North Carolina Symphony
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Here’s your opportunity to ask our musicians all your burning questions about the wide world of classical and pops music! You can ask about anything from the intellectual to the silly. You can direct it to a specific section (horns, bass, etc.) or in general. Don't forget the crew, conductors and librarians too! We’ll ask the appropriate North Carolina Symphony musician to provide an answer.

Email your question to  askamusician@ncsymphony.org and watch this page for a response. We will post the reply as soon as we can!

Also join us for "Ask a Musician" live at certain concerts in Meymandi Concert Hall. North Carolina Symphony musicians will be in the lobby during intermission to take on your questions in person. This will be announced from the stage at the start of each applicable concert.

 
Your Questions and Answers!
Recent Questions:
When you play in several cities on consecutive nights, how are the logistics handled? Do all of you go back to the Raleigh area each night on the buses, do you stay overnight in the city where you perform, or does it vary for each participant?

I have been using a Bach 11C mouthpiece for years on my trombone. Are there any others I should consider for playing Trombone 1?

What is the name of the tiny chimes that are played by the percussion musicians?

This one is for the stage crew! I am a recording arts major at Full Sail university. I was wondering what kind of tasks the crew works through for every show.

I'm 57 and I work as a lawyer for EPA. I have some free time, and for more than 40 years I've want to play a violin. If I found someone to give me lessons, would it be possible to actually learn to play before I'm 80?

I realize the orchestra director has a very important role in any orchestra. But once the piece is rehearsed and ready to be played in front of an audience, is the director still as necessary?

What was that "black box" in front of Maestro Llewellyn on stage? Our current bets: (1) he was surreptitiously watching a Welsh football game on TV; (2) he was reading the script of the relevant operas, and (3) it was a speaker linked to Jimmy Gilmore giving advice to the maestro?

When did you realize you wanted to become a professional musician with a symphony? Is there one specific event you can recall?

What is the difference in the sound quality between the push valve trumpet generally used by the trumpet section and the rotary valve trumpet used in certain pieces of music, and why is the rotary valve trumpet preferred in those pieces of music?

How much does the weather affect you or your instrument?

What is the most unique quality (greatest strength) of the North Carolina Symphony that should be consistently communicated to various stakeholders and others who are completely unfamiliar with the orchestra?


For a double bass player, what was your worst (funniest?) travel experience with your oversized instrument?

Question: When you play in several cities on consecutive nights, how are the logistics handled? Do all of you go back to the Raleigh area each night on the buses, do you stay overnight in the city where you perform, or does it vary for each participant?

Answer:
As you know, we are based in Raleigh, where we have all our rehearsals and a significant number of concerts in Meymandi Concert Hall. Of course, there is a great tradition with the NCS to travel to locations all across the state. When traveling away from Raleigh, most of the musicians travel on the two buses we lease for our tours, although musicians may choose to drive on their own. Places with a great variety of restaurants often have musicians driving. We want them to be at the concert site on time – which they always do! We generally return to Raleigh after the concert.


Answer posted by:
David Lewis, Principal Tuba & Orchestra Personnel Manager


Question: I have been using a Bach 11C mouthpiece for years on my trombone. Are there any others I should consider for playing Trombone 1?

Answer:
Depending on the size of trombone you are using, you might consider a 7C mouthpiece. It will still give you a solid high register and let you add a little more Teutonic definition (i.e., let you blow the heck out of it). I use the equivalent of a 3G myself, but I don’t suggest that size for people who want to consider having more children or avoid having a stroke any time soon. Hope that helps.


Answer posted by:
John Ilika, Principal Trombone


Question:
What is the name of the tiny chimes that are played by the percussion musicians?

Answer:
We used bells, chimes and xylophone for the Christmas Pops on the road. The xylophone has wooden bars. The bells have metal bars and are pitched one octave higher than the xylophone. The chimes are tubes of metal hanging on a long rack and are played with plastic or leather hammers. The chime pitch is in the xylophone range. We did use a bell tree for one tune but it is not a keyboard but a series of concentrically placed metallic rings so that one can slide a brass-balled mallet over them to produce a bright "chinging" sound.


