Postcards from South Carolina

When you think of South Carolina do you think of Hilton Head? Beaufort? Charleston? Myrtle Beach? Those are the scenic attractions, the top tourist spots in the state. If you are one of “the few, the proud”, (or know one), then perhaps Parris Island comes to mind when someone says they are going to South Carolina.

Me? I think of Columbia, Greenville, Clover, Aiken, Chester, Manning, Clemson–the cities and towns I’m going to spend time in when my orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), heads out on our American Residency, Feb 8-16, in SC. In addition to our full orchestra concerts, we have approximately 150 educational and chamber music appearances to make in those 8 days. I’ll be sending postcards to Polyphonic as we travel around SC, so check back often to see what we discover!

Yvonne Caruthers, Senior Editor, February 2008

Residency logo

The NSO's South Carolina Residency


As we embark on our Residency of SC it’s easy to overlook the real mission of our visit—performing music. Many of us will be busy teaching, coaching, exhorting, (hopefully) inspiring, but the underlying goal is the same: to perform great music for audiences that might not hear a symphony orchestra on a regular basis. We are taking two programs with us—one for full orchestra and a youth concert. The repertoire for each is completely different. On top of that, we are stopping at Carnegie Hall before we head to SC and our program at Carnegie includes two other pieces (one of which hasn’t been performed by the NSO for several months). We did NOT perform any of our tour pieces last week; we played Mahler’s 6th symphony and Kindertotenlieder.

Carnegie Hall concert (Feb 7th)

Mason Bates: Liquid Interface (NY premiere)

Liszt: 2nd piano concerto (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)

Mussorgsky/Ravel/Slatkin: Pictures at an Exhibition

SC full orchestra program (Feb 9-15)

Mozart: Overture to Magic Flute

Schuman: Prayer in Time of War

Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Mussorgsky/Ravel/Slatkin: Pictures at an Exhibition

SC Youth Concert (Feb 14) (some pieces are shortened)


Gabrielli: Canzon duodecimi toni

Franklin: Menuet from String Quartet

Handel: Bourree from Royal Fireworks

Weldon: President Madison’s March

Beethoven: Finale from 7th Symphony

Gottschalk: Manchega

Wagner: Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin

Joplin: The Entertainer

Gershwin: American in Paris

Copland: Buckaroo Holiday from Rodeo

Korngold: Overture to Sea Hawk

Karpman: Draffling Tower from Everquest II

Williams: Harry Potter Symphonic Suite

Thank you librarians for keeping all of that in order!

But wait—there’s more! I mentioned that some orchestra members are also playing chamber music concerts…..that repertoire includes several programs that are listed in our tour book as “program to be announced from the stage.” The programs that ARE listed include the Prokofiev D major flute and piano sonata; the Beethoven A major cello/piano sonata; the Ravel sonata for violin and cello; several unaccompanied pieces by Bach……

You can be sure that lots of practicing and rehearsing will take place in hotel rooms along the way.

Friday, Feb 8th

I wish I could show you the inside of one of NYC’s newest stores: M&M’s World at Times Square. You can find all 22 colors of M&Ms there, displayed in individual vertical dispensers. Or you can choose ready-made mixes such as St. Patrick’s Day colors, or Mardi Gras colors. What does this have to do with our concert tour? You can find anything you need in NYC….anything.

M&M's World

NYC's M&M's World

We played our Carnegie Hall concert last night, for an enthusiastic audience. The open rehearsal (3-5pm) preceding the concert turned out to be anything but routine when Music Director Leonard Slatkin realized there was only one harp on stage for Pictures at an Exhibition. He wanted two. There was discussion, during which it was pointed out that we are playing Pictures on all the other concerts of this tour and using only one harp for those concerts……no matter. At 4:45 he told our harpist, Dotian Levalier, to leave the stage and find Jim Hewitt, our personnel manager, and ask him to find a second harpist for the 8pm concert.

