An obituary alternative – written with the bias, admiration, and love that only a granddaughter could hold.
(However, I’m pretty sure that many folks would agree that Cornelia Freeman holds a unique position in the history of grand dames.)
Cornelia Rickenbacker Freeman, known variously as Mrs. Robert E. Lee Freeman the Third, Mother, “Corny,” Aunt Cornelia, Great Grandmother, and to me, Grandmother, passed away peacefully on Thursday, November 7, 2013. She is survived by three smart, fair, and caring sons, three daughters-in-law whom she treated just as if they were her own children, 6 grandchildren (7 counting Eliza), 7 great- grandchildren (8 including Eliza’s child, who is on the way), and countless more distant relatives whom she made feel like immediate family. Several family members, including her witty daughter and her serious but kind husband, were fortunate to experience her presence before they passed. In addition, in the wake of her indomitable spirit, she leaves countless musicians for whom her support made the difference between a life without and a life with music.
“She lived a full life and touched many people” is a common sentiment heard at the loss of most centenarians. And, certainly this phrase rings true for Grandmother. But, the same would have been said of her as a teenager, when she won awards in music and writing and rode her horse King Tut to school. Or, as a piano student at Columbia College, where her experience was so positive that she continued to support the women at that school with scholarships and encouragement until her final days. As a young wife, during the depression, she learned to “reuse and recycle,” employing skills that could turn her into the official icon of the current day environmental movement. Unfortunately, she never embraced the “reduce” concept, keeping everything from straw wrappers to potato chip bags, from Vienna sausage containers to crushed up eggshells. (Yes – she had a purpose for all of these items, but that’s for a later and much longer writing project.) As a mother, she taught her children to work hard, save money and give, give, give. And, as a grandmother, she babysat, gave cooking lessons, taught us which fork to use and how to pass the salt and pepper (always together), and encouraged us to be ourselves.
Grandmother’s full time job was to uplift – her family, her friends, her musicians, and her community. She helped to found the South Carolina Philharmonic and gleefully attended concerts well into her hundreds. She sponsored a chamber music series at the University of South Carolina that allowed faculty to be adventurous music makers while raising money for student scholarships. She spent several years visiting the Brevard Music Center, and there’s even a practice cabin bearing the Freeman name. She was Vice President of the National Federation of Music Clubs, and joyfully administered their scholarship programs for several years. She attended as many classical music concerts as she could, reveling in the excitement and refinement of live performances. A few of the hundreds of musicians that benefitted from her generosity of spirit include concert cellist Zuill Bailey, Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim, and me.
For this she asked nothing in return. Although she seemed to enjoy being the belle of the ball (must be genetic), she did not want people beholden to her. When she received an honorary doctorate from Columbia College, her speech was short and elegant, completely outclassing the longwinded and self-aggrandizing thank you words one might hear from similar honorees. Her sponsorship of the USC chamber music concerts had no strings attached when it came to repertoire. And, for this particular musician, all she asked of me was to try not to burn my candle at both ends. Most of our conversations in the last ten years ended that way. I’m afraid I’m failing her on that point.
Grandmother traveled the world, watched Lawrence Welk, served canned Mandarin oranges, had a vivid imagination, and loved pretty shoes. She remembered every detail of every object and person in her life, and would gladly recount those details in her lilting southern voice to anyone who would listen. She read books, from the Bible to historical accounts of her hometown of Cameron, SC, took notes on scrap paper, and used as bookmarks any relevant news items that she cut out from the South Carolina State. In one person, she embodied the characters of Southern Belle, Farm Girl, Politician’s Wife, Strict Mother, Arts Patron, and Doting Grandmother. She encouraged me to wear pants to “the club;” she took me to see Rostropovich; she taught me how to make grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron; she warned me to clean between my toes; and she served Breyer’s ice cream and lemon pound cake on precious china that had a story attached. She flew out to California for my birth, attended my graduations, and read the Irish Blessing at my wedding.
