Growing up, my arts education was delivered through a number of different outlets. My parents had been lifelong supporters of the arts and often took my sister and me to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s children’s concerts on Saturday mornings. When I was five, I started taking piano lessons from a neighbor, an activity that lasted nine years and three instructors. I started playing the oboe, which continues to be my primary instrument, when I was in fourth grade. My teacher for the first seven years of my studies was the principal oboist in the local symphony orchestra.
My memories of attending concerts of the all-volunteer Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra are precious because of the connection I felt to the ensemble; the leaders of each section were my musical heroes, as they were, more often than not, my music teachers in the local public schools by day.
My oboe teacher taught strings at several nearby elementary schools. The orchestra’s tuba player would become my middle school band director. The ensemble’s founder and music director also taught orchestra classes at the local middle and high school and would become a close friend of my family. The faces of these musicians were not confined to the stage; they appeared throughout the community and local schools as well.
On Saturday night, I performed as a guest soloist with the orchestra, performing British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Oboe and Strings. The performance was a surreal experience for me, having sat in the orchestra’s audience countless times while I was growing up, watching numerous other musicians appear as soloists. My role as a guest of the orchestra’s provided me with the opportunity to reflect on the ensemble’s place in my musical education.
My oboe teacher passed away very suddenly when I was a junior in high school. A fantastically energetic and musical presence, the void that she left in the orchestra and community at large continues to be felt to this day. Being able to perform as an oboe soloist with the very orchestra that she defined for so many years was an overwhelming honor, for, were it not for her experiences with the orchestra and her inclusion of me in them, I would certainly not be the musician that I am today.
My connections to the orchestra, however, run deeper than my relationship with my late oboe teacher. SSO concerts were the most frequent orchestral experiences I had as a child and inspired me to become the musician I continue to aspire to be. The orchestra’s conductor led me in my first solo performance with my high school orchestra when I was a senior. After my oboe teacher’s death, I executed my ultimate childhood dream and even performed as a member of the orchestra on multiple occasions.
I attended numerous orchestra concerts while growing up, traveling to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York to achieve the best cultural experiences possible. Some performances stick out in my mind because of their undisputable artistic quality, but I feel certain that those to which I had a distinct personal connection are most likely to remain a part of me no matter where I am in the arts.
Until this weekend, I had only ever considered the importance of the “local” to be related to food. After my recent reflective experiences, however, I realize that it is all things local that made possible my endeavors into a broader artistic sphere. Anyone with any sort of investment in the performing arts should recognize the value of those experiences right outside their front door; it is these local opportunities that make culture available to everyone and not just the elite few in larger, metropolitan areas.
An ad in Saturday night’s program read:
The SSO Memorial Fund is an important part of the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra’s ability to sustain its commitment to providing a quality orchestral music experience to Harford County residents. Begun by a bequest from Sibyl Davis Gunther, long time violinist and patron, the Memorial Fund will provide operating funds for the orchestra from interest generated while leaving the principal intact.
Ms. Gunther was clearly not interested in supporting the most internationally renowned orchestra composed of members with the most impressive musical training. Instead, she chose to honor that artistic experience to which she found the most profound connection – the orchestra that had given her the most rewarding and personal experiences, both as a musician and an audience member.