Sheet Music

Looking for a piece of music I sang a long time ago.  I can visualize it – a copy of a copy from a book of Operatic Duets I studied in New York back in the 70s.  I never – well, hardly ever – throw away sheet music.  It is here, somewhere.  And I need to put eyes on it to see the notes, the range, the possibility of singing it again, decades later, with a new friend who also studied the piece – perhaps that long ago, perhaps not.  It is a favorite of both of ours.  So, I search.

When I packed all my sheet music to bring to Florida, I just emptied the cabinet and put everything into boxes, without sorting at all – no catalogue, no categories, no labels.  Just a very large pile of sheet music.  And, when I emptied the boxes, I just stacked everything in a new cabinet – with similar abandon.  So, tonight, it is ‘needle in a haystack’ time.  It’s here.  Somewhere.

I begin. One drawer at a time.  The first is a real hodgepodge – popular tunes from the 60s.  Sheets of nothing but lyrics and chords from my guitar days. Playlists for gigs, small concerts.  Excel spreadsheets listing repertoire… order by type of music – uptempo, ballad, classic rock, standards, indications of voices needed to perform – SATB, SSA, solo alto, solo soprano, bass, tenor.

Church music – from my growing up church in Massachusetts, to St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue, to Don Hermance’s choir in Scituate in the relatively recent past.  Alice Blue Gown, one of my first solos in Junior High School – I wore a pretty blue dress Mother had made.  She’d sent me on my way with her standard wish “Sing pretty!” as she did for every concert, every show.

An entire drawer is my childhood.  Music my Gram played on her upright piano, while my musical family all stood around and sang.  By the time I was 10, I knew all the words to Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, Over There, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.  From another world, they’re all still with me, along with Mother’s piano music, her name written across the top in her perfect artistic pen.  She has been gone over 40 years, but I can hear the sounds of Claire de Lune, punctuated by the click-click-click of her long manicured nails as clearly as if she were sitting at my piano here in this room.

There is something holy about these pieces of paper, a few with small tears, most completely intact.  One by one I finger them, put them in fresh folders and put them back, where they will stay – probably until I fly away somewhere to sing them again with Mother and my Gram.

Music books are elsewhere – on their own shelves because of their size. Opera and musical vocal scores, collections of The Eagles, The Beatles, Elvis, Streisand, and thematic collections like The Most Beautiful Songs Ever Written – given to me by Doug, who helped me start our singing group Mixed Company back in Massachusetts.  He was a fabulous bass with exquisite taste in music and a great work ethic. I loved singing with him. We once performed a duet arrangement combining My Funny Valentine and How Do You Keep the Music Playing – so touching, heartbreaking.  Years later – not too many, but enough for me to have grown very attached to him and to have sung together many, many times – Doug died and I was asked to speak of him at his memorial service.  I began by saying “How do you keep the music playing?”  – a question I asked myself in the face of such profound loss.

There’s a lot of Mixed Company music here.  All songs we personally chose, learned, tried to make our own, performed and loved.  There are one or two I’ve sung since, but never as a group, only alone and, when I do, I hear the rest of the parts, the other voices of my friends, singing with me. The group tried to survive after Doug left us, but in the end, it morphed into something entirely different, which was a good thing.  We couldn’t resurrect what was gone forever.

A new drawer. I don’t know why I’ve kept all this wonderful Opera and Art Song music – the work I did with my voice teachers in New York, Sam Sakarian and Cesare Longo.  Hours. Weeks. Years. Italian, French, German, dictionaries my constant companions, attempting to divine the true poetry the librettist had in mind.  Unending scales and vocal practices, all in the effort to even the tone throughout my range, to produce a sound pleasing to the ear, able to be heard at the back of the hall, to create an artistic environment, to give listeners an experience that might leave them in love with Shubert or Mozart.  I still have the music, even though I let go of the dream to sing in the opera. Still, even though I don’t sing like that any more and am most comfortable in a good ensemble or choir, I adore the rehearsal process – the work – even more than the performance itself.

And here it is!  Lakme, the flower duet!  My memory served me – it is a copy of a copy of music from an old book.  Probably purchased at Patelson’s on the West Side, because that’s where everyone went for their music in New York in those days.  I will make a copy for my friend, perhaps enlarge it so we have a chance at the French!  I hope we are able to sing this together.  It would be wonderful. I’m glad I hadn’t thrown it away.  Any of it.  This music has been the best part of my life.  Through everything else that happened and didn’t happen.  The music has never stopped playing.

Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Read about historic Patelson’s music and its painful closing in 2009.



“Gustoso ” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, January 25, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

“All that is important in this one moment is movement.  Make the moment important, vital, and worth living.  Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham, Choreographer

Kenneth Fuchs, Discover the Wild

 Fuchs is a contemporary American composer, born in 1956, who received his B.A. in Music from the University of Miami, and went on to complete his masters and doctorate work at Juilliard. His compositions include works for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles. A cursory survey of his compositions is impressive, but my interest was piqued by those whose inspiration came from literature – including novels and poetry by John Updike, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Yeats.  A particularly notable work is his transcendent composition Falling Man, based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, evoking the very personal tragedies that unfolded in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.

Tonight’s offering is Discover the Wild, a bright, engaging opening which expands to a beautiful, lyrical, almost cinemagraphic romantic second theme. The third section weaves the first themes with a fresh approach and ends with a light, optimistic finish. Notice the variety of percussion instruments and textures throughout.

Though this composer and his music may be new for many in our audience, there is a comfortable familiarity to our ears with influences of Copland, and other popular contemporary American composers. Don’t be surprised if you hear passages that bring to mind one of your favorites!

