I've been a member of the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra since 2007 and it has been a wonderful experience. A wonderful part of it has been the orchestra's warm and productive partnership with MassBay Community College. MassBay (which serves about 6,000 students) has been the home of the Wellesley Symphony since 1984.
As part of our responsibilities as the Orchestra-in-Residence, we are part of Mass Bay's commencement ceremonies. We play a short concert prior to the start of the ceremonies, the well-known processional, Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance, March #1, and recessional music at the close of the ceremony.
The first commencement I played in, in 2008, was quite an eye opener. The enthusiasm of the Mass Bay grads, families, and friends is simply incredible. When one gets a sense of how hard these students work - many of the graduates have one job and most have two -- the journeys of many just to get to Mass Bay, much less to graduate, are quite inspirational.
One extra treat is to accompany singers of the national anthem for commencement (standing in front of a good orchestra is one of the coolest experiences!) This past May we were pleased to play behind Tahlia Butler, who did a terrific job. It was wonderful to watch Tahlia working with Mark Latham, our music director, at rehearsal and the performance went off without a hitch.
For commencement the orchestra is seated with just enough space that's shaped something like a shallow, wide crescent. Instead of being in the middle (behind the woodwinds, in front of the percussion for a typical concert,) we (trumpets) found ourselves against the tent in the far left just behind the lower strings. I suspect that the woodwinds were relieved to be out of the typical trumpet-induced mayhem, and we did have a rare thrill hanging out with the violas.
Another big difference between commencements and anything else is the musical downtime. Once we're done with our 'pre' concert and procession music, we've got a lot of time to ourselves until we resume for the recessional. Some of the players read or talk -- for example, this year I learned a few things about double reeds while eavesdropping on a conversation between our principal oboist and principal bassoonist.
For me it's mostly wandering outside the tent and chatting up Mass Bay staff and security and other WSO players. It's nice to get a chance to just talk with other players, some of whom (like those mysterious string players) I've never really met. Throughout all this we follow the progress of names in the program. Then, all-of-a-sudden, we need to find our way back into the tent for the recessional. This year we closed with the entire Pomp & Circumstance Marches #1 and #4; Elgar wrote five of them -- the performance of the first one in 1901 was a 'frantic success.' We hear that 'land of hope and glory' theme a lot, of course, but the piece overall is quite something. In any case, I say a quick trumpeter's prayer to not crack my first notes, and we're off to celebrate another great class of Mass Bay graduates.
Chris Ten Eyck