Answer posted by:
Richard Motylinski, Percussion Principal


Question:
This one is for the stage crew! I am a recording arts major at Full Sail university. I was wondering what kind of tasks the crew works through for every show.

Answer:
The crew's duty starts during production meetings weeks in advance of a show. I get together with the other members of the artistic staff and talk over logistics such as stage space, number of musicians for each piece, specialty instruments used, orchestra configuration, stage moves, etc. Once the week of that show comes around on the calendar, we usually deal with rehearsals early in the week. We use this time to map out all our technical moves and needs. We take care of the lighting focus as well as any audio required. After a lifetime of staring at tiny black squiggles on a white page, the average orchestral musician is in need of excellent lighting on their music! On Thursdays after rehearsals end, we pack up the entire thing and take it on the road. We then start from scratch and do it all over again in a new concert space. With the amount of traveling we do, it can be quite challenging to make our orchestra fit into different halls all over our state. Thursdays to us are like Mondays to the 9-5 workforce! Then we pack it all back up and head back to Raleigh and finish our weekend shows back home.
We are the first people in the building and the last to leave. We put in some heavy hours and we all have some bruises by the end of the week, but our reward is having a world class orchestra playing some of the greatest music ever written as our background music. Most folks have to be content with NPR on the radio.


Answer posted by:
Travis Creed, Stage Manager



Question:
I'm 57 and I work as a lawyer for EPA. I have some free time, and for more than 40 years I've want to play a violin. If I found someone to give me lessons, would it be possible to actually learn to play before I'm 80?

Answer:
The sooner you start the better. It will take time and patience but you sound like you've had this wish to play for a long time. I encourage you to get started! Though you may not completely master the instrument, you can have a lot of fun and joy with music and the violin even as a novice. There is a fantastic book, "A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Playing the Violin", by Leopold Mozart that discusses the violin and teaching/learning it. Leopold was the father and teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This book is incredible and you'll feel like you've had a lesson with unarguably one of the finest teachers ever! Best of luck with your endeavors!
p.s. If you need help locating a teacher, please contact the symphony offices.


Answer posted by:
Rebekah Binford, Assistant Concertmaster



Question:
I realize the orchestra director has a very important role in any orchestra. But once the piece is rehearsed and ready to be played in front of an audience, is the director still as necessary? Could the orchestra play just as well on its own? Sometimes musicians barely look at director at all...

Answer:
The music director in an orchestra acts as a unifying force amongst a group of people who have individual ideas and contributions. While we need to listen and play with our colleagues a large group of people spread out on a stage would have difficulty communicating with each other enough to stay together all the time. In order to arrive at the first concert with any sort of cohesive performance, especially with limited rehearsal time as in a professional orchestra, there needs to be a willingness on the part of the musicians to follow the leadership of one particular person. That being said the conductor of course is relying on the skill and the experience of the individual musicians to produce a quality product as a group. It is a team effort. The basic decisions that a conductor would make would be tempo, dynamics and balance. The less tangible things a conductor can have an effect on are mood, character or style that sometimes are more sensed then explained. This is also the thing that can be most variable from one performance to the next. Something as simple as an expression on their face or the smoothness of their motion has an effect on how we play. Music that is rhythmically complicated often requires from the conductor a strict time that allows the musicians to fit often very difficult parts into the texture. As far as how the musicians look at the director; this can be deceiving from a distance. We need to focus on reading the music in front of us but we do watch what the conductor is doing peripherally. When transitions in tempo or style are about to occur we tend to focus a little more directly on the conductor. So to answer your question I would say that yes, overall the presence of the conductor is necessary.