Manuel de Falla, El sombrero de tres picos Ste. No. 1 & 2

Born in Cadiz, Spain in 1876, Manuel de Falla is the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. This reputation is largely attributed to two Iberian ballet scores: El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician), which includes the popular “Ritual Fire Dance”, and El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) which he wrote for the Ballet Russes.

With regional success in his early career in Madrid, particularly for Andalusian Flamenco, de Falla moved in 1907 to Paris, where he lived for seven years and discovered the world of French composers Debussy and Ravel. The profound influence of these years inspired his first piano pieces and songs, and gained him status among international Impressionist composers. His exposure to Stravinsky during this time also inspired the incorporation of neoclassic style in later compositions. De Falla is still considered ‘hard to classify’ as either Impressionist or Neo-Classic.

Formally retired in 1926, having produced a relatively small body of highly regarded work, de Falla was able to remain apolitical during the Spanish Civil War, living in Granada and continuing to work at a lesser pace. Following Franco’s victory in 1939, de Falla moved to Argentina, where he taught, worked on his pet project Atlantica, adamantly refused requests to return to Spain and died in 1946.

On tonight’s program, we are treated to two Suites from El sombrero de tres picos.  Based on a novella, which involves a powerful magistrate who has a lustful eye for a humble miller’s wife, the story is a humorous tale of flirtation, disguise, reconciliation and comeuppance. The Spanish–inflected music is filled with colorful folk tunes, sultry Latin attitudes, sharp Spanish rhythms, fanfares, birdcalls, soaring string melodies – all designed to tell the story in dance.

Aram Khachaturian, Spartacus, Ste. No.2

Born to poor Armenian parents in Tbillsi, Georgia, June 6, 1903, Khachaturian showed early musical prodigy that eventually opened the doors to the Moscow Conservatory, an introduction to Sergei Prokofiev and the beginning of a prolific career. Though his brightest talent was expressed in symphonic composition, he also made significant contributions to the ballet, dramatic plays and films. The composer was among those who walked the fine line of approval and critique from the Stalin regime. Ironically, his first ballet Happiness was reworked during World War II as the patriotic ballet Gayaneh, with its famous “Sabre Dance.”

In 1954, Khachaturian wrote the ballet music for Spartacus, loosely telling the story of the slave uprising against the Romans and its heroic leader. It was staged three times before the 1968 version secured its place as one of the composer’s greatest popular works and one of the best ballets of the 20th century. The sweeping, lush main theme is familiar and beloved.

Joseph-Maurice Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite #2

Ravel was born in 1875 in the Basque town of Ciborne, France, near the Spanish border, and his mother had grown up in Madrid. Though his family moved to France when he was an infant, the Spanish influence in his music is apparent. Ravel was among the most prominent French composers considered Impressionist, a style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is also applied to the compositions of Debussy, DuParc, de Falla in Spain and John Ireland in England, and is linked to the art of Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. True in both the art and music worlds, Impressionism is evocative of moods, atmospheres and feelings – one could say that the music ‘sounds like’ the art and the art ‘looks like the music”.

Ravel is known particularly for his melodies, masterful orchestration, rich harmonies and inventive instrumental effects.  Perhaps best known of his compositions is Bolero, originally composed for ballet, which the composer described as “a piece for orchestra without music” and is instantly recognizable by its incessant theme, which is repeated throughout the piece and intentionally is never ‘developed’.

The Greek tale of Daphnis and Chloe involves a boy and a girl who are abandoned by their parents and raised by shepherds. The two meet and gradually fall in love as they grow up. After various trials, the two are reunited with their families and married to each other. This popular story was the main source for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and inspired many musical compositions.

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe was commissioned in the early 1900s by the Ballet Russes and its wildly successful impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Igor Stravinsky called the work “one of the most beautiful products of all French Music”. Tonight we will hear Suite #2 from the ballet, which Ravel remarked was his ‘most important score’. This is a work of lush harmonies typical of the Impressionist style.  Listen for the familiar strains borrowed for the writing of  “You can see forever” from the musical On a Clear Day.

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry













Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, January 11, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 George Gershwin, Cuban Overture

“True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time.  My people are Americans and my time is today.” – George Gershwin

Gershwin was born in Brooklyn NY in 1898, the second son of Russian immigrants. When he was 12, his parents bought a piano for his older brother Ira, but it was George who showed the greater musical talent. As a high school ‘drop-out’, Gershwin went to work as a “song plugger”, demonstrating new sheet music for prospective buyers on Tin Pan Alley. At 17, he cut his first piano rolls and began to compose songs.  At 19, he got a job as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway, and quickly became a Broadway composer.  His big break was Swanee, which he wrote with Irving Caesar and which was recorded by Al Jolson. Swanee was the biggest song hit of the composer’s entire career. By his mid 20’s George and his brother Ira became a team and produced the Broadway Musical hit LADY BE GOOD, and went on to write the scores of some of Broadway’s most successful musicals of the day. Their political satire OF THEE I SING was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Price for drama.

In 1924, Gershwin composed RHAPSODY IN BLUE, which introduced his hallmark style of integrating jazz elements with classical structure and established his credentials as a serious composer.

His subsequent CONCERTO IN F brought him to Europe and into the company of several prominent European classical composers; this exposure led to his first large-scale piece without piano, the tone poem An American in Paris, a commission for the New York Philharmonic.  In 1935, the Gershwin brothers opened their “American folk opera” PORGY AND BESS on Broadway, which ran 124 performances and never recouped its investment.  A year later, the pair settled into the Hollywood scene and wrote the songs for SHALL WE DANCE, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES.

George Gershwin died at the tender age of 38, following surgery for a brain tumor. His abbreviated life was consumed with music. Perhaps due to an awareness of his lack of formal musical training, he never stopped studying theory, composition, conducting and orchestration. He did enjoy his hobby of painting and his later works are well-regarded in the world of art. Despite his elegant social demeanor and popularity, he spent his time at parties seated at the piano and he never married.