When thinking of her passing, I am drawn to the final movement of the Brahms Requiem that has the following text: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” (Yes, it’s from Revelations, but I always think music first.) In Grandmother’s case, this couldn’t be more true. She lived her life on earth over the past 101 years in such a way that her work will live on in those she uplifted.
On October 19 and 20, 2013, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed Verdi’s Requiem. The chorus, prepared by Erin Freeman and standing in double choir formation, received stellar press. In Letter V, Virginia’s Classical Music Blog, Clarke Bustard said: “Intense quiet was one of the most effective tones of voice in this choral performance. From the opening “Requiem” through the conclusion of the Mass, the Symphony Chorus created striking effects of shadowed tone and distance in its sotto voce singing. In louder and more turbulent passages, notably the recurrent Dies Irae, the choristers projected energy and passion, and demonstrated gratifying attending to detail in more complex sections.” Anne Timberlake, in the Richmond Times Dispatch, wrote “Perhaps most satisfying were the crisp consonants and dynamic contrasts of the perennially fine Richmond Symphony Chorus. Like that sizzling bacon, the chorus, a community institution for many decades now, seldom fails to sate.” Read the full reviews here: Letter V and Richmond Times Dispatch.
The Richmond Symphony, under the direction of Erin Freeman, welcomed the Classical Mystery Tour to a completely sold out house on September 28th. Audience members sang, clapped, and waved their lighters (smartphones) in the air to famous tunes such as Eleanor Rigby, Let it Be, and Hey Jude.
Erin will work with the Fab Four again on March 1, when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates the British Invasion at Kleinhans Music Hall.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, now entering its 77th historic year of bringing excellent choral performances to Western New York, has announced the appointed of Erin Freeman as Music Director.
In this position, Freeman will conduct the chorus in several performances throughout the season, including Handel’s Messiah and the Buffalo premiere of Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man, and prepare the ensemble for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, music director JoAnn Falletta. In addition, she will conduct the BPO in multiple concerts throughout the season.
Sample Press Coverage:
…or Dynamic Music, or Organic Music, or Art Music, or Retro Music, or…
I’ve sat in countless meetings and forums with the ominous title “THE FUTURE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC.” (Cue dramatic tremelos in the low strings). Usually, these gatherings consist of folks like me who have been in the industry for a while trying to figure out the key to making sure our beloved “Classical Music” (quotes intentional, see below) survives, or even better, thrives. We throw around phrases such as “broadening our audience,” “serving our community,” “expanding our repertoire,” “embracing diversity” and “discovering our relevance.” We discuss these as ways to make sure our organizations have good ticket sales, hefty audiences, and growing endowments. We often discuss the term “Classical Music” itself as an old-fashioned and out-of-date label, and ponder what term will instantly turn our localized obsession into a world-wide commercial phenomenon.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with the need to discuss these phrases, and those of you who know me probably also know that I strive to practice the concepts of inclusion and relevance, among others, in my work. Whether it’s creating a video about Mozart Requiem, developing a concert program that connects to third graders, or giving a lecture (now a blog post) called “Why,” I am the first to do whatever I can to get the message out about this soul-nourishing art I love so much.
But, what always seems odd to me is the personnel present at these discussions. Usually it consists of conductors, musicians, board members, and staff members – folks who have been doing this a long time and have already invested several years in the art form. Often, these folks talk about pop music as The Beatles, Queen, or the Rolling Stones, whereas the audiences we are after don’t even have these bands on their iPods. (Can you imagine?) Beethoven, for us, is a given, but several college students don’t even know he was deaf. (I learned this the hard way while teaching a music appreciation class). Often, we have to spend hours in the Apple store being taught how to use a device that seems like a natural extension of most 20 year olds’ arms.
What do we REALLY know about our potential audiences, our community, and our relevance? How can we be sure that the image we are portraying will connect to that massive audience we so wish to attract? To find that out, we have to ask the right people.
