Last year a friend of mine offered a really great idea to help our orchestra. This person is a long-time member of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. When I suggested this person talk with our management, the response was “No, no one wants to hear from someone my age.” I was taken aback and saddened by this comment from someone who has done fine work in the SLSO. Others in previous orchestras I’ve performed with have expressed similar sentiments.
This is not unique to orchestras. It’s part of life in many fields, and frankly, I believe it is short-sighted. I dare say it is even disrespectful, as those who go before us pave the path that we are lucky enough to walk upon. In the case of orchestras, past musicians fought for better working conditions and better salaries. I am thankful for every one of them.
Before rehearsal one day with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, veteran principal bassoonist Nelson Dayton was warming up and talking about changes in his playing as he grew older. I asked him what had changed the most in his playing. “Tonguing!” he almost shouted. He went on to talk about how much harder he had to work as he aged in order to achieve the same results. He gave me tips on how to work. As a 27-year old who could tongue easily I didn’t understand, but I filed it away. Now that I am in my fifties I totally get it and am grateful for his insights. Nelson was a gracious, caring man who became a mentor to me. If I had not asked for his advice or had neglected listening to him, I would have lost valuable information….and lost an opportunity to be friends with a fine musician.
I would like to suggest that we buck the trend of ignoring older musicians. Go to players outside your circle of friends and age group. Ask questions about their families and about their approach to music. Ask them to tell stories about weird conductors or tour mishaps.
But go even deeper: respect them and BE THEIR FRIEND. You will learn many valuable musical…and life…lessons.
Thank you, Nelson Dayton, for your mentoring and friendship.