A lot of people around the world have heard of the Utah Symphony, based in Salt Lake City, performing in the renowned Abravanel Hall — one of those places where you could stand on the stage without a microphone, drop a pin, and chances are that someone in the upper balcony toward the back could hear it.
My lovely wife Amy, the private music teacher, occasionally takes private voice and violin lessons herself to try and keep her skills sharpened. Her teacher is a violinist with the Utah Symphony, which is his full-time job.
That brings me to the West Valley Symphony of Utah, across the valley from the Utah Symphony. The West Valley orchestra was formed in 1991 by the late Steve Baker, who led it until his death several years ago. It’s now led by Donny Gilbert, who was a trusted and capable associate to Steve.
Amy played in the second violin section with the West Valley orchestra for a few years, even sang about six songs solo during Donny Gilbert’s wedding reception around that time. She sang two vocal solos with the West Valley orchestra in years past, to the music of “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Amy’s back with them now, having moved up recently to the first violin section, and she’s getting ready to add some vocals to another number the symphony will be playing in concert June 2.
The music fan in me — as well as the husband in me — has tagged along with her the last couple of Wednesday evenings to watch the orchestra practice, and to get a glimpse behind the scenes as Donny and symphony board chairman and sometime conductor Sterling Poulson (also a well-known Salt Lake City television news meteorologist) have put the all-volunteer orchestra through its paces.
This is an impressive outfit that West Valley City has, with people coming from throughout the valley to participate. It may not have the numbers or the same helping of full-time musicians the Utah Symphony has, but they do their volunteer jobs very well. It is a talented group. Donny Gilbert has the kind of command that a conductor needs to bring that talent out of them.
Amy practiced hard Wednesday afternoon before going to rehearsal in the evening. The toughest pieces she has to play have been “The Trail of Butch and Sundance” and “Land Race,” and as she was practicing her parts at home I heard the words “violin-friendly” for the first time.
She also ran through her latest vocal warm-up recording on the drive to rehearsal, making sure to go all the way through her singing part on “Once Upon A Time In The West” all the way through.
The orchestra warmed up and went through a favorite of mine, “Ashokan Farewell,” first with Poulson tossing out the idea of someone reading excerpts from a Civil War love letter to go along with the song, a letter guaranteed to bring tears to people’s eyes.
The “Butch and Sundance” piece was tough work, not just for Amy but for a variety of people. Much attention was devoted to that piece by Gilbert.
He has a way of being quite tough yet pretty easy to get along with from the conductor’s stand. “If I may invite you to look at the key signature,” he advised when some musicians didn’t come in quite in tune to “The Hills of Home.”
Then came Amy’s time to sing some backing vocals solo to “Once Upon A Time In The West.” They went through parts of that song a few times Wednesday night, and I swear that when Amy sings the high notes along with the orchestra … it gives me goosebumps, it fits so well.
At about 9:10 p.m., the musicians seemed to be tiring but they had to press on through the challenging “Land Race.” Gilbert could sense their tiredness, joking “Let’s just finish the race” with a smile.
After running through two more pieces for a very patriotic concert coming up, it was time for everyone to pack up and go home.
There will be much more work in store before their June 2 concert. But they’ll get it done. All will be well.
Copyright 2012, Daddysangbassdude Media
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