Tonight’s performance of Gershwin’s CUBAN OVERTURE, originally entitled RUMBA, is a symphonic overture – or tone poem. It was composed in 1932, after a two-week holiday in Havanna from which the composer returned with rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.

The work represents a giant leap forward in the composer’s symphonic music, in its harmonic sophistication and orchestration. The overture is dominated by Caribbean rhythms and Cuban native percussion instruments, which he noted should be ‘set right in front of the conductor’s stand’. Rich, exciting, and complex, the work’s main theme was influenced by a then current hit “Échale Salsita” and, as the composer intended, “embodies the essence of Cuban dance”.

The work premiered on August 16, 1932, at the first all-Gershwin concert at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium before an enthusiastic crowd of almost 18,000 people, with 5,000 turned away. It was a huge success, with audiences and critics alike. About the performance, Gershwin wrote, “It was, I really believe, the most exciting night I have ever had!”

Tonight we will hear what the excitement was all about!

Leonard Bernstein, WEST SIDE STORY Symphonic Dances

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

The New York Times called Leonard Bernstein “Music’s Monarch…one of the most prodigally talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Born August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bernstein fell in love with the piano as a child, earning his own money to pay for lessons. He showed such passion and aptitude, his father was moved to support his desire for a life in music. He attended Boston Latin School, was a graduate of Harvard in 1939, studied at Tanglewood under Serge Koussevitsky, and returned less than a decade later to become head of its orchestral and conducting departments. He was Music Director of the NYC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, where he led more concerts than any previous conductor and, among other endeavors, ran his renowned Young People’s Concerts.

Bernstein’s compositions span works for the concert hall, Broadway stage, ballet, opera and film. Among his long list of honors, he received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1985. He was a strong advocate for American composers, a humanitarian, philanthropist and active, outspoken advocate for world peace. Also an author, his book “The Joy of Music” is a must read for any music lover.

Fragile health since childhood in no way inhibited the Music Monarch’s ambition, commitment and productivity. Performing almost to the end, he died at the of 72 of a heart attack caused by progressive lung failure.

Leonard Bernstein’s astounding career can hardly be touched in a few hundred words. It is worthwhile for any appreciator to explore his contributions to the American music landscape.

West Side Story

A contemporary telling of Shakespeare’s ROMEO and JULIET, set in New York City during a time of gang rivalry, WEST SIDE STORY was a whole new thing on the Broadway scene in 1957 – revolutionary, different in style and content, pushing the boundaries of musicals to a new art form and setting a new standard for musical theatre. Original and innovative as it was then, the music, Latin rhythms, fantastic innovative dance, romance and drama that is WEST SIDE STORY has become indelibly woven into our culture.

Bernstein’s melodies, Steven Sondheim’s lyrics, Jerome Robbins’ choreography and Arthur Laurents’ book– the cohesive amalgamation that we have come to love and revere – was a collaboration hard-won. It took years to manifest, the concept shelved, resurrected – again and again – finally finding its way to Tony and Maria, the Sharks and the Jets. It was Hal Prince who picked up the gauntlet, ignoring the naysayers in his decision to produce WEST SIDE STORY, after others had shied away and strongly urged him to do the same.

Bernstein himself said, “Everyone told us that it was an impossible project … the score was too rangy for pop music … and who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage… then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the actors had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers!”

Despite the formidable odds, the team persisted. The pre-Broadway run in Washington, D.C. was a critical and commercial success, followed by moving to New York, where it won several Tony Awards, ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, went on tour, then returned to Winter Garden in 1960 for another 253 performances. The film version in 1961 brought the masterpiece to people who had never seen a live Broadway production and won 10 Academy Awards.

Tonight’s performance is a suite of orchestral music from the show that was prepared by Maestro Bernstein in 1961. We will hear strains of the Rumble, Mambo, Cool, Maria, Somewhere, and other familiar melodies that evoke the thrill of the entire theatrical experience. It is truly wonderful!

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry




Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, December 7, 2014

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

Carl Nielsen, Symphony No.3, op. 27 (Sinfonia espansiva)

Nielsen was one of 12 children, born in 1865 to parents of modest means on Funen, the “garden island” of Denmark (also the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen). His musical experience began when, at the age of 6, he was bedridden with measles. His mother took one of his father’s violins off the wall and gave it to the boy to keep him occupied. He began composing at 9, attended the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen on scholarship, and worked as a professional musician for years before the success of the first of his popular symphonies in 1896 truly launched his composing career. He worked incessantly both conducting and composing throughout his life, ignoring signals from his body to slow down.  In October of 1931, he was finally hospitalized against his will, forced to lie in bed and listen on the radio to a substitute conductor perform a concert of his music. He died a day later and all of Denmark mourned the loss. At his funeral, his wife commented that his nature “never stagnated, was always on the move….it was running water.”

Nielsen named his Symphony #3 ‘Espansivo’, perhaps referring to the international breakthrough it represented for the composer. Many have speculated what other meaning was implied in the name; biographer Robert Simpson has written that it suggests the ‘outward growth of the mind’s scope and the expansion of life that comes from it’ and Nielsen’s belief that ‘great art, although forged from the private fires that burn inside an artist, seeks to grow beyond its origin and contribute to humanity’s collective experience.’

This explanation seems consistent with the composer’s philosophy and certainly his ideas of movement and organic development are embodied gloriously in this work. We feel as though we are on his “garden island” – a fresh wind from the sea, capturing and carrying the fragrances of flowers, orchards, trees in a vast waltz, always moving and transforming, leading to new variations and new motifs.  We hear the wordless voices of two soloists, soprano and baritone, intermingling with the forces of nature, as they soothe and calm the temperamental wind.

