Tag Archives: Bruce Morton Wright

KEEP YOUR MONEY.

URGENT:

Dear beloved members of the Erie Chamber Orchestra audience: KEEP YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY.

Via a letter mailed to all patrons of the ECO, Gannon University is luring contributions. Do NOT give any money to Gannon, on our behalf! The money they receive will not come to us; it will be redirected to another, distinct entity.

Our ECO manager just told me, in print, that there are sufficient funds in our ECO budget to completely cover the cost of our final concert in April. Any money you send to Gannon, at this time, will therefore be considered “surplus”, and THAT money will never reach us.

I have that information, straight from the horse’s mouth.

The whole thing smells of some attempt to bolster funding for the hand-off initiative created by Gannon which, on the surface, appears to sustain the “dream” of Bruce Morton Wright. It doesn’t; rather, it sidelines the vast majority of his orchestral musicians, indeed the entire orchestra, selecting only the handful from within it who already have contracts with the other orchestra. Bruce was fiercely loyal to each and every one of his musicians, and eliminating even one of them from any effort which takes his name is nothing short of blasphemy.

By the way, citing Bruce’s historical role on the Board of the other orchestra is also deliberately misleading; disaffected, Bruce withdrew from that Board, years and years ago.

So, stop.

KEEP.YOUR.MONEY.

Wait for the actual Erie Chamber Orchestra to provide you the information you may seek. Attend our final concert, April 28th. We’d love to see you!

Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

Ruth Ann Scanzillo, principal cellist

ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

member since 1986.

 

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   3/21/18

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Erie Chamber Orchestra Will Rise, Again.

 

Some things must never be said.

And, other things must never be done.

After last night’s performance of the Erie Chamber Orchestra, I can contain myself no longer. Having been urged to keep quiet about everything until now, it is time. I must speak.

I come to you as the principal cellist of the orchestra whose inception took place in the mind of one Bruce Morton Wright. An Erie boy, raised by faithful parents, he grew to express musical talent early on – earning enrollment at our local Mercyhurst College as a music major, on tenor sax. After completing his degree and spending several years “playing out” at various jazz clubs, he found himself in the audience of a symphony orchestra.  As he sat, listening, Bruce had an epiphany.

I can remember him telling us about it.

Bruce could always tell you about it. The man had stories, each more vivid and hilarious than the last. This one was fairly straightforward; as he sat there, in the audience, the thought occurred to him: “I could do this. I could start an orchestra.”

Never daunted, that is exactly what he did. Bruce traveled, first to Vienna, Austria and, from there, to Colombia, South America, to study conducting and gain experience. Upon his return to the states in the late 1970s, he and his wife Merja came home to Erie to establish his first orchestra. And – ever the maverick – the new maestro took his newly formed ensemble one step beyond the norm; Bruce vowed to make his performances available to anyone who wanted or needed to hear them. No admission charge. None.

Nearly 40 years hence, through a couple incarnations ( originally named the Erie Bayfront Orchestra, housed at a local urban center and, in its second decade, enjoying a CNN special feature interview broadcast world wide), Bruce’s orchestra still breathes life into the works of the greatest composers, living and dead. And, March 3rd’s concert was shimmering testament. We performed the Barber Adagio, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, and – incredibly – the entire Vivaldi Four Seasons with none other than the brilliant Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster, Dennis Kim, as leading soloist. And, we did THAT in a 15 minute Tutti read and one 90 minute rehearsal.

N.o.b.o.d.y. does that.

The Erie Philharmonic doesn’t do that. I would wager that even a top ten tier orchestra doesn’t put Vivaldi’s Four Seasons out to the public on one rehearsal.

If you were in our audience, you heard the outcome. Thank you, so very much, for coming.

Now, here’s the ugly part.

Though the ECO was being sustained by both the Musician’s Trust Fund and the generous endowment of one Clarence Byers, about twenty years ago Bruce entered into an agreement with Gannon University. Founded by Catholic Bishop John Mark Gannon, it would become the region’s primary science and technology institution, attracting a long history of pre med students( in a partnership with Hahnemann Medical School) and  an ever increasing multitude of potential engineers of every persuasion, many of them foreign students. Gannon agreed to subsidize the orchestra.

