On Sunday, May 4 at 4:00pm, the UMD Symphony Orchestra (UMSO) abandons its chairs and music stands and performs Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" with choreography by Liz Lerman. Tess Coffey (MM Trumpet '15) shares how this interdisciplinary approach to orchestral performance has expanded her understanding of Copland's piece and opened a new avenue for artistic expression.
Picture an orchestra concert. Musicians in gowns and tuxedos, ushers in suit jackets. The concertmaster walks out on stage to applause, tunes the orchestra, and awaits the conductor’s arrival. When the music starts, the audience sits silently, watching as if through a museum window.
Now picture this orchestra concert. The stage is empty except for the harp, piano, and percussion; music stands and chairs have been left behind. The musicians enter in depression-era costumes, spinning, stomping, and gliding while playing their instruments. Convention had been abandoned in favor of a unique vision, complete with dancing, gymnastics, and a subtle storyline. This is the experience of Copland’s Appalachian Spring as the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra will perform it on May 4.
At first, memorizing Appalachian Spring was a daunting task, but the memorization and choreography have given me a deeper understanding of the music and its message. As a trumpet player, I’m used to sitting in the back of the orchestra and hearing the sound as it bounces back to me. For the first time, I’ve had the opportunity to make eye contact with violinists, clarinetists, and percussionists while we play together. Our choreography reflects the musical conversations Copland imagined, turning the instrumental interactions into personal ones and allowing the audience to see – as well as hear – Copland’s intent. It’s a completely different experience to be dancing a hoe-down with my duet partner than it is to be staring at the back of his head!
I’ve come a long way from my early devotion to the traditional orchestral performance. Though I still love the introspective ritual of a “normal” concert, I’ve also come to see that more dynamic interaction between the audience and musicians is important. A musician’s job is to be vulnerable and make the audience feel something, and Appalachian Spring takes that vulnerability to another level, asking the musicians also to express themselves through movement as well as music. At this point in the process, we, the musicians, are so invested in Sunday’s performance that I can’t imagine it being any less than a once-in-a-life-time experience, for us or our audience.
Click here to purchase tickets for the UMSO's performance of Appalachian Spring. All proceeds from the concert support undergraduate scholarships at the School of Music.
Photo Credit: Nguyen Nguyen