Even as the third movement quickens the heartbeat with its building sense of urgency, in the end the clouds part and the sun shines once again. We are reassured and left with an uplifting feeling of peace and exhilaration.

Giuseppe Martucci,  Notturno,No. 1, op.70

Born in the Campania region of Italy, Martucci was a child prodigy performing at the age of 8, and a student at the Naples Conservatory at 11. Although he began to compose as a teenager, concentrating on instrumental music and songs, he is best known for his work as a pianist, conductor and educator (Ottorino Respighi was his student). Atypical of Italian composers, Martucci wrote no opera and was influential in reviving Italy’s interest in non-operatic music, in particular giving exposure to the music of Debussy, Berlioz and Wagner.

The great conductor Arturo Toscanini performed many of Martucci’s works with the NBC Symphony Orchestra between 1938 ad 1952. Last season, we recall Maestro Ponti introduced this audience to the composer with the performance of his Symphony #1.

The Notturno we hear tonight was originally written for piano in 1891, followed by the enchanting full orchestral version in 1901. It has become his most widely performed work. Musicologists and critics have described this piece as ‘delicate’, ‘refined’, bittersweet’, ‘tasteful sentimentality’, ‘smooth Italian lyricism’, evoking ‘a mood of wistful introspection’. All of these words are certainly suitable….but ‘deliciously gorgeous’ feels right to me.

Ottorino Respighi, Feste Romane, P. 157 (Roman Festivals)

Respighi learned piano and violin from his father in his childhood home of Bologna in the 1880’s. His musical studies continued throughout his youth with a number of notable teachers in Italy and Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia. Well into his career as composer and conductor, he was appointed as teacher of composition at the Conservatorio de Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he lived the rest of his life. His body of work is an impressive mixture of Orchestral, Chamber, Vocal/Choral, Opera, Ballet and Orchestral, for which he is best known. His crowning glory is the spectacular trilogy of tone poems: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, the third and most ambitious of the three and the thrilling conclusion of tonight’s concert.

Written toward the end of his career, Respighi said that this work represented his “maximum of orchestral sonority and color” and upon its completion stated “I do not think I shall write any more scores of this kind.”

Opposed to the settings of Fountains and Pines, which are a sparkling tour of modern day Rome, Festivals graphically depicts scenes dating back to antiquity and brings us to the traditional celebrations that have survived millennia. The first movement Circuses brings us to the arena, gladiators, trumpet fanfares and the violence of pitting beasts against man. In the second movement, we experience the Papal tradition of Jubilee, celebrated every 50 years since 1300. It is easy to imagine being with the pilgrimage to a sacred site at the top of a hill, enjoying a breath-taking view of Rome with church bells ringing in the background. Harvest of October paints the scene of harvest and the hunt,  a French horn solo signifies day’s end and a mandolin plays a serenade in the twilight.

Finally, we celebrate Epiphany in the Piazza Navona with trumpets once again raising a riot of Roman songs and dance, food and drink. Notice the solo tenor trombone and envision a reveler who has stayed a bit too long at the party!

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry




Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, November 16, 2014

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo

La Forza del Destino, Overture

Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi was born in Italy in 1813 and is regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 19th century.  He considered himself to be a ‘theatre composer’, and gave the world some of the most beloved operas of all time. He lived a vibrant and successful life doing the work he loved, but was not without his share of heartache.  At the age of 27, mourning the devastating loss of his 2 children and wife, he prepared to retire from composition. Fortunately he was persuaded by a dear friend to continue. Perhaps fueled by his personal experience of powerlessness in the face of fate, he chose to bring to the operative stage a melodramatic libretto by Franceso Maria Piave – a complex plot of starcrossed lovers, curses, war, disguise, death, debts of honor, and redemption. Above all, La Forza del Destino is a tale of the power of Fate.  Verdi’s sublime musical score dramatizes the story’s message that, whatever our choices as mere mortals, we cannot avoid our destiny – that what may appear to be ‘coincidences’, though at times incredulous, are simply meant to be.

The thrilling Overture, opening tonight’s program, grabs the listener immediately with the famous and intentionally haunting Fate Theme, which rises to the surface again and again, weaving insidiously in and out of the gorgeous melodies that carry the characters forward as their story unfolds.  There is a breathtaking urgency that drives the Overture, at times giving way to a false sense of upcoming resolution, a promise of peace, the possibility of escape from what we were warned at the outset – there is no avoiding the power of destiny.

Symphony #1, op.10 F minor

Dmitri Shostakovich

At 19, young Dmitri composed his first symphony as a graduation exercise from Maximilian Steinberg’s composition class at Petrograd Conservatory. The success of its debut performance by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nikolai Malkko on May 12, 1926 catapulted Shostakovich to international recognition.  But, this was a time of upheaval in Russia, the establishment of the Soviet Union and an oppressive regime.  Very quickly, the composer’s works became viewed as inconsistent with communist values. He was named an “Enemy of the People”, thus beginning almost 30 years of a mercurial relationship with Stalin (alternating between condemnation and reward) which profoundly affected his health, personal life and, of course, his music.

But, Shostakovich was a survivor. Despite the stifling political climate, he remained prolific, eventually completing 14 additional symphonies, as well as opera, ballet and concerti. No doubt his sense of humor, keen intelligence and fascination with human nature enabled him to walk a fine line – composing to both appease powers that he could not ignore as well as satisfy the creative drive that was his gift.

Symphony #1 feels both biographic and prophetic, with an opening full of light, expressing the composer’s characteristic wit – the playful energy of youth, childhood home, piano lessons with mother.  Subtly the mood begins to shift, hinting of challenging times and growing awareness, finally gravitating to drama and tragedy – a foreboding of the heartbreaking changes in his homeland and things to come that he could not have known, but must have sensed.