Last month, I had the great fortune of teaching/conducting at the Richmond Symphony/Virginia Commonwealth University Orchestra Project Summer Camp. It was a week long program comprised of: 1 – teenagers who want to be professional musicians and wanted to learn what it takes; 2 – teenagers who like playing music and wanted to have some fun; and 3 – teenagers who (as much as I hate to admit it) were forced to play music and go to summer camp because it was good for them.
During one of our elective classes, Susanna Klein (my co-instructor) and I decided to have the typical “FUTURE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC” discussion with these students. We thought: Let’s ask the right people. Imagine: a serious discussion, asking the hard questions of relevance, diversity, image, and repertoire, with kids of various levels of interest and ability ages 12-18. The outcome far exceeded our expectation. Here are just a few of the brilliant and honest ideas that came out of these two hours.
When it came up that many folks are intimidated by “Classical Music”, here were some of the responses:
To the question “Is ‘Classical Music’ relevant?” we received several thoughtful answers:
We asked if and how we should change the name “Classical Music” to help folks get over their fear of the complexity or boredom that is associated with it – and also to reflect the fact that “Classical Music” now embraces so many difference musical traditions? Here are just a few responses:
Granted, these students have some experience playing a musical instrument, so they aren’t total newbies, but these aren’t students who spend hours a day thinking about these kinds of questions. In fact, many were surprised that people thought ‘Classical Music’ was dying or had a diversity problem at all.
For me, it was refreshing to get out of the typical overly analytical mindset of an obsessed conductor and compare orchestral music to organic food, an orchestra to a cover band, and harmony to Shakespeare. And, it was heartening to know that if these kids are any indication, ‘Classical Music,’ er…I mean Dynamic Music, is here to stay.
Once again, the Richmond Symphony’s Education and Community Engagement department (artistically led by Erin Freeman) has made the news for making a difference. The Chesterfield Monthly published this informative and exciting article about the RSO’s thriving education initiatives, including a longstanding relationship with Monacan High School.
After two successive years of selling out its Discovery Concert Series, under the direction of Erin Freeman, the Richmond Symphony has committed to expanding its offerings in the 13-14 season. Now, schools will be able to offer teachers high quality symphony performances for their students in Pre-K through grade 3, grade 3 through middle school, and high school.
This has been my month in music – not including covering and scores I’m preparing for future months. It is just the music that I have actively conducted. The list is roughly chronological, seemingly random, and certainly eclectic. It gives a clear idea of the odd soundtrack that has been running through my head in the last 31 days. In any given hour of silence, an internal hum flows almost seamlessly from Copland to the Can Can, from Mozart to Sinatra. It can get very confusing.
Conducted in Performance: Handel’s Messiah (Complete); Bernstein – West Side Story Overture; Gershwin – Crazy Girl Overture; Rat Pack Pops – way too many songs to count – about 20; Pictures at an Exhibition (5 movements); Three Cornered Hat (Jota); Poulenc Sinfonietta (4th movement); Mozart 40 (1st movement); Red Pony (Finale); Dvorak Symphony 8 (2nd movement); Abels – Outburst; The Typewriter; Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto (1st movement); Hoe Down; Khachaturian – Waltz from Masquerade; Morton Gould – Tap Dance Concerto; Can Can; It Don’t Mean a Thing; Mozart – Jupiter (1st movement); Mozart – Aria and Duets from Marriage of Figaro and Magic Flute; Offenbach – Barcarolle; The Cat Duet; Faure – Masques et Bergamasques; Pergolesi – Stabat Mater
Currently, I long for some time with just one piece or even just one composer. (Heck – I’ll take one time period, or even one genre). To dive into one sound world intensively for a few weeks would be glorious. I could explore timbre, articulations, historical references, and dynamic ranges. I could read intriguing biographies on the composers, study the performance practices, and truly take the time to research editions.
But alas, such is the life of the associate conductor. And, you know, it’s just fine. There are a few benefits to this wide spectrum of repertoire. I can draw connections between Messiah and Mozart. I can use Mozart to inspire my work on Faure (Faure probably did!). Highlighting silences in Dvorak reminds me to be patient in the long rests of the Pergolesi. Listening to the swing of Sinatra helps me relax into the jazzy rhythms of Abels.
