I was reading this article in today’s Sunday New York Times, about the New York Philharmonic’s music director designate Alan Gilbert, when I was struck by the first paragraph, which describes how an orchestra he was guest conducting responded to the death of a colleague:
ALAN GILBERT stood before the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic last month in one of the most difficult moments he has faced as the orchestraâ€™s chief conductor. An hour before, the players learned that a well-liked former member had committed suicide.
â€œIt feels strange to rehearse,â€ Mr. Gilbert quietly told them as they sat on the stage without instruments, looking stricken. Some held each other. Several sobbed. â€œOn the other hand, not to rehearse, not to do what we do as musicians, is even stranger,â€ Mr. Gilbert added. â€œItâ€™s a shame that it takes sometimes a terrible thing like this to remind us that we are a family.â€
That could just as well describe the scene Friday morning, as the rehearsal period began for this weekend’s pops series. Beloved OSO flutist Martha Herby had died that morning, around 5 a.m. Much of the orchestra had gotten the news via phone (news travels quickly in the orchestra), but some had not heard the news. A colleague of mine said that she was glad that there was a rehearsal, even under those difficult circumstances, because “being here with friends is better than sitting home alone”.
There’s something about having to work just after having heard horrible news. I almost always find it to be therapeutic. Giving the mind something to do while the subconscious starts processing the shock and grief. Being with many other people who share similar connections to the deceased as you do. And just “being professional” and doing your job even when you think you can’t possibly keep it together.
It helps when those you work for are sympathetic and sincere. OSO president Elaine Calder came out at the start of the rehearsal and announced the news, with great emotion and sincerity. A ten-minute hold on the start time was given to allow people to react and compose themselves, and only the musicians remained on stage, silently reflecting, weeping, hugging one another, connecting across the orchestra with their eyes, or simply sitting eyes cast downward, trying to absorb it all.
Joy and sorrow really do define the direction and tenor of our lives, and I’ve shared both within this orchestra, and so it becomes my extended family.