From Gannon Bruce commanded comparatively little by way of compensation, and received for his musicians not a penny. As for staff, well, Bruce was everything: musical director, baton, librarian, publicity agent, and stage crew. Many a conversation in trusted confidence occurred after rehearsal, as Bruce stocked chairs and stands into their proper storage. As a single, self supporting woman teaching music in the public schools, I had no more valued an advisor or counsel than that of my chamber orchestra maestro.

In 2011, Bruce succumbed to multiple myeloma. We grieved, deeply.  But, in keeping with his vision, we pressed on; hiring a new musical director, as well as a general manager (knowing full well that Bruce could never truly be replaced), we never missed a beat. By fall, we were ready with our season. And, we thrived; our repertoire expanded, and our audience burgeoned to 800+, creating a lovely problem: we needed a performance space large enough to accommodate our audience!

Therewith the following six years.

According to the story we were given, in the fall of 2017 Gannon discovered that they could no longer support us financially. We aren’t entirely sure when, as an institution, they came to this conclusion; we only know that the news came to us, as a professional organization, when we read about it in the local paper.

Yes. Forty years of collective professional commitment and artistry, and we received the equivalent of that which a parent experiences when he/she first hears of a child’s death on the televised news.

Not a single one of our section principals was consulted. Our newest Maestro, Bradley Thachuk – also totally ignored. We were never even apprised of the ongoing financial concerns, yea the threat, of dissolution as it emerged; instead, we found out by reading the published announcement that our beloved orchestra would fold at the end of the season.

This act, on the part of Gannon University, was unconscionable.

Not only does it reflect badly on Gannon’s management but, far worse: their action represents a sin of omission, a complete abdication of the precepts upon which they, as a Catholic institution, were founded. What they did to us was callous, low class, and professionally unforgiveable.

Had any number of the orchestra’s membership been contacted with any degree of warning, we could have done several things. We could have set about to solicit regional support; we could have appealed publicly, via the news media; we could have prepared for the worst, in order to save our orchestra.

Instead, we were left high and dry, offered only the option of accepting the venture created by the one person Gannon contacted, allegedly on our behalf: our former general manager, who now worked for another orchestra!

Gannon actually promised our remaining funds to this individual, who created a chamber series (quartets/trios, et al) and went public about his plan. The only problem with this series is: the vast majority of Erie Chamber Orchestra members, both recent and of longest standing, are set to be displaced by this venture, which will only be utilizing contracted members of the other orchestra. At last count, there were only a handful ( I count eleven) of Erie Chamber orchestral musicians (total membership: 40+ ) holding contracts with the other orchestra.

I am among those displaced.

As fifteen years’ principal cellist with the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and member since 1986, I performed cello continuo last evening to Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster Dennis Kim’s Vivaldi. As of April 29th, 2018, I and dozens of others are officially without a position in a professional orchestra.

The blogosphere is world wide. You, dear readers, are hearing this story because it is a.) true; b.) worthy of your ears, and c.) of critical importance to the entire artistic community. We cannot let our educational institutions behave like hostile corporations. We cannot permit them to play with lives as if these are mere pawns on the chessboard of their own, self serving interests. And, we must preserve those entities which consistently produce the beauty and truth which the highest art embodies.

We need to start, from scratch. We need a new name, the funds to pay a conductor, plus enough to cover basic musician’s wage and advertising. Yes; we are already taking the steps to regroup. If/when we re-emerge, we hope to have your name proudly attached to those who care most about the ideals we bring to life. We hope for your support.

We have never asked much. Four rehearsals, plus performance, plus the unlimited number of hours in private practice preparation for a paycheck not exceeding $250 per musician. That is a pauper’s wage, in our time. If you were to step up to help us, our love for you would grow with every breath.

And, Bruce Morton Wright, from his spirit, would thank you.