Sure enough, at the concert there were two harps and two harpists. I asked Jim how many phone calls he’d made to find a harpist, and he said “five.” But he also pointed out that it was a tip from principal flutist Toshiko Kohno that led him to the woman who performed with us, Rita Tursi Constanzi, former principal harpist of the Vancouver Symphony.

To underscore the point that you can find “anything” in NYC, I haven’t walked more than half a block from our hotel since I got here. We stay at Le Parker Meridien, a fine hotel only a few doors away from the entrance to Carnegie Hall. When my son and daughter joined me for a bite to eat before the concert, we chose a Japanese restaurant between the hotel and Carnegie Hall. After the concert several of their friends joined us and we headed for The Burger Joint, which is exactly that, a classic burger joint (hidden behind curtains in the posh lobby of the hotel). The menu is posted on a hand-written cardboard sign, your choices are few (with or without cheese), and you pay with cash. The burgers are sublime. One of my daughter’s friends told me that at lunch time there is a line a block long waiting to get burgers. This morning I ventured out in search of juice and tea—again, I found exactly what I wanted, within half a block.

Next stop: Greenville, SC.

Feb 10th

It happened again—we found a wonderful hall in a town where you wouldn’t think you’d find one. Greenville SC is a lovely town of around 50,000, and it has a fairly new performing arts center.

Greenville SC Peace Center

The Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina

When I first saw the Peace Center (as it’s called), I thought of Birmingham in the UK, because its hall is alongside a river, with apartments, shops, and restaurants within walking distance. The Peace Center has all that too. This afternoon we played a concert and marveled at the excellent acoustics of the hall—a warm sound that made it easy to project and easy to hear what was happening across the orchestra.

Last night we played a concert in Clover SC, which is near the NC/SC border, and very rural. We played in a school auditorium, and had almost a full house. One of our flute players, Aaron Goldman, told me that he had gone to Clover in the afternoon to teach a master class. He was surprised to discover that his students were three middle school girls who had never taken any private lessons. He said he enjoyed feeling “masterful” simply by playing a scale for them!

Yesterday in the morning several of us coached sectionals with the Greenville County Youth Orchestra—a very talented group of students. Many of them attend an arts magnet school for part of their school day.

Greenville County Youth Orchestra

Sectionals with the Greenville County Youth Orchestra

February 12th

Yesterday three of us from the NSO traveled about an hour to Anderson SC to work with students at Anderson University. The group I worked with was a dozen string players who were rehearsing an arrangement of the Shostakovich 8th string quartet. Their concert is not for several weeks, so I felt that the most helpful thing I could do for them was to talk about Shostakovich, since our former music director, Rostropovich, was close friends with the composer. I began by asking them what they knew about Shostakovich, and one of the violists admitted that his research had relied heavily on Wikipedia. I tried to convey to them my experience of the composer as a person, and a friend of someone I have worked with. Unfortunately, none of the students at Anderson University were planning to attend the NSO’s concert at Clemson University, up the road about 30 miles.

After the concert I got a chance to talk with Warren Williams about our outreach programs. He recently came to the NSO from Detroit, and is familiar with the outreach programs in that city. In his short time with the NSO he’s had a chance to observe many of our educational offerings, but this is his first Residency experience.

Warren Williams

Warren Williams III, Manager of Community Relations for the NSO

Warren Williams III, Manager of Community Relations for the NSO, with “Tune-A-Fish” by artist Ruth Hopkins, on the campus of Anderson University.

February 13th

Today is officially a day off for the orchestra. It’s warm and drizzly here in Columbia SC, and over at the Capitol you can see a magnolia tree in bloom—in February!

Magnolia tree in bloom

A Magnolia tree in bloom in Columbia, SC

For those of us doing outreach, it’s not a day off at all, as you can see in the photo of our list of events.

NSO list of events

NSO list of events

The amazing thing about the NSO is that even when a group has an 8 AM departure, at least one person in the group will get everyone to smile. Pictured below are (left to right) Jan Chung, Glenn Donnellan, Vernon Summers, and Holly Hamilton, all NSO violinists.