For now, however, I’m looking forward to the next three hours of my life. All Vaughan Williams – all the time. Then, this afternoon: music from Pixar films, Mozart Requiem, Kiss me Kate, and William Grant Still Afro-American Symphony.
Conducting is my job. I certainly don’t need reminding that I’m unbelievably lucky to have the best seat at every concert, to work with some of the most interesting and creative people around, and to receive applause when I show up for and leave work. (Having a consultant for a husband, I’m reminded that this is a rarity in the work place). Sometimes, however, in the midst of e-mail chains, attendance reports, and budget numbers, I need to reconnect myself to the wonder of where I am. To that end, I have been working on a list – a list of concerts and musical moments that have inspired me to love music even more and to become a better musician. Every once in a while, I’ll post them here.
There are certainly more than ten, so I’m breaking the list down into smaller lists. Here are the first three. And, for the record, the order holds no meaning or hierarchy.
Prokofiev 5th Symphony with the Baltimore Symphony. Yuri Temirkanov, Conducting. 200?.
The clarinet line in the last movement as played in this performance in 200? still resonates with me and is the standard-bearer by which I judge all other interpretations. Temirkanov shaped the longest, most soaring of lines while simultaneously infusing the middle ground and bass line with unbridled energy and specificity. This without saying a word in rehearsals (which I had the great fortune of attending) about the dichotomy inherent in such a contrast. His gesture, his eyes, and his unwavering sense of inner rhythm made it happen naturally.
Beethoven 7th symphony with the Boston Symphony. Leonard Bernstein, conducting. 1990.
I had no idea this would be Bernstein’s last concert – it wasn’t announced, as is usually the case for a great opera singer’s swan song or a football player’s final playoff before retirement. But, as I sat in the shed at Tanglewood, I knew that this occasion was historic. What I found inspiring, once I got past the star-struck feeling of seeing Mr. Bernstein in person, was the relationship between him and the orchestra. When he stopped conducting in the third movement, leaning back on the bar to keep himself upright, the entire orchestra (and audience, for that matter) stepped up to the plate. As a highschool student who had diligently watched conductors from the ensemble and the audience, it had never occurred to me that a work like Beethoven 7 could be done without conductor. That was a complete revelation! Now, however, I understand that the orchestra continued not despite his lack of presence at that moment, but because of his presence before that moment. His rehearsals, his legacy, his nurturing, his reputation, his musicianship, his controversy – all of these attributes made him a conductor that could inspire an orchestra to proceed without him.
And, of course, Beethoven had something to do with it, too.
For more on my Bernstein obsession, read The Bernstein File (not to be confused with Alex Ross’s The Bernstein Files).
Andrew Bird – Performing at the National Theatre, Richmond, VA. 2009
What was it about this show that now places it alongside those by Temirkanov and Bernstein? Andrew’s talent is, of course, immense. He plays violin, guitar, glockenspiel and more. His voice is colorful and soulful. His looping is masterful. And he can whistle like a madman. But, I’ve heard many talented musicians whose concerts haven’t struck me in the way Andrew’s did.
To be completely honest, I initially attended Andrew’s show to simply support him. I really didn’t know much of his music. A classmate of mine at Northwestern, Andrew seemed to embrace the the brilliance of Classical music while simultaneously eschewing the rigidity of its definition. Years after graduation, I saw him on a late night show, and this apparent dichotomy made perfect sense. So, when he came to Richmond, I made it a point to get good seats so I could really hear and watch.
From my vantage point hanging over the balcony rail, Andrew’s music and performance struck me as completely unique. I don’t get many opportunities to hear music (or even a kind of music) that I have never heard before. So, the newness of it all resonated with me. However, what made this uniqueness truly unique, so to speak, was the honesty with which Andrew approached his individualism. His totally fresh approach to music related in a genuine way to him. It wasn’t unique for unique’s sake, it was simply Andrew Bird.
And, it was awesome.