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© 3/4/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo – Principal cellist, ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. Erie PA. PLEASE, SHARE LIBERALLY, WITH CREDIT TO THE AUTHOR, WHO WRITES ON BEHALF OF MARIAN BYARD, JAMES PEARSON, NICOLE MACPHERSON, GEOFFREY WANDS, BRIAN HANNAH, ERIK SUNDET, MEGAN RAINBOW, BRIAN WALNICKI, TED SMELTZ, MERJA WRIGHT, ANNA ROSE WELCH, CARL LAM, ANDREW SEIGEL, LAURA NELSON, JENNIFER DAUB ASHBAUGH, MICHELE NAPOLITAN, MAUREEN CONLON-DOROSH, HILARY PHILIPP, CARRIE BORLAND, KENT TUCKER, SLOAN LADWIG, HOWARD P. LYON, LOUIS NICOLIA, AND THE REST OF THE WONDERFUL, EQUALLY QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS WHO FILL THE REMAINING SEATS OF THE ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

COMMENCEMENT.

COMMENCEMENT.

For nearly 27 years, I was a regularly appearing member of the cello section in the third oldest symphony orchestra in the nation. The Erie Philharmonic which, as of about 1975, made its home in our local Warner Theatre (also, one of three operating Warners in the country), was – three out of every four weekends – my job.

Yes. That trio. The third oldest, in the third theatre, for three weekends every month.

To any observer with a keen eye, I was the one labeled “expressive”. I used my body to make the music happen. To some, such physicality was an annoyance, assumed to be some sort of affectation interrupting the collective of automatic, otherwise congruous motion of the body of players; in reality, due to the absence of short muscle mass, I moved of necessity. My arms like slender reeds, they needed leverage to get the sound out. And, I used that leverage, with all my might. In short, I was the body that never sat still. And, occasionally, audience members remarked that they enjoyed “watching” me play.

Indeed. Playing the cello requires a remarkable physical command. Unlike the wind instruments, which demand a steely control of the abdominal musculature, this nearly life sized wooden “box”, anthropomorphic in design, must be mastered using the large muscles as levers, and the small digits for dexterity, integrated with isometric attention.

The cello is positioned at the sternum contact point, then held between the knees for stability, its endpin anchoring the instrument to the floor. The player’s back remains straight, at 90 degrees to the hips, and the legs open to contain the instrument. While the torso and hips appear stable, the core of the body generates all the power which informs the upper back and arms, responsible for moving both across and down the instrument, assymetrically, to achieve sound production – the left arm, in vertical traversal up and down the strings, and the right arm in horizontal trajectory. Decades ago, the Music Educators’ National Conference (MENC) sponsored a study to determine which of the symphonic instruments required the greatest expenditure of kinetic energy; sure enough, the winner was: the cello.

I can still remember the day we “met.” My father the family crooner and “one-man band”, he’d sung to me from my birth as I’d taken the bottle in his arms. That male bari-tenor voice was my first love, and perhaps what spoke deeply to me that day while, returning from the school lavatory down the hall, I heard it; an older boy, sitting alone in the reading room, practicing by himself.

Following the sound of that “voice”, unable to identify it or the source of its timbre, all the way into that reading room I stood, stock still, for how long I cannot say, mesmerized; why had nobody ever told me about this instrument?

I would sign up, thereafter, to learn to play one  – with the traveling music teacher, in the small closet adjoining the gymnasium. He’d seat us, crammed into that tiny space, our motley handful of childhood eagerness – a clarinet, a trombone, a cello, maybe a violin and flute. I loved the smell of the canvas case, and the old, shiny rosin, and the twisted strings. I loved all its dusty mustiness, its dark German Shepherd brown finish, and the mystery of the sound every time bow drew across gut. I loved the simple book, with its easy little songs, and I played them, over, and over again. I loved carrying the cello down the hill and home after school, and back up the hill the next morning. I could not get enough. I was in fourth grade. I loved the cello.

Three years hence, at the transition to junior high school, somebody referred me to the local private teacher. And, I loved Dmitri Erdely. [See littlebarefeetblog/Dmitri]. He would guide me through Dotzauer and Goltermann and Klengel for the next couple years, and I would join the Jr. Philharmonic at age fourteen to sit in the first desk next to the high school senior, Kathy.