Answer posted by:
Kimberly Van Pelt, Associate Principal French Horn



Question: What was that "black box" in front of Maestro Llewellyn on stage? Our current bets: (1) he was surreptitiously watching a Welsh football game on TV; (2) he was reading the script of the relevant operas, and (3) it was a speaker linked to Jimmy Gilmore giving advice to the maestro?

Answer:
(1) Had it been Welsh t.v., it would have been Rugby (a bit like American football, but for real men!). (2) when it comes to foreign language operas, i always just fake it. (3) now that Jimmy Gilmore is our "Senior Advisor", I have a hotline dedicated just to him... No, the box was my own personal "foldback" speaker through which I had a feed from the soloists' microphones, so that I could hear their slightest nuances of phrasing, given that they were downstage of me, and therefore difficult to hear acoustically.


Answer posted by:
Grant Llewellyn, Music Director



Question: When did you realize you wanted to become a professional musician with a symphony? Is there one specific event you can recall?

Answer: I can remember writing about wanting to be a music teacher when I was in the second grade. I took piano lessons, my older sister played the clarinet, and my dad loved classical music. I started playing the flute in the fourth grade, and by the time I was in junior high school, I loved classical music and played in the youth symphony in my hometown, Alton, Illinois. I attended summer music camp at the University of Illinois and played in a really good orchestra made up of musicians from all over the state. I knew by the time I was about 14 or 15 that I wanted to play in a symphony for my career.

In high school, I took up the tenor saxophone to play in the jazz band. (I was the only girl in the band -- coincidence? I think not.) I also taught myself the oboe, which I've always been really glad to have done, as I understand the instrument that sits to my left for my entire career. I'm sure I sounded awful on the oboe, thanks to crummy store-bought reeds.
I went to college to study the flute and got bachelor's and master's degrees. I practiced, practiced, and practiced some more. Then the auditions started. That's a whole different long story, involving flying all over the country, losing many auditions, winning a couple, and ending up in Raleigh, where I met my husband the first week I was here, living next door to me! That was 24 years ago. Now we're doing the college search for our son, who is a junior at Green Hope High. And our 12-year-old daughter plays -- guess what -- the piano and flute. We've come full-circle!


Answer posted by:
Anne Laney, Principal Flute



Question: What is the difference in the sound quality between the push valve trumpet generally used by the trumpet section and the rotary valve trumpet used in certain pieces of music, and why is the rotary valve trumpet preferred in those pieces of music?

Answer: The rotary valve trumpets in general have a darker, less brilliant sound than our normal American piston valve trumpets. The difference in sound is not so much due to the valve system as to the size of the bore and the shape of the bell . The rotary trumpets have a smaller bore and larger bell, which accounts for the sound difference. They are used exclusively in Germany and Austria. There has been a big trend toward playing these instruments here in the states on the German/Austrian repertoire so as to sound more like the German/Austrian orchestras. Also, it's easier to blend in with the orchestra on the rotary. While we have used the rotary trumpets a lot in the past, we have come to the conclusion that there is no advantage to using them in Meymandi Concert Hall. The sound is very blended in our hall and it's more of a problem to be heard clearly out front than it is to blend in with the group. So we have not used them lately but may sometime in the future. Click here to see photos of rotary trumpets.


Answer posted by:
Paul Randall, Principal Trumpet


Question: How much does the weather affect you or your instrument? Do temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rain, wind and other weather-related factors present difficult challenges, particularly when you are performing outdoors or when your instruments are transported in the heat or cold and then carried indoors into conditioned space for a performance?

Answer: Weather has a huge effect on the string instruments as well as some of the winds. (My best friend is an oboist and her instrument has also cracked from cold temperatures.) I don't know if it really affects brass instruments. As the humidity and heat can affect any type of wood it can wreak havoc with violins, violas, basses and cellos. There can be cracking when it's too dry or cold, melting of varnish if it's too hot and the general expansion and contraction of the wood from the humidity. Also, as most of the string instruments are very old, they become more sensitive to weather changes. That is one of the reasons why many of the string players actually have more than one instrument, using a "second" violin, for example, for outdoor concerts. It is also why we have contractual boundaries for the weather/temperature conditions under which the orchestra will play.


