have lived in East Nashville since 2003, and I love it. It’s a great community full of diverse people who are proud to live there. There are so many good places to eat in East Nashville, and I like that it’s easy to get downtown.
I’ve been a core member of the Eastwood Ensemble since the group began in December of 2010. We were voted Best New Chamber Music Series of 2014 in the Nashville Scene. It has a very East Nashville vibe – our performances are diverse and include different performance partners each time, such as singer-songwriters, poetry reading, culinary artists, or groups like The Ukedelics. We are very laid-back. Our program is designed to draw all kinds of people, even those who may not be into classical music per se. We also do a series of concerts hosted by community members in their historic homes while sometimes serving light fare and wine.
What do you do when you’re not practicing, teaching or performing?
I don’t have all that much free time because of my busy teaching and performing schedule. But I’ve dabbled in crochet and beekeeping, and I’ve taken a few clogging and hip-hop lessons. Right now, I’m taking a class at the YMCA called Dance Blast, and I also love Netflix. When we were off this past summer, I crocheted a blanket while watching the entire first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is such a funny show.
I’m often out dragging my old white dog around while jogging in the Rosebank area of East Nashville, and I’m hoping to start doing some 5K runs in the future. After hearing Erik Gratton play the Nielsen Flute Concerto here recently, I downloaded Nielsen’s Second Violin Sonata, which is something I’d like to play through for fun with a pianist. I can listen to the entire sonata two times through while running a 5K.
Do you enjoy listening to music for fun?
I like pretty much everything. I do enjoy a lot of the pop music that I hear on the radio, but I honestly can’t listen to anything like that consistently for too long. Lately though, I’ve been having a blast from the past, so to speak, and listening to the music I enjoyed in high school, including The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Psychedelic Furs.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I have to be a musician, and I don’t know what I’d do without music. I suppose I would be OK with being another kind of artist, but I’d need to be involved in the arts one way or another.
Why should someone who has never attended a classical concert come to a performance by the Nashville Symphony?
I think everyone should come see a concert here, and more than one! People really need to experience Laura Turner Concert Hall and hear for themselves how an entire orchestra can bring this music to life. There’s so much history in the classical repertoire, and its longevity is truly remarkable. The concerts also give people the chance to learn about all the instruments we play, which strengthens the connection an audience member has to the performance.
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with instruments. When I was 2, I got a tambourine and a record player for Christmas, and I would play that tambourine along with my records all the time! Originally, I wanted to play the trumpet, but my mother did not want a trumpet in the house, so I got a clarinet instead. She said that if I could teach myself how to play it and read music on my own, that I could then start taking clarinet lessons. So I did.
Then in fifth grade, one of my friends played cello in my school’s string section, and I really wanted to do the same. They didn’t have a cello my size since I was a bit smaller, so I was assigned to the violin instead. Once I started playing the violin, I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was so obsessed that my mother would have to force me to stop practicing to eat dinner.
I turned my clarinet into a lamp, which I still have to this day!
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
I’d have to say my college violin teacher, Elaine Richey. She really crafted my development and changed a lot of things about how I played, things that have stuck with me and have carried me to where I am now. She was a great musician herself and very much a mother figure to all of her students. My previous teachers were good too, but Elaine really polished and molded me into a better musician.
If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select?
There would be only one, and it would take up the entire program: Mahler’s Second, the Resurrection Symphony. If it is played well, the Second has this moment, when the orchestra is at full volume and the choir is singing and the organ is blasting, that is the closest thing to a truly spiritual experience in music that I know of. When we did the Second here, it was almost an out-of-body experience for me.
How did you end up at the Nashville Symphony?
I came here from Charleston. I had only been there for about eight months, and the orchestra just wasn’t a good fit for me. So I decided that the first audition I won — wherever it was — would be my next job. The Nashville Symphony turned out to be that audition.
I joined the orchestra thinking I would only be in Nashville for a few years. But I saw so much potential here, particularly in the caliber of musicians. So between that and the strong recording industry here, I decided to stay in Nashville and be a part of building this orchestra to prominence.
What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?
As I mentioned earlier, Mahler’s Second was one of my favorite memories here. But another great moment was that first Carnegie Hall performance in 2000. It was such an exciting thing to be a part of, and there was this great energy in our orchestra. The second performance there, in 2012, was special too, of course. But you only get one first time at Carnegie Hall, and it gave all of us a taste of what an acoustically magnificent concert hall sounds like.
If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Mozart. He had such an interesting life, and I would love to meet the genius behind all of that spectacular music.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
We were doing one of the Halloween Pied Piper concerts, and of course we were in costume for the occasion. One of my fellow violinists had dressed up as the solar system, which was really a great costume. Her head was the sun, and all the planets were hanging around her head in orbit.
Well, I was in the middle of a big solo, when suddenly the biggest of the planets on her costume fell off and started rolling right past my shoe. Here we are performing, and this bright-orange ball is rolling across the stage. Everyone onstage who saw it was laughing quietly, and it took every ounce of willpower I had to stay focused and not break out in laughter myself!
How have the city and the orchestra changed for you since you first arrived in 1991?
It’s amazing to me just how much Nashville has exploded with all of the building and development. I do like that the downtown area has really come to life, but I must admit I’m not a fan of the increased traffic!
For the Symphony, moving into the Schermerhorn has been the biggest and best change because it transformed the way we play. When the orchestra was at TPAC, we had to work so hard produce a balanced sound for the audience. Once we moved over here, it took all of us a year or two to readjust. The hall is an instrument itself, so we all needed to learn how to play to the acoustics. Now it feels more natural, and we don’t have to play as aggressively.
Watching our orchestra’s reputation and stature grow has also been very gratifying, and that goes back to why I ultimately decided to stay here. The Nashville Symphony has evolved from a medium-sized-city orchestra to one that gets to play in the big leagues now and is internationally recognized.
Do you teach, perform, or record outside of your work with the orchestra?
I used to teach, but I had to stop: Our work here has gotten so intensive that I needed to eliminate something if I wanted to have a life outside of my work. I have done, and continue to do, a lot of recording sessions in Christian and country music, and I’ve been fortunate to record with artists like Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Sheryl Crow.
What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?
I love going out on the town with my friends, and I especially enjoy dining out. Union Common and Urban Grub are two of my current favorite restaurants, and I also like going to Etch and Trattoria Il Mulino after concerts.
What part of town do you live in?
About three years ago, I moved to a 12.5-acre farm out in Williamson County. I needed plenty of property to build a kennel for all of my dogs, and I also wanted to have the privacy that kind of land affords. The farm is great for all of my animals, and I also spend a lot of time working on my flower gardens there. I’ve always been into gardening, but it’s a much larger-scale thing now because I design all of my own flower gardens.
How many animals do you have on your farm?
So many! 12 dogs, three horses, six miniature donkeys, four llamas, two rescue pigs, and two alpacas. I used to be very involved in dog breeding and dog shows. I had a bullmastiff named Liam who was an award-winning, national dog show superstar. He was at the top of the circuit for almost three years before I retired him and started becoming more active with rescue dogs. Of the 14 dogs I have now, three are show dogs and the rest are all rescues.
There are a ton of coyotes out near my farm, so I got the llamas to help protect our other animals from them.
Do you own anything that you consider a “prized possession”?
I still have the baby blanket that my mother brought me home from the hospital in. It has these pink, blue, and yellow baby lambs on it, and I always keep it in a drawer. One time I thought I had lost it, and I absolutely freaked out. But it’s the one thing I have left to hang on to from that time in my life.