Symphony #7, op. 70, D minor

Anton Dvorak

 When we think of Dvorak, we visualize lively folk dances in a Czech village. Such was the fertile cultural soil that nurtured this much loved composer.  His deep roots in the lore and traditions of Bohemia were descriptive of and confined to his homeland in his early works, and continued to be woven throughout his music his entire life. At 30, with the influence and connections of his mentor Brahms, his recognition spread quickly throughout Germany, Austria and England.  In 1892, he moved to the United States and became director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. While in the U.S., Dvorak wrote his two most successful orchestral works – The Symphony From the New World and his highly regarded Cello Concerto.  Eventually, his heart pulled him back to his beloved Bohemia in 1895.

The composition of the 7th Symphony was a response to a commission from The London Philharmonic Society in 1885.  Dvorak was very motivated at that time to expand his international audience and hoped this new symphony would “make a stir in the world”.  Perhaps even more important, the man was in the midst of personal tragedy – the recent death of his mother and of his close friend and colleague Smetana. Within this emotional environment, which he described as “of doubt and obstinacy, silent sorrow” came forth a work of dramatic departure, an exquisite expression of this critical juncture in the composer’s life.

The first movement establishes a crisis, a disturbance amidst the familiar comfort of folk melodies, and ends with heavy sadness, even despondency. Deep from this sadness emerges a lament, a yearning for something beyond reach, becoming increasingly passionate before settling into profound tenderness. We find solace in the third movement, which evokes nostalgia for the countryside, happiness left behind– evolving into a frantic attempt to suppress the pain of loss which surfaces in quiet times.  The finale is a storm of anguish, reflective joy, ultimate resignation, grief, and perhaps, a promise of inner peace.

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


Opera comes to Punta Gorda!!!! Hallelujah.

Gulfshore Opera comes to Punta Gorda

 On a rainy Saturday evening, while very few people were watching, something really remarkable happened in Punta Gorda. A brand new southwest Florida opera company graced the Charlotte Performing Arts Center and made some music lovers very, very happy.

 The company’s inaugural season opener was Viva Verdi!, a concert with full orchestra, full chorus and 5 soloists transforming our hometown hall into what could have easily been Avery Fisher in the middle of New York City.  In fact, Maestro Paul Nadler, the company’s conductor, has a Metropolitan Opera pedigree. And, a quick glance at the program revealed impressive resumes for everyone – San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Boston Lyric, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, many international theatres, as well as respected Florida companies in Naples, Sarasota, and Palm Beach. 

 From the moment Maestro Nadler and the soloists took the stage, the air began to crackle with electricity. These people had the air of confidence that only training and experience provides. This was going to be good.

 The evening opened with The Chorus of the Gypsies from Il Trovatore, followed by Stride la Vampa sung by the beautiful young Ola Rafalo who rocked everyone’s world with a glorious full mezzo soprano voice that was a complete surprise. Thomas Cannon and Michael Wade Lee followed with powerful familiar arias proving that, to a person, this company is world class.

 For the Rigoletto offerings, Wade Lee thrilled us with La Donna e Mobile, conveying all the wit and spectacular high notes we could ask for. Soprano Julie-Anne Hamula joined the ensemble, singing the beloved Caro Nome, plus two duets and a quartet with Rafalo, Wade Lee and Cannon (would have liked to have heard even more of his divine baritone). It was glorious. I was there with Regina Buckley, Executive Director of the Charlotte Symphony and a classically trained singer herself. We just kept looking at each other with wide eyes and huge smiles saying ‘wow’.

 During intermission, we chatted with Ken Barber and some other Symphony fans, pretty excited about what we had just experienced.  I think we were all ‘blown away’. We didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect this.

 The second half of the program included spine tingling selections from Verdi’s Requiem, where the chorus was able to pull out all the stops in Dies Irae, as well as some of the big highlights of La Traviata. Everything was extraordinary. But, for me, the showstopper was Stephanie Pearce (the founder of the company) singing Pace Mio Dio from La Forza del Destino.  I was spellbound, probably with my mouth open during the whole thing, hardly breathing. I realized halfway through that I had begun to cry. She was simply magnificent.

 I know that not everyone loves opera as I do. My life in Manhattan was rich with music, and I lived right around the corner from the Met, where I held season subscriptions and grabbed student desk rehearsal tickets for $5 as often as I could.  So, yes, I’m an opera junkie. The manifestation of opera at this level, right here in my backyard, feels like special delivery direct from heaven. 

 For those opera lovers in our community who were not there on Saturday, I am so sad you missed this.  For those who are not quite sure about opera, this company is coming for you! They want you in their audience. The ticket prices are reasonable. They travel to various locations to make the performances available. They provide lovely visual projections evoking the locale and setting of each opera performed, and there are English translations of everything being sung in a foreign language. The soloists are beautiful, charming, funny and talented. Oh, they are talented!

 This performance was worthy of a sold out house and I truly hope the next time Gulfshore Opera is in town, they will have that. What a gift to our community this is!

Feature photo by Ivan Seligman 


August, Sweet August

Her days roll out leisurely, as though intentionally slowing down – as Billy Joel says “These are the days to hold on to, ’cause we won’t although we’ll want to.”  In New England, the short smack of heat and humidity is long gone. Already, the evenings are cool, though the days are still filled with warm sunshine framing picnics, bike rides and sailing outside the harbor.  Growing up here, I recall a growing sadness in August – because summer was soon coming to an end, because school would be starting again, because this little season was far too brief.