The music we played in the Jr. Philharmonic opened up a whole new world. In our household, the only recordings ever played on the Philco Stereo were inspirational artists from the Word Record company – soloists like Helen Barth, and George Beverley Shea, and Ethel Waters, or combos like the Palermo Brothers with their duo accordions. I had never heard a symphony before in my life, and here were Beethoven’s 8th, and other works, by Sibelius, and Rossini, on the music stand between us. I was in glorious heaven, under fluorescent light, and the man with the stick up in front of me  – my special favorite, Harold Bauer – was some kind of god.

But, I had discovered while sitting in the tub one evening that the bones on the back of my neck were crooked. I stopped taking cello lessons. My mother took me to a doctor at the Shriner’s Hospital and, after several x-rays he determined that I did, in fact, have idiopathic scoliosis. But, as he told my mother, my bone growth had nearly ceased, and wearing the confining, steel brace for a solid year would be redundant.

I stopped taking cello lessons.

The final year of high school, I resumed lessons , this time with the principal cellist of the Erie Philharmonic. She introduced me to the Haydn Cello Concerto in C, but I struggled; the parts that took my hand up onto the fingerboard seemed impossible to navigate, and our repeated sessions with this same piece that whole year were disheartening.

Yet, in spite of my feelings of dissatisfaction, she insisted that I would qualify for a full scholarship to the university where she had obtained her degree, and told my mother so. Mom, however, seemed fixated on whether or not I should attend college at all; she fretted about my willingness to help “earn” my right to go, by doing things like the dishes and the housework. A full scholarship seemed lost on her limited world view, and her resistance was forceful. I would sit at Prayer Meeting after every lesson, biting my nails until they bled, trying inside my head to reconcile all these things.

An art scholarship earned me 700 dollars later that year, the award contingent upon proof of its use toward a higher education, and my mother deemed it God’s will that I be permitted to enroll in college. I chose Fredonia State, already familiar with its music department and its campus; as high school teens, my church youth group friends and I would ride the tandem bicycle all around its concrete walkways at the height of every summer after the Grove City Bible Conference.

As an art major, I quickly signed up for cello lessons. Dr. Louis Richardson lavished me with praise. I was his “most talented student” since Michael Goldschlager, he’d say – but, we all wondered if he said that to all the girls. He permitted me an occasional performance with the members of his studio; he urged me to pursue more music; I played in the college orchestra. Its music, chosen by Harry John Brown our conductor, was always exciting and thrilling and luscious and beautiful, and I loved making every note of it, every week.

About halfway into my college career, the art professors encouraged me to transfer to the Cleveland Institute of Art. We gathered a portfolio of my work, and I took it to CIA, and applied; the Institute accepted me, into their third year, as a graphic design/medical illustration student.

But, our family was short the final 1000 dollars required for me to enroll, and so I remained at home. I took my portfolio, by my mother’s urging, around to several ad agencies in town, all of whom said they liked my work but were not hiring. I gave up just before visiting the final agency, only to read of their having hired a new art director and assistant weeks later.

Working for two more years in town, I saved my money. I’d earned three thousand dollars, and put it in the bank. In an epiphany, while driving home from a visit to Fredonia, I realized that I could return to school, switch my major to music education, and become a music teacher for children.

Two and a half years later, the requirements for that degree were complete. All my art studio credits had transferred as electives. I played a solo recital – two pieces, from memory: The Boccherini Suite in G, and the Richard Strauss Sonata in F.

Not realizing that, these both being chamber works, memorization was not necessary, at that point in my life playing the cello in the reverberant practice rooms of “Old Mason”, with their large, sliding windows wide open over the atrium, was pure joy; these pieces memorized automatically, because I played them so many times. I played them, and I graduated. Dr. Walter Hartley came to my reception afterwards, and enjoyed the crab h’or doerves.

But, lean in for a moment. People often speak about “living the dream”. I had never fantasized about becoming an orchestral musician. Such an option had never reached my consciousness. I was profoundly uninformed. Dr. Richardson, in the whole time I spent as a bona fide member of his studio completing the music education degree, continued to insist that I should switch to performance and I, ever oblivious, persisted in my determined quest to be of service as a music teacher. The idea that I would qualify as a performing soloist was impossible for me to process; too frightening, such an unknown. Plus, I was too fearful of disobeying God’s dictae about living life as a servant. Nobody in my family had ever known anything at all about the life of a performing professional musician, and none of them were about to become willing to learn, either.