Answer posted by:
So Yun Kim, Violin


Question: What is the most unique quality (greatest strength) of the North Carolina Symphony that should be consistently communicated to various stakeholders and others who are completely unfamiliar with the orchestra?

Answer: The North Carolina Symphony's mission of statewide service since the early 1940's makes it truly unique among American orchestras. The NCS was founded in 1932, but it was the General Assembly's "Horn Tootin' Bill" of 1943 which marked the true beginning of our travels around the state. Annually, we log thousands of miles crossing North Carolina, playing classical, pops, and educational programs. These concerts are presented in settings ranging from modest school gymnasiums to modern concert halls. In addition to our travels, we play dozens of concerts in our home base, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh.

The orchestra's unusual history is also its greatest strength. In most orchestras, the musicians only see each other at rehearsals and concerts. Here at the NCS, the musicians also spend many hours together on the road. Together, we have become acquainted with audiences around the state. This collective experience has created a close-knit group of musicians, a kind of extended family.

As a member of the NCS for 22 years, I have often heard expressions of gratitude from audience members who first attended our concerts as children years ago. In many of our educational concerts, we are playing for audiences who have never seen an orchestra before. It is a special privilege to introduce orchestral music to the next generation. And I can say that our musicians are grateful as well for the opportunity to serve as ambassadors for classical music around our state. It can truly be said that the North Carolina Symphony is "the people's orchestra."


Answer posted by:
Elizabeth Anderton Lunsford, Flute


Question:
For a double bass player, what was your worst (funniest?) travel experience with your oversized instrument?

Answer: My experiences of traveling with a large musical instrument vary from somewhat funny to really, really bad. There was the time I let a stranger use my 1967 Pontiac to take his driver's test in Cheyenne, Wyoming, leaving me in the parking lot of that cowboy hotel with my bass and all that luggage as he drove off! I've been through a turnstile of the NYC subway system with bass, music, luggage and umbrella all at the same time.

Until the mid 1990's one could still travel with a bass on board a 747 jet aircraft as long as you purchased a half price ticket and it sat at a bulkhead, usually in the front row of the cabin. One time I was on board with the bass in the front seat when the flight attendant chief got a look at me and the bass and decided we had to move. I had seen pictures of a bass strapped into a seat upside down, so we tried that in another bulkhead in the back but still that wasn't good enough. Soon thereafter we were visiting with the pilots in their cabin where it was suggested that the bass could lie in the little sick bed. Lastly, a seat in first class was cleared and we got to sit the bass up there with of all people-an engineer who's job it was to design aircraft interiors. By then it had taken at least 15 minutes, delaying flights on the O'hare International Airport tarmac while I carried the bass up and down that entire passenger cabin!

One summer in California my scenic train trip between San Francisco and Santa Barbara was canceled due to a washout somewhere down the line and I had to transfer from Amtrak to Greyhound. There I was with my big bass, a bicycle and several pieces of luggage on the sidewalk with maybe 30 minutes to spare and not a taxi in sight. I walked all of that stuff the five or six blocks to the bus station and managed to get on. It was a miserable bus ride.

Another time a uniformed airline employee offered me a ride while walking off the plane in San Francisco with the bass. Before long I was in the wagon with him and all my stuff when he suggested a side trip to the Sutro Baths! No bath for me or the bass...

The bass and I were on the train one fine fall day and it was in the overhead luggage rack. My neighbor across the aisle inquired "What is that thang, a banjo?"

Some years ago I drove two basses up to 42nd Street in New York City to have them appraised by a famous dealer, but there was no where to park in front so I had to shuttle both basses by foot from a parking lot several blocks away. There's more, but I don't want to ever fly with a bass again.


Answer posted by:
Erik Dyke, Double Bass


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