The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us praise musicians who played outdoors this summer and remember the challenges they faced. | September 8, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently the composer Johannes Brahms was very fond of going to outdoors concerts in his native Vienna.

No surprise. There is something liberating and social, something relaxed and informal, for both players and listeners about hearing music outdoors. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performing under its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell at the state Capitol.)

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, it is good to recall that we in Madison are lucky to have so many outdoors musical events and so many of high quality.

During this past summer, for example, outdoor concerts were given by: the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its Concert in the Park; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its justly popular Concerts on the Square; the Madison Opera for its “Opera in the Park” (below); and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras in its Concert in the Park. And there are many others who could be named.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

Then too, I think of so much other kinds of music, usually non-classical and very often roots music such as folk and bluegrass, that gets performed at various outdoors venues from the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Lakefront Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, La Fete de Marquette, the inaugural Make Music Madison Festival and the Orton Park Festival to little groups of musicians that play informally at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and various other farmers’ markets in the area.

Farmers Market music

Yet there are serious challenges to performing outdoors that non-musicians may not know about that are easy for the public to overlook. (Check out the YouTube video at the bottom and its advice from London about playing outdoors.)

Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim of the New York Times recently wrote about some of those challenges as an outdoors concert at the bandshell in Central Park by the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was gearing up to perform its first-ever outdoor concert, of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak, for the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts.

It is a very well done story with sources including the concert veteran and former Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel (below) and others. And her reporting gets quite specific about the challenges from keeping instrument in tune and playing the music to taking care of instruments and securing music in the stand.

Here is a link to a story that should remind us of what we can be grateful for this past summer and what we can look forward to next summer:

Do you play music outdoors?

What stories or anecdotes and experiences can you share with others about the challenges of playing music outdoors?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the MSO in this story!

    Sent from my iPhone

    Comment by Teri Venker — September 9, 2013 @ 7:27 am

  2. Jacob,
    I’ve been playing in the Omro Community Band [trombone/baritone horn] the past few summers and the Waunakee Community Band [bass clarinet] this past year. I’ve yet to read the NY Times piece you linked but as you alluded, one of the most critical elements facing outdoor musicians is keeping the music on the stands. Until a couple years ago, the only ways I’d ever heard of to do that was with clips like clothes pines, many of which are long, and by placing transparent boards on the music .

    But a couple years back, a tuba player from Ripon who was playing in the Omro Community Band had a device that either he or his father had invented. It was essentially a wooden box with rollers at top/bottom with a transparent door that covered the sheet music at the front. He taped an entire concert’s sheet music together vertically and then wound it onto rollers at the top and bottom of the device. His instrument was a Sousaphone so it rested on his shoulder during the concert. That gave him a free hand if needed for him to turn the scrolls vertically even while he was playing. It was such an intriguing piece of equipment that I borrowed it from him and my elder brother made a duplicate. I’ve yet to use it, but must tell you that I was astonished at how simple yet clever that piece of equipment is.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — September 8, 2013 @ 12:49 am

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