Category Archives: Musician Stories

Five Musicians = 158 Years

 

Mary Helen Law, Cassie Lee, Ann Richards, Susan K. Smith in front of recording angel at Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Mary Helen Law, Cassie Lee, Ann Richards, Susan K. Smith in front of recording angel at Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Five Nashville Symphony colleagues retire at the end of this 2017-18 season; their combined tenure as members of the orchestra’s brass, woodwind and string sections exceed 150 years. Two were born in Middle Tennessee: lifelong Nashvillian Ann Richards, and Susan K. Smith, who was born in Murfreesboro but moved to Florida at the age of two. Cassie Lee, born in Big Stone Gap, VA, grew up in Knoxville; Radu Georgescu was born in Bucharest, Romania; and Mary Helen Law was born in Oklahoma City but grew up in Stamford, CT.

 

 

Radu Georgescu

Radu Georgescu

Each was between seven to ten years old when they began playing an instrument, but it wasn’t necessarily the instrument they play in the Nashville Symphony. Radu began playing the violin at age seven; Ann began piano lessons at age seven, but was 11 when she began playing the flute; Mary Helen played the violin in elementary school but switched to viola in high school; Cassie and Susan were both 10 when they began playing their respective instruments, clarinet and trombone. Susan remembers deciding at age 14 “that I wanted to play trombone in a professional Orchestra”, and later “also decided that I wanted to teach trombone on the college level.” Mary Helen and Ann grew up in musical families; Mary Helen “grew up in a family of musicians, married a musician [ former NSO Principal Trombone Lawrence Borden], and my daughter is a violist.” Ann’s father was a longtime member of Local 257 who “came to Nashville as a musician, playing big band, Dixieland and old standards”, played clarinet, saxophone and violin; her mother played piano, and her brother played pipe organ and clarinet.

Master Performers

Ann Richards in 1977 (photo by David Rogers)

Ann Richards in 1977 (photo by David Rogers)

Ann attended California State University – San Jose (BA-Music), studied for two years in Europe, and after receiving a Master of Music in Performance from Northwestern University, she followed her dream of becoming an orchestra musician when she “won the position of Second Flute (later retitled 2nd/Assistant Principal Flute) in 1977, right out of grad school.”

Cassie Lee

Cassie Lee

Cassie attended University of Tennessee (BS-Music Education), and, like Ann, received her Master of Music in Performance from Northwestern University. “I wanted to teach at a University and play in a local orchestra, if there was one.” She said she was invited to audition for the Nashville Symphony and then, for unknown reasons, was disinvited. After some confusion Cassie was again invited to audition for the orchestra and won the position of Second and E-flat Clarinet in 1979, which was later retitled 2nd and E-flat/Assistant Principal Clarinet.

Mary Helen Law

Mary Helen Law

Section violist Mary Helen, had multiple interests: while focusing on viola, she also dabbled with piano and French horn in high school, and took voice lessons and minored in theater and dance while attending the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam (BME). She received her Master of Music in Viola Performance from New England Conservatory, followed by a year of Professional Studies at The Juilliard School. “I was obviously interested in a variety of performing arts! I freelanced in New York City for six years where I played with five different orchestras along with various opera and choral gigs (and many other giglets) in and around the NYC area.” She did recording work in Boston that helped pay for her Master degree, and played summer orchestra festivals in upstate New York. “I also spent three summers in Mexico City playing in Filarmonica de las Americas. I met my husband in Mexico and joined him where we were members of the Filarmonica de UNAM in Mexico City before we were fortunate enough to both get jobs in the same orchestra (Nashville Symphony), which is always a challenge.”

Susan K. Smith with red trombone, a gift from musicians & staff presented by NSO colleague & bass trombonist, Steve Brown

Susan K. Smith with red trombone, a gift from musicians & staff presented by NSO colleague & bass trombonist, Steve Brown

Susan attended University of Kansas (BME), and received her Master of Music from the University of North Texas. She worked in more than a dozen orchestras – including the South Bend Symphony, where she performed with NSO violist Michelle Lackey-Collins’ father, and the Chicago Symphony, as well as off-stage brass with the Metropolitan Opera; and as a member of the Millar Brass Ensemble and Chicago Trombone Ensemble – all before winning the position of Second Trombone in 1994. “My position was eventually changed to Assistant Principal and I also played Principal Trombone for a total of more than four years.”