I finished school. Graduation, for me, was slated for December but, since there was no ceremony scheduled for that small class, cap and gown was set for the following May. I remember breaking up with my boyfriend, crying for twenty solid minutes, returning home after student teaching – wherein I had discovered myself woefully unable to address repertoire that I myself had never played in high school or college – and, crawling into bed, to sleep for nearly two months.

A trip to Florida pulled me out of that reactive depression, and so did a job at the Greek dinor. A year or so later, one of the local musicians heard that I was “back in town” and recommended me for the sub list of the two city orchestras. It was that simple. I joined Local #17, American Federation of Musicians, and off I went to become an orchestral musician.

My stand partner was none other than my college cello professor, Dr. Richardson. He wasn’t sure, even then, that his “most talented student” was ready to handle the symphony. But, at his guidance, and by his model, I clambered into the ranks. Determined, I learned by doing.

Yes. What had laid the foundation for those who would become my colleagues was lost on me. Completely unaware that they had all studied the orchestral “excerpts” with the degree of attention paid by literary scholars and mechanical engineers to their own skills, I was a monkey; put the notes in front of me and, somehow, I would make them into music.

Perhaps this drive was borne in me, decades earlier, by my self taught father – a man who never knew either his parents, or a decent meal, or a secure roof over his head until he’d met my mother. Perhaps being in the periphery of the mainstream for so many years taught me to persist. For me, it was never about fantasy; rather, it was about the harsh reality of being left, on the sidelines, while the rest of the world pursued their dreams. I was not about to be relegated to any cloud of dust. I would commence, just like the rest of them.

And, commence, I did. And, I’m still beginning. Every day. The process, for me, is always new; the music is always a curious, mysterious stranger, asking to make my acquaintance. And, I am ever ready.

In 2013, I left the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra’s list of hired players. I still miss the smell of the stage, the velour and cables in the wings, the feel of the original, wooden floor under my endpin, the opulence of the grande Art Deco theatre. But, the scene has changed there. Now, a player like myself is considered dispensable; younger, fresher, caffeinated and confident, the generation that came after me, all its fantasies vividly expressed, has slid into all the available seats. There are few advocates for the reliable, wisened musicians in these orchestras, unless they prove competitive enough to secure and then maintain contracts for a chair. Clearly, I missed this option – by several years, and a few miles. But, those miles remain, and I plan to travel them before I sleep.

**********

Addendum (modified 10/21/18):

I continued to play my beautiful cello – in a different orchestra. From 1978, the Erie Chamber Orchestra had offered its programming to audiences free of charge, and I had joined in 1986 to become its principal cellist by 2000. The legacy of one Bruce Morton Wright left behind a mission to bring the world’s greatest music to everyone, regardless of station, and the maestro who took the helm after Bruce’s passing, Matthew Kraemer, remained committed to that promise for almost five years. You could hear us, once a month, for one night only, on a Saturday at 7:30pm, in our concert hall. It wasn’t the magnificent Warner. It was a little cramped on stage. The lighting was a problem. But, the music? The music was every bit as gorgeous as any you will find anywhere, performed with the highest commitment to excellence and emotional depth, to beauty, and in truth .

To you, I said, “Welcome!” To the rest of the world: “Bon Voyage!”

That was before February 24, 2018.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra is now history. Musicians who populated it are scattered. Some remain in the Erie Philharmonic; others perform with a newer, start up ensemble.

I am now a bona fide free lancer. For the past two months, the music composed for solo cello and piano have occupied my hands and heart. I can say that this is likely the path Louie, my mentor, always wanted me to take. Louie, I play for you, now….and, for my father, and his God. New beginnings, at long last, can truly be this good.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 11/7/15

All rights those of the author, whose story is told as you read it. p.s. On November 21st, 2015 MIDORI [was to have played] the Korngold concerto with the Erie Chamber Orchestra. In her place, Michael Ludwig, who performed memorably.