Now, of course, I have the luxury of enjoying the freshness of New England summers and leaving behind the heavy Florida air.  Then when it gets too chilly for my capris, I hit the road for the tropics.  I know there are lots of folks who anticipate the beauty of Autumn color and the subsequent challenge of snow and ice.  Those hardy souls are the skiers and the snowboarders, ice skaters and sledders or just those with a strong internal furnace the enables them to face a bracing wind and smile.

After spending my life enduring the drama of northern seasonal changes, I am more than happy looking forward to a January sitting outside at my favorite cafe, sipping wine and having dinner.  Perhaps I’ve used up all my New England hardiness.

I’m always surprised that the summer goes by so quickly.  I don’t know why.  In July, the annual trek to Florida feels far away.  But, here we are in August, and my mind has already begun to plan – where to stop on the way south, what to bring.  Emails are coming with the flurry of fall schedules – chorale rehearsals, Symphony, Yoga.  All the things I love so much about my life in our Florida home.

So, I no longer feel sad in August. I’ve come to enjoy the formidable pause in the action, as people go on vacations, businesses lull. Today has been all about listening to the leaves in the backyard, the birds chattering away, Boo announcing every squirrel and chipmunk.  There’s an occasional flurry of action in the harbor – a big motorcycle ride earlier today on Front Street.  Sounded like the Hells Angels, but I know it wasn’t.  Some charity ride.  Mostly it’s the sound of the leaves.  A neighbor is playing ball with his young kids.  Another is walking the dog  with her niece here for her annual visit.

hydrangeaBlackeyed susansOur yellow umbrella is open on the front patio table.  The blue Hydrangeas are showing their stuff. The Blackeyed Susans sway in the breeze and I detect a tinge of red already on the Flaming Bush.  All of our potted plants are exuberant. Tonight will be another Super Moon.  It’s lovely and clear, so people will be gathering down by the harbor, over on Lighthouse Road, or maybe sitting on their boats in the marina to see the spectacle.

It’s August and everyone knows how precious these days are. So, we slow down and stretch them out as best we can.


Featured image “SuperMoon” by J Michael Sullivan

Let Freedom Ring!

Let Freedom Ring!
Fourth of July debut concert of 
Bion Cantorum

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

(Published in part, Florida Weekly Newspaper, June 2014)

Bion Cantorum is a new choral group in Charlotte County, with an unusual name. Bion (pronounced beeyon) is a Japanese word which translates “sweet voice” or “beautiful sound”and was contributed to be part of the group’s name by Francis Wada, Board Member and Director at Large, and a well loved and respected musical figure here in Florida.  Cantorum , Latin meaning “singers”, was added by the group’s Artistic Director Roy Engler, also familiar to local audiences as Director of the Suncoast Chorale for many years.

Last year, local businessman and Baritone John Pappa, after his own experiences with outstanding choral organizations, was inspired to start something new right here in Charlotte County: a small Chamber Chorale dedicated to serious music. He knew Roy Engler, who had the skills, musicianship and temperament to get the job done.  He knew Angela Navarro, a fine Music Teacher in the Charlotte County Public School System, who had been the accompanist for the Charlotte Chorale.  He knew singers who were hungry for a challenge.  And, finally, he had been working with the Charlotte Cultural Center for years and felt a cooperative venture was a natural fit.

Bringing it all together with a stellar board of directors, this was a great opportunity to build something special for local audiences and this spring, Bion Cantorum was born!

Here it is the middle of June, the core of the group has been recruited and they are deeply involved in rehearsals for the debut concert, Let Freedom Ring!, on the 4th of July.  The program is diverse, with its centerpiece The Testament of Freedom by Randall Thompson.  A significant work, this is a setting of four passages from the writings of Thomas Jefferson which lay the emotional groundwork for the Revolution.

Additionally, in the celebratory mood of the holiday, there will be a glorious arrangement of America the Beautiful, a rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic guaranteed to produce spine tingles and goosebumps, a rendition of Dixie that will make you weep, a remarkable Aaron Copland homage to our country’s trademark sense of brotherhood and love of the land and there is so much more! The repertoire expresses Roy’s eclectic taste in music and his skill in putting together a concert that offers old favorites alongside pieces you may have never heard before, but that are destined to become new favorites.  “I have a really long list of music I would love to perform”, Roy remarks wistfully.

I asked Roy why he decided to dive in and start something new with Bion Cantorum.  He said it was “the promise of being able to work on good music and sing it well”.  He was particularly interested in working with a small group  – under 30 – for many reasons. He remarked, “You know, most choral music is written for a smaller group. Working with a smaller group, you can do more material, you know the voices you have to work with and what you’re able to do.”  The decision to establish standards for singers, and base membership on auditions was also important to him.  Whether a singer has an extensive resume or has sung in a church choir, Roy looks for ability to read music, have a good ‘ear’ and a commitment to learning.  Less time spent on mechanics, fixing basic issues and learning notes means more time for “making music”.

For serious singers, this is thrilling. Roy’s education and experience are steeped in vocal and choral music and it is a joy to work with a director whose specialty is the human voice.  Of course, knowing the instrument and how to create sound is just the beginning  – “making music” involves telling a story, drama, pulling at the heartstrings, surprise, intrigue, suspense, the human experience. Drawing that from a musician is what makes an Artistic Director, whether of a Symphony Orchestra or a Chorus, inspire performers and bring audiences to their feet.

making soundroyangela







After spending time with the singers and Roy, if I had to choose a word to capture the group mentality, I would say “passion”.  “I’m here because I want to make beautiful music”. I heard this expressed again and again from the group members.  It is this passion for the music. There is no other reason to be here.


