A Home Cookin’ Retrospective

Somehow while planning the 3M Orchestra’s 2002-2003 season, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to give members of our amateur orchestra the opportunity to step to the front as soloists and in small ensembles. This is simply not done with orchestras like ours, presuming that features should be left to the professionals. These eleven years and nine Home Cookin’ programs later (traversing the orchestra’s transition from 3M Club Symphony Orchestra to East Metro Symphony Orchestra) I suspect the motivation for creating this program was a combination of wanting to showcase our then-new concertmaster, Michal Sobieski, and my feeling settled enough with the orchestra with three seasons under my belt as music director to follow creative instincts. This first foray into Home Cookin’ was relatively mild, featuring Michal and his violinist wife Liz performing the “Bach Double,” most of the orchestra’s wind section performing the Strauss Serenade for 13 Instruments, Erin McCarville, daughter of our principal trumpet Jim, singing Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. It’s been a long time since we’ve had enough room on a Home Cookin’ concert to play a full symphony, because the idea of stepping up to the front of the orchestra became so very popular as we continued creating Home Cookin’ concerts through the years.

Before long, our principal clarinet and bassoon – best friends in real life – became a regular feature, finding presumably all of the repertoire ever composed for clarinet, bassoon and orchestra. Naturally we found great pride and pleasure in featuring Mike Sobieski every year – with or without Liz, and particularly enjoyed getting to see, hear and know more about the distinctive individuals who populate our orchestra. Through the years we’ve featured Laila Vojoodi as clarinet soloist (even though she played in the violin section), Brad Wright playing recorder (even though he wasn’t a member of the orchestra, he was part of our family as a 3M employee), flutist Megan Gangl and hornist Jim Cheeseman in duet, trumpeters Tom Burns and Jim McCarville, violinist Shawn Urban playing a piano concerto, cellist Katie Douglass, guest concertmaster Holly Ager, and a variety of brass, woodwind and string chamber ensembles, While he still was able to make it to rehearsals, octogenarian

Peter Olsteins was always a favorite as violin soloist. He wasn’t a very accomplished violinist at this stage of his life, but was indeed the most intrepid, simply by getting up each year and doing his best with a solo. He’d been gone from our group for awhile, when last time around came Gus to vie for the role of most beloved Home Cookin’ soloist: New to our orchestra that year, Gus Gutman seemed to always be apologizing for not being able to play violin as well as he would desire or thought he should. He was a 3M retiree with an extraordinary personal history of Holocaust survival, and a heart simply overflowing with music. He sang with a chorus, did volunteer work at seniors centers, and always seemed to be pushing us to be a stronger presence in seniors communities. When it was time to plan our Home Cookin’ program he sheepishly asked if he could sing something. Having never denied anybody the opportunity to perform on our Home Cookin’ concerts, I sent him a copy of the spreadsheet that lists all the music we have in our orchestra library, and invited him to see what might be good for him to sing. He chose Danny Boy. It was in the wrong key for him, of course, but since it’s significantly simpler for a singer to sing in another key than it is for an orchestra to do so, we encouraged him to stretch himself by singing this well-practiced song in a new key. Then he asked if he could possibly also play harmonica for a verse. How could we possibly deny him (or us) this opportunity, so add a verse for harmonica we did! A very self-deprecating guy this Gus Gutman turned out to be, and he had to be nudged, encouraged and affirmed the entire way through to the performance. And in the end he kicked butt. That Home Cookin’ program also featured a sparkling trumpet duet playing Vivaldi and a gorgeous rendition of a Beethoven Romance by our guest concertmaster, but it was Gus tentatively and heartfully singing Danny Boy, and weaving a verse on the harmonica that brought the house down.

I was more than a little interested to see what Gus might cook up for this season’s Home Cookin’ concert, but he seemed to be fighting some sort of illness all autumn long, by December he was diagnosed with the recurrence of a cancer that he had beaten back 20 years previously, and by January he was gone. Apparently Gus had one Home Cookin’ concert for us, and it was smashing.

The most remarkable element of this season’s rendition of Home Cookin’ is the original compositions and arrangements and orchestrations that our members have created. Jeff Liebsch, who occasionally joins us when we need a 3rd trumpet, is gracing us with the first movement of his Symphony No. 1. Our principal trombone Mark Mohwinkel is stepping to the front for his first Home Cookin’ with a work composed for trombone with piano accompaniment – no doubt something he learned years ago as a trombone student. But he decided that he wanted to orchestrate the piano accompaniment for string orchestra…so he did! And then to hear our principal second violin, Don Mitchell tell the story, I badgered him so ruthlessly to include some fiddling in Home Cookin’ that he went ahead and arranged 3 beloved, traditional American fiddling tunes for fiddle and orchestra. And just so he wouldn’t be so lonely up front, he convinced two of his fellow violin section members to take one of the fiddle tunes.

It is so much easier, so much simpler to just present an overture, concerto (with appropriately renowned professional soloist) and symphony for a concert program. But I wouldn’t trade our Home Cookin’ programs for the world! It completely blows me away that our intrepid little band of Tuesday night amateur orchestra players would choose to get it together and perform solos and small ensembles for this program, and it has been fascinating to help our first-time orchestrators through the process of creating something for an orchestra that actually works!

I do hope you can come share this experience with us. Not only will you hear some music for the very first time, you will hear beloved standard music played by folks who could be your next door neighbor or the person working in the cube down the row. And don’t forget to read the biographies in the program, to gain insight into exactly who these wonderful people are who would choose to join us after work every Tuesday evening to tackle the world of the orchestra, just for the “fun” of it.

Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes
Music Director and Conductor

Home Cookin’
Sunday, March 9, 2014
3:00 p.m.
The Loft Stage, East Ridge High School
Woodbury, MN
Tickets available at the door – very, very reasonably priced ($10 adults, $6 students/seniors, children 13 & younger free)
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