An orchestra of 300 million

Last Saturday I was on my way to New York, which in practice is pretty much an all-day business. So I saw almost nothing about the Tucson shootings until I heard about them during the League seminar I was helping out with on Sunday. What I heard then caught me off-guard; apparently one of the people in the seminar (the League’s annual management boot camp) was a friend of Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Congresswoman Giffords who was killed in the attack.

This is a country of 300 million people. But it never fails to amaze me how few degrees of separation exist between any of us. I was almost as surprised when I found out I knew someone who was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

When I turned on the TV to watch the memorial event last Tuesday, I found myself listening to Copland as played by members of the Tucson Symphony. Those musicians didn’t go into music thinking they would be playing at such a memorial event. But I doubt that anything they’ve ever done, or will do, in their careers, will have as much impact on as many people as that few minutes did. If anyone in Tucson had doubted the value of the orchestra to their community (and I’m sure plenty have over the years), they weren’t doubting on Tuesday.

We all know the passage in which John Donne writes about human connectedness:

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

The “meditation” of which this passage is a part actually begins:

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

The whole sermon is based on the notion of the bell as a reminder that there’s more to life than… life.

Orchestras are not “entertainment” or “show business.” They’re most certainly not “non-profit businesses.” And, while it’s easy for orchestra musicians to forget, they’re not just employers either. Orchestras are bells, reminding us all that there’s something beyond the day to day.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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