Jean Finks, Board Member and Alto, shared with me, “There is something magical when you are part of an  ensemble and it approaches an ideal sound.  It happens so rarely…sometimes you are part of a group led by somebody charismatic.” She told me she has been singing for a long, long time (pretty much all her life). She admires Roy’s capable direction, and hopes Bion will provide her the opportunity to work on the complex literature she longs for. “I was intrigued by the audition requirements”! The standards do suggest a commitment to taking on some challenges!theteam

Ray Byron, the group’s Treasurer and a Baritone is a man of very few spoken words. As I talked with several others about their own experience and what brought them to Bion Cantorum, he stood on the side line, shaking his head that he had nothing to say.  Then, as we were finishing, he came over to me and showed me a quote he likes to think about: “improve your self-esteem with your voice and bring out the emotions of the recipients”.  The he added his own personal philosophy, “You know, I don’t always like the music in an upcoming program, but I remind myself that someone in the audience may love it, so I give it my best and hope it will make someone happy.  That makes me happy”.

Regina Buckley, who is Executive Director of The Charlotte Symphony and a Soprano told me, “I joined primarily because Roy Engler was going to direct.”  Regina is a classically trained singer and, like many others, is partial to directors who have a depth of understanding of vocal production and literature.  Regina had sung with Roy in Wada’s final concert when the Symphony performed Beethoven’s 9th.  “I was impressed with his style.”


So am I. Roy’s ‘style’ is inspirational.  His technical knowledge of vocal production is impressive, but it is his ability to convey the spirit of the music – the text, the harmonic construction, the mood, the composer’s intention – that makes me sit up and take notice. This is more than something one learns in conservatory, this is the gift that builds a loyal group who are there for the same reason he is – to “work on good music and sing it well”.

If rehearsals are an indication, the debut concert should be very exciting.  Another gem in Charlotte County’s portfolio of artistic offerings!

Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold, Published in Florida weekly, March 2014

One week a month during Symphony season, Maestro Raffaele Ponti is in town, scurrying about from elementary schools working with third graders, to civic meetings, and teaching classes at the Renaissance Academy, along with all his other orchestra business.

On the weekend, the Orchestra rehearses for its Sunday concert.  At around 12:30 on Saturday, the kids arrive. They are there because of the instrument they play and their love of orchestral music.  Many come with a parent or teacher, some older students might be alone.  There may be a half dozen, or ten, or more.  They come without their instruments because this is a time for observation, for listening, for watching.  These kids are some of the many whose lives are being directly affected by Maestro Ponti, the Orchestra’s Executive Director Regina Buckley, and the many volunteers who carry out the Orchestra’s new educational initiative, the “Symphony Kids”.  This monthly rehearsal experience is called “Musical Chairs”.

Maestro Point initiated the program to provide up close and personal time on the stage, seated in the section of the student’s interest, next to a professional musician, as the Maestro conducts a rehearsal of music that will be played in the following evening’s concert.  Even though a student may have performed in his or her own school concerts, Musical Chairs is a unique opportunity to be a ‘fly on the wall’ as the Maestro and Concertmaster mold and shape a symphony, concerto or overture.

They are met by a volunteer of the Orchestra, whose role is to check them in, place their name tag with the designated section, talk about what is going to happen and hopefully work out some nerves.  By this point in the season, many have been here before.  They know the drill.  At the next rehearsal, there will be an added treat – violist Paul Urbanick will be giving a brief introduction to the music being rehearsed, suggesting specific things to be listening for and perhaps even some challenges musicians face in preparing the piece for performance.

Just before 1:00, everyone is brought onstage and the Orchestra Stage Manager escorts everyone to their assigned seats.  Some will be tucked in with the Brass, some with Wind, some with Strings and even sometimes Percussion. Getting seated before Maestro takes the podium at exactly 1:00 PM is critical – the orchestra rehearses only Saturday and Sunday before performing on Sunday evening, so there is no time to waste. Almost immediately, Maestro is in place, and indicates a start point. The students land somewhere in the vast landscape of the composition and away they go.  There are stops, suggestions, corrections. Maestro asks for more from the violins, less from trombones, a lighter touch from percussion. Listening, we all can hear the music refine and blossom, on its way to become what a full audience will experience just a day later.

Sometimes, it’s extra special, like in February when Robert Bonfiglio joined the orchestra onstage to prepare the Villa-Lobos Harmonica Concerto.  Here is the greatest Harmonica player in the world, in his jeans and sneakers, collaborating with our very own Maestro and our very own Symphony Orchestra.  Creating, exploring, having the time of their lives.  And, these kids are right there with them. No formality here.  No tuxes. No big audiences. Just musicians doing what they love to do. What an inspiration to young minds!  What a thrill for all of us who were there that afternoon.

When the Orchestra stops for a break, the kids gather in the front row of the audience seats where Maestro Ponti meets with them.  He asks them “what did you think?”  “how did the music make you feel?”  And on this particular day, “did you ever think a harmonica could sound like that?”  He is so enthusiastic and engaging, even the most shy among them speak up “it made me feel happy” “excited” “it made me think”.

On this day, Bonfiglio wants to play too and comes down to visit the kids. He charms everyone with stories about living in New York City, playing harmonica, traveling around the world. Parents are gathered around too, with questions of their own – but they take the back seat to the kids.  It really is all about them today.

Ask Maestro Ponti, on any day, about his commitment to our youth and future musical culture.  He’ll be delighted to talk about it:

“The best way to teach and inspire is to demonstrate and involve the students….mentoring is the most effective way of demonstrating and inspiring our future musicians. Being enveloped in the wonderful sound of the orchestra is an amazing experience. Musical Chairs lets students experience a perspective of the Orchestra that not even the audience can understand. My hope is that kids run home and practice!”

And, what do the Musical Chairs’ participants have to say?

“I really enjoyed sitting with the brass section and appreciated the opportunity to learn from the masters.  It was very exciting…I hope to be able to attend this kind of rehearsal again sometime soon” said Allison Deal, trumpet player and student at L.A. Ainger Middle School.