NSO violinists being silly

Jan Chung, Glenn Donnellan, Vernon Summers, and Holly Hamilton, NSO violinists

Valentine’s Day!

Last night NSO violinist Laurent Weibel and I played a violin and cello recital in Manning SC. To say that the community is under-served by cultural events is an understatement. Below is a photo of us with several Manning civic leaders.

Yvonne and Laurent

Yvonne Caruthers and Laurent Weibel with Civic Leaders

Laurent played 4 events yesterday, and was on the go from before 6:45 AM (when he left the hotel) to 10:45 PM (his return). For our recital we had an audience of around 150 people, and it was clear that for many of the students this was their first concert-going experience.

school buses

Buses arriving at an NSO performance

This morning, Feb 14th, was the NSO’s children’s concert in Columbia. It’s always thrilling to see hundreds of students arriving at the hall. Emil DeCou, the NSO’s associate conductor, (pictured below) led the orchestra in the children’s concert, and conducts our last concert of this residency tomorrow night in Aiken, for an audience that’s sure to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from the one in Manning.

Emil DeCou

Emil DeCou, the NSO's associate conductor

A problem has developed lately, which threatens to undermine the morale of the orchestra—there seems to be a severe chocolate shortage in this state! The woman who has been assigned to drive me to Aiken for a teacher workshop this afternoon doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to ask her to take me to the nearest chocolate shop. It’s Valentine’s Day!

Feb 15th

Today is the last day of our SC residency (and yes, I did find chocolate yesterday). We have an orchestra concert tonight in Aiken, and tomorrow we fly home. About half of the orchestra participated in outreach activities, and those motivated musicians created about 100 musical events that wouldn’t have otherwise happened in the communities we visited.

This morning I walked around town here in Columbia, where our base hotel is. I found a mural painted by Blue Sky, a native American. He painted the mural in 1975, and called it Tunnel Vision. It’s a remarkable mural in that no matter which angle it’s viewed from, you have the sensation that the road in front of you is going into the tunnel.

Tunnel Vision mural

Tunnel Vision mural

Seeing this mural reminded me that all of us in the orchestral world tend to have tunnel vision. It’s easy to get caught up in our specialized world as we discuss contract language, argue about bowings, and gripe about conductor XYZ. Meanwhile, there are students in nearby neighborhoods who have never been to a concert and don’t know the difference between an English horn and a French horn.

It’s very humbling to step outside our comfort zone and test ourselves on a daily basis. One day here in SC I talked to a group of teachers about how to add music to their core subjects. No one told me I was speaking at the end of their faculty meeting. One of the items on their agenda was to select the color of T-shirts their students would wear on a field day in June. I watched them debate and vote on this pressing issue, and watched the hour alloted for my presentation dwindle to about 35 minutes. Some of them looked sleepy when I was talking (yes, they had been teaching all day), and a few talked and passed notes to each other. But the next day I offered the same materials to a group of teachers who were thrilled that I was there, and we had a wonderful time together.

We have a wonderful profession, and a lot to be proud of, but we’ll never run out of work to be done.

About the author

Ann Drinan
Ann Drinan

Ann Drinan, Senior Editor, has been a member of the Hartford Symphony viola section for over 30 years. She is a former Chair of the Orchestra Committee, former member of the HSO Board, and has served on many HSO committees. She is also the Executive Director of CONCORA (CT Choral Artists), a professional chorus based in Hartford and New Britain, founded by Artistic Director Richard Coffey. Ann was a member of the Advisory Board of the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI), and was the HSO ROPA delegate for 14 years, serving as both Vice President and President of ROPA. In addition to playing the viola and running CONCORA, Ann is a professional writer and editor, and has worked as a consultant and technical writer for software companies in a wide variety of industries for over 3 decades. (She worked for the Yale Computer Science Department in the late 70s, and thus has been on the Internet, then called the DARPAnet, since 1977!) She is married to Algis Kaupas, a sound recordist, and lives a block from Long Island Sound in Branford CT. Together they create websites for musicians:

Ann holds a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MA in International Relations from Yale University.

Read Ann Drinan's blog here.