Ben Lloyd pays tribute to his 2nd violin colleague, Radu Georgescu

Ben Lloyd pays tribute to his 2nd violin colleague, Radu Georgescu

Radu received a Master degree in violin interpretation and teaching from Ciprian
Porumbescu Academy of Music in Bucharest, Romania, and performed with the Camerata Chamber Music Orchestra (Costanta, Romania), George Enescu Philharmonia (Bucharest, Romania) and the Royal Symphony in Seville, Spain, before winning a position with the Nashville Symphony in 1996. “I had always wanted to perform in an orchestra and to solo; it was family issues that brought me to Nashville, and when I got the position, it was with the intention to move back to Seville, Spain in two years.”

The Early NSO and Why They Stayed

Michael Charry was Music Director when Ann and Cassie joined the NSO; it was still a part-time orchestra that performed at War Memorial Auditorium until moving to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in 1980-81. Both found it necessary to have other work, so Ann freelanced, taught, and played chamber music and other gigs. “I liked the orchestra, the area and saw its growing potential. I also enjoyed being near my family.” “There was a specified salary of $3,800,” according to Cassie. “I began teaching at Blair in 1981 and it took eight years for me to save the money to buy a house. By then, I knew Nashville was where I wanted to be.”

Kenneth Schermerhorn was Music Director when Mary Helen, Susan and Radu joined the orchestra. Mary Helen “considered [moving to a bigger orchestra] a couple times when the symphony was not as well supported, but as time went on we decided this place was a good fit for a number of reasons not necessarily entirely related to the orchestra.” She joined the orchestra when management was “looking to expand the orchestra both in terms of size and length of season. The orchestra was changing from being a very part-time gig with mostly evening rehearsals…to becoming an orchestra of mostly daytime rehearsals and more weeks in the season. They had hired Kenneth Schermerhorn as music director with the idea he could help grow the Nashville Symphony into a major orchestra. There were lots of growing pains over the years, along with a strike and a lockout, but a lot of those earlier goals have been achieved. It has been quite a ride.” Susan remembers, “in 1994 most rehearsals were at several churches and the concerts were at TPAC. Usually there were two concerts a week. I also performed around 30 brass quartet concerts a year in the elementary schools are far away as Red Boiling Springs, Crossville and Shelbyville. I really learned my way around the area.” Radu joined the orchestra with a long contract in 1996. “It was like a part-time job. There were 170 services per season that were poorly paid.” The orchestra later upgraded all part-time contracts to full-time.

A Time of Change

Mary Helen Law & daughter Laurel Borden in 1988

Mary Helen Law & daughter Laurel Borden in 1988

Ann, Cassie and Mary Helen joined the orchestra prior to the 8-week strike in 1985 and 8-month lockout (and Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in 1988). Ann remembers “the city was growing so fast it seemed logical there should be a full-time orchestra; however, convincing fundraisers was not easy.” Cassie said, “I bought my house in September 1987. The NSO went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1988. Scary!” And Mary Helen, who was four months pregnant when the orchestra shut down said, “The lockout was certainly a very difficult high stress time. Our daughter was 16-months old when we heard on the six o’clock news that the symphony was shutting down. For those of us that came to the orchestra with the promising goals of working toward major orchestra status it was a really devastating development. Losing health insurance was also frightening. My son was due [nine days after health insurance ended] so we had to have his birth induced early so the medical bills would be paid. Long-term members have had to fight to get this job to the place we now enjoy.”

Past Present and Future

During her 40-year tenure, Ann has served as an orchestra representative on the NSA board and Nashville Symphony League, and

Ann Richards with husband, assistant principal bassist Glen Wanner along with bassist, Kate Munagian

Ann Richards with husband, assistant principal bassist Glen Wanner along with bassist, Kate Munagian

as chair of the orchestra committee; she has won awards, received an arts grant, served as adjunct faculty for five colleges and universities, co-authored two popular books with her husband, assistant principal bassist, Glen Wanner, and served on the board of Walk Bike Nashville. Over the years Ann has performed numerous solos on flute and tin whistle; she was selected to travel to Mendoza, Argentina to represent the NSO in an orchestra exchange program; she performed twice with the NSO at Carnegie Hall; and her favorite memory was when “Luciano Pavarotti blew me a kiss in rehearsal after we performed a tricky flute/voice duet in one of his arias.” As she leaves the orchestra, Ann plans to “freelance, teach, organize chamber music concerts, spend time with my Native American Indian flutes, write and record music with my jazz guitarist son Marcus Wanner, and do volunteer work.”