Good Shepherd Day School student, Luke Peterson sat in the trumpet section and commented that it was “amazing”.  His mom, Kathryn, wrote that Musical Chairs “was a great success for the children and parents alike.”  And further, this program “will most certainly be a positive influence in our young musicians’ lives.”

Some just say, “that was cool!”

On Saturday, March 22, they will be doing it all again!  Music teachers and parents are invited to sign up their young musicians to participate in Musical Chairs simply by contacting the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in Punta Gorda, 941 205 9743.  This month, the Orchestra will be performing a TRIUMPHANT finale to an incredible season.  On the program is von Suppe, Stravinsky and Hanson.  And, they will be there on Saturday to give Symphony Kids a preview of the concert – up close and personal

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Charlotte Symphony’s Youth Concert

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold, Published in FLORIDA WEEKLY, May 15, 2014

Something wonderful happened on Friday morning in Punta Gorda!

It’s Friday, May 2 at 9:30 AM and the kids are already sitting on the lobby floor at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center. Out front, more cars and school busses are lined up, continuing to deliver their precious cargo of third graders from all over Charlotte County to our welcoming group of volunteers.

They are here for the event that Maestro Raffaele Ponti has been talking about for months: The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Young Peoples Concert, “Where in the World is the Orchestra?”

All season, each week before the scheduled concerts, Maestro Ponti and Charlotte County Public School’s Ellen Harvey, the powerhouse behind this whole program, have visited third graders in every school, leading an exciting music and art class. Students were introduced to the music of Tchaikovsky’ FIREBIRD SUITE and Beethoven’ FIFTH SYMPHONY, and encouraged to draw images inspired by what they heard.  In every class, Maestro talked about the concert they would be invited to attend in May – a concert just for them, the Symphony Kids of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, more than 1200 of them!

And, now the day has arrived and they’re here!

Inside the lobby, samples of the kids’ artwork produced during the weekly classes line the walls and onstage, there is a slideshow featuring photos of the young artists at work runs continuously.

I was lucky to be part of the team during the past few months, going to each school, watching Maestro at work, the kids enthusiastic response to the music, this opportunity to create. Today, my job is to do whatever is needed, meet and greet, do an errand, help in any way I can to see that things go smoothly.  Truly, I simply could not be elsewhere. I am as excited as anyone to see all this planning and work come to its promised culmination!

Standing at my post at the concert hall door, directing students, teachers and chaperones to their designated seats, I get to see faces light up, the “whoa”, “wow”, “cool” as kids take it all in. Everything is so well organized, the house quickly fills and crackles with energy – the kids catch glimpses of their photos in the slide show, watch the musicians as they take their places, admire the stage, the high ceilings, the beautiful theater, all chattering away.

The time approaches for the Concert Master to enter, and I notice the teachers begin to raise their hands in the air – a universal signal for order.  Quickly the visual cue is picked up and spreads throughout the room; several hundred exuberant 8 and 9 year olds dial it down. On stage, Ellen Harvey requests silence so the orchestra can tune.  And silence she gets.

The Concert Master takes his seat and two students come forward, welcoming the audience and introducing Maestro Ponti, emerging to a rally of applause rewarded with his broad, winning smile and a sweeping wave. He takes the podium and raises his boton. It is‘magic time’.

The orchestra bursts into John Williams’ theme from STAR WARS and the audience is hooked.  Following, a brief ‘show and tell’ describing sections of the orchestra – strings, wind, brass and percussion – including some entertaining snippets of familiar tunes, a little fancy showmanship from the Concert Master, menacing drums, another theme from STAR WARS.

Maestro chats casually with his eager audience about the classtime he and his “Symphony Kids” shared back on their turf, at school. He reminds them of wild images evoked from Stravinsky’s FIREBIRD, the composer’s Russian heritage and his flashy style.  As the orchestra begins to play the piece now, they stir with recognition.

The musical tour continues to France and Spain represented by – Toreador from Bizet’s CARMEN, three dances – Russia, Arabia, China – from the NUTCRACKER. Then, the United States with Copeland’s RODEO, an original Latin piece by local Barbara Goldberg, beautifully orchestrated by our own George Mancini. Bringing us all back to our time together in the schools, Maestro announces “We’re going to Germany now.  Do you remember Ludwig von Beethoven?”  They do.  He sings: “DOT DOT DOT LINE!” then asks them to it sing with him.  Oh yes, they remember it well – the other big hit they listened to while creating their works of art, starting with only …___ !

This is an audience from heaven. Enthusiastic, captivated, appreciative, open, responsive. A performers dream. I perch in the top row, watching heads bobbing, young feet tapping, shoulders keeping rhythm, and then finally, as Maestro strikes up Sousa’s STARS and STRIPES FOREVER, hundreds of clapping hands!

My friend Nanette Crist whispers in my ear, “This is so wonderful I feel like I could cry.”  She’s right.  It is SO wonderful. All these young people experiencing a live performance, in a beautiful concert hall – many, if not most, for the first time. A youthful, vibrant Maestro who has touched their lives personally, timeless music they can relate to outside the realm of transient pop, surrounded by adults who are there for them, investing in their growth and development. THIS is how we create a better world.

We folks who live in Charlotte County have a good thing going, for sure.  One of the best things we have going is our Charlotte County Symphony and the partnership it has with our Charlotte County Schools.  This particular program was also made possible in part by a grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

The long awaited concert comes to an end and spirits are high.  I can’t help but think that one of these young ones will someday be playing on this very stage, or in Carnegie Hall, or teaching a class.  Maybe that Symphony Kid will say “It all started one Friday morning in May when we went to hear the Charlotte Symphony play for all of us kids”.