Illustration by Andrew Nebhut
On March 30, the Trinity Symphony Orchestra played a concert so full that we had to turn people away at the door due to the building fire code. I’m here to tell you that this matters a lot.
When I first came to Trinity three years ago, it wasn’t because of the music program. I was lured to Texas from Washington by scholarship money, a vague positive feeling about the school and pretty much nothing else. After I committed, I started to do some snooping and discovered that it was the orchestra director Joseph Kneer’s first year, too.
For our first concert that year, I didn’t play a single piece that I hadn’t played before, which was something of a letdown. We were never a bad orchestra, but we hadn’t had a director stay for more than a year or two in a while. Kneer changed this.
Every concert after this, we ramped up the difficulty. Looking to the success of Gary Seighman with the chamber singers and the guidance of James Worman with the symphonic wind ensemble, Dr. Kneer started pushing us forward for bigger and better things. There was (and still is) plenty of trial and error with things like playing evaluations and sectionals as Kneer tries to find the most effective model for the Trinity student musician, but there has never been hesitation.
On March 30, we had a guest soloist: the incredibly talented Jinjoo Cho, playing Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. In the past, we have worked with guest artists in partnership with the choir, but this was the first time that it was just the orchestra. We had to have extra rehearsals all week to make it happen, and come concert night, we were all exhausted by the end of the first half. It was worth it, though, to see Jinjoo Cho receive an instant standing ovation.
The rest of the night was even more meaningful. Our second piece, Mussourgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, is a massive symphonic piece which features the winds, brass, and percussion especially prominently. Almost every instrument had some sort of exposed solo line where it was up to the single person to carry the tune and energy of the piece. These people were tasked with following a professional soloist, and they were absolutely up to the job. When Kneer had the student soloists stand for individual appreciation at the end, the entire orchestra cheered and applauded for them because we had seen the effort that went into this concert firsthand.
We weren’t the only ones to be excited. The standard explanation for a full house might have been the renown of the featured soloist, but that wasn’t the only bit. A large number of those people who were turned away at the door for the first half ended up waiting in the lobby to see if they could grab a seat from any early leavers to catch the second half — the part that was just us students!
We also had a special guest for the piece by Mussourgsky. Professor Christine Drennon’s father had his 90th birthday on the exact day of the concert, and by complete coincidence, Pictures at an Exhibition is his favorite orchestral piece of all time. She flew him in for the concert, and before we began, Kneer gave him a special shout-out. At the end of the piece, he was the first one standing for the ovation.
We never could have pulled off this concert when I started at Trinity. Our current classes of first-years and sophomores are phenomenally dedicated and talented thanks to the heavy recruiting done by Dr. Kneer and the effort put in by the older players to make our orchestra one worth joining. We’re a young orchestra, so this means that the best is yet to come. If the four first-year cellists I get to play with every rehearsal are this amazing now, imagine how they’ll sound by the time they’re seniors. As if their internal motivations and goals aren’t enough, I know they’ll be pushed, as I have been, by the classes of new musicians to come.
Improvement isn’t without its difficulties, even beyond the struggles of fitting practice room hours around studying. It can certainly be hard to realize that the orchestra you’ve seen from the beginning is growing beyond you. But, on the other hand, I have had the immense privilege of feeling the orchestra grow and being buoyed up by it. I don’t think this concert meant as much to the first-years as it did to me and my fellow juniors and seniors, because they don’t have the context. Someday they will, and I hope it’s just as warm and fuzzy for them to experience the orchestra’s first tour or performance at a major concert hall as it was for me to have a full house and a Stieren guest artist.
These moments, like at our last concert, show how incredible it is that we get to do this together. The orchestra is only going to keep on growing, so these meaningful moments aren’t going to stop happening. I hope that our audience at Trinity won’t miss them.