Bass & 3rd Clarinetist Dan Lochrie salutes Cassie Lee

Bass & 3rd Clarinetist Dan Lochrie salutes Cassie Lee

During her 38 years in the NSO, Cassie has also been a highly respected and successful member of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music faculty as it’s clarinet instructor and as a member of the Blair Woodwind Quintet. While she stepped back from these duties a few years ago, Cassie plans to continue teaching at Blair for one more year. Her favorite memory was the NSO’s first trip to Carnegie Hall in 2000. Next year Cassie also plans to “help a friend and neighbor renovate a beautiful old stone house he just purchased in my neighborhood.”

For 35 years Mary Helen has enjoyed working with great conductors and good friends such as Peter Oundjian and Enrique Diemecke; artists such as Jessye Norman, Gil Shaham, Andre Watts, Van Cliburn, YoYo Ma, Elmar Oliveira,

[L-R back row] - Licia Jaskunas (NSO principal harp), Michelle Lackey Collins (NSO viola), Mindy Whitely (NSO viola), Beverly Drukker (NSO 1st violin), Dan Reinker (NSO principal viola), Judith Ablon (NSO viola), Stephen Drake (NSO cello), Chris Farrell (NSO viola), ([-R middle row] – Sarah Cote (viola), Katherine Plummer (viola), Mary Helen Law (NSO viola), Laura Ross (NSO 2nd violin), [L-R front row] – Clare Yang (NSO viola), Hari Bernstein (NSO viola) [photo by Larry Borden]

[L-R back row] – Licia Jaskunas (NSO principal harp), Michelle Lackey Collins (NSO viola), Mindy Whitely (NSO viola), Beverly Drukker (NSO 1st violin), Dan Reinker (NSO principal viola), Judith Ablon (NSO viola), Stephen Drake (NSO cello), Chris Farrell (NSO viola), ([-R middle row] – Sarah Cote (viola), Katherine Plummer (viola), Mary Helen Law (NSO viola), Laura Ross (NSO 2nd violin), [L-R front row] – Clare Yang (NSO viola), Hari Bernstein (NSO viola) [photo by Larry Borden]

Fredericka von Stade and a host of others; and her favorite concerts include those with big symphonic works of Richard Strauss, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler. She has been a Suzuki violin and viola teacher during her entire 35-year tenure with the orchestra. “I have had a nice level of success and have had many students who have developed into fine people and musicians whether they have gone into music or other careers.” She has helped raise Cornish Rex cats, and she and husband Larry Borden have turned their second house (where I lived for six years as their tenant) into an Airbnb rental to make additional income. Mary Helen plans to get her teacher trainer certification through the Suzuki Assoc. of the Americas and to continue teaching; she’ll go to the beach more often; and she has become more involved in political activism, having traveled to Washington DC for the Women’s March on January 21, 2017. She promises “I will try not to get arrested.”

Susan K. Smith

Susan K. Smith

After 23 years with the NSO, Susan says Mahler symphonies are still her favorites. Her most memorable concerts were our two concerts at Carnegie Hall, the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and the Amy Grant Tours in the late 1990s. “During my entire tenure with the NSO I have also been the Instructor of Trombone at APSU. I have always had a passion to teach and have had the privilege to work with many college trombone students. It has been a great joy to help these students realize their place in the professional world.” She is proud that many have gone on to be band directors, another is in a Navy Band, and another is Principal Trombone in ‘The President’s Own’ Marine Band. “Next year I will continue to teach students at APSU, give master classes and I also look forward to having time to travel to visit my family and friends. I definitely see more Clearwater Beach time in my future.”

“What happened with the NSO in the 20 years of my activity is way above my imagination,” according to Radu. “From a part-time

Radu Georgescu jams with his neighbor in New Mexico

Radu Georgescu jams with his neighbor in New Mexico

orchestra, it changed into a professional high-quality orchestra with a state of the art concert hall.” He played with orchestras in Cookeville and Murfreesboro, and as Principal Second Violin in the orchestra in Bowling Green. “I will never forget Kenneth’s flying batons…always wanting to express more.” Radu has already found wonderful new friends and neighbors just outside Taos, NM. He said, “By the time I was born, my family had moved to the city (Bucharest), but all my older siblings and cousins had been able to spend time in the country. Now it’s my turn.” It sounds like a wonderful and much simpler life as he described to me how he and his neighbors pitch in to help each other with projects both large and small. “I will keep on fishing and travel (my second big hobby), and number one on my list is driving to Alaska.”

Final Thoughts

All will miss their friends and colleagues in the orchestra, but also look forward to what comes next.

Radu feels blessed, having had a wonderful career participating in two new orchestras, opening two new state-of-the-art concert halls, and playing with exceptional musicians from diverse schools of playing. “I am so fortunate to be part of what I call the NSO miracle. I am confident that new generations and great conductors will carry on the legacy. Can’t see how any city in the nation can be more blessed.”

Cassie’s thoughts were for the orchestra as she expressed concern about the high standards and increased work levels musicians are expected to meet, and that the orchestra has once again turned into a “revolving door orchestra” with 50% turn over the past two years in the woodwind section due to retirements and departures for better paying jobs. “It has become harder and harder for me to hear ‘World Class Orchestra’ and ’11 Grammy Awards’ when the pay just doesn’t match up. My hope for this orchestra is, that one day, in the near future, the musicians will be paid what they are worth.”

 

– Laura Ross, NSO Union Steward (also all photos unless otherwise indicated)

Musician’s Appreciation Dinner 2017

We recently enjoyed a Musician’s Appreciation Dinner, hosted by our Governing Members Engagement Committee – many thanks to them! Besides the fabulous dinner we celebrated our new members; 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversary members, and our upcoming retirees. New Members are Alexander Blazek, Trumpet; Julia Harguindey, Principal Bassoon; and Melissa McCarthy Steinberg, Principal Librarian. Retirees will be Radu Georgescu, Violin; Mary Helen Law, Viola; Cassandra Lee, Assistant Principal Clarinet; Ann Richards, Assistant Principal Flute; and Susan K. Smith, Assistant Principal Trombone.

Musician's Appreciation Dinner

Musician’s Appreciation Dinner

Nashville Ballet at the Schermerhorn!

Normally we travel a few blocks to TPAC to accompany the Ballet, but this time it was a collaboration at our home base, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. And what a show! It has been lauded as maybe the best program of the year, satisfying to both the audience and the artists. On the program were Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Pictures are from Laura Ross and Heather Thorne.

Photo by Heather Thorne

Photo by Heather Thorne

Photo by Laura Ross

Photo by Laura Ross

Photo by Heather Thorne

Photo by Heather Thorne

Photo by Laura Ross

Photo by Laura Ross

Photo by Heather Thorne

Photo by Heather Thorne

Violin Auditions

We just had our longest audition ever – 4 days to listen to all the candidates for 3 Second Violin openings. Here is most of the committee along with the winners. Left to Right: Louise Morrison, Roger Weismeyer, Paul (last name unknown to this writer), Jimin (last name unknown to this writer), Isabel Bartles, Jung-Min Shin, Carrie Bailey, Laura Ross, Jessica Blackwell, and Chris Farrell.

Deck the Hall!

It’s time once for again for our band of elves to decorate the hall for the holiday season!

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Our own ever-festive Associate Concertmaster Gerald Greer supplied and helped set up the trees!

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What do you call four violists Onstage at the Nashville Symphony…

What do you call four violists Onstage at the Nashville Symphony? …A good start! We had a fun time filling the hall with the sumptuous sounds of viola quartets for the Onstage Oct. 26th. We also enjoyed giving a brief history of “everything you wanted to know about the viola but were afraid to ask!” Left to right: Melinda Whitley, Michelle Lackey Collins, Clare Yang, Daniel Reinker.

4violists

Roar!!!

One of our educational ensembles performed a version of Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens at Liberty Elementary School in Franklin this Friday. Complete with slide show! Left to right: Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, violin; Jeremy Williams, violin; Stephen Drake, cello; Clare Yang, viola; Kevin Jablonski, bass.

String Quintet

We welcome our new musicians!

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.

Julia Harguindey, Principal Bassoon

Julia Harguindey, Principal Bassoon

Alec Blazek, Trumpet

Alec Blazek, Trumpet

Melissa McCarthy Steinberg, Principal Librarian

Melissa McCarthy Steinberg, Principal Librarian

Seth MacFarlane

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 –

Seth MacFarlane with the NSO

Seth MacFarlane with the NSO

Kristi Seehafer – Violinist, Runner, Cancer Survivor

Kristi after her 5th half marathon in the New England Challenge

Kristi after her 5th half marathon in the New England Challenge

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.

Womens-Half
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/