The Richmond Symphony's musicians may have the summer off, but they hardly take it easy.
A Working Vacation
Summertime, and the living is easy. ... Or is it? With the beginning of summer, many of us envy professionals who get a summer break. The Richmond Symphony musicians are included in this lucky category. But while they may enjoy a summer free of scheduled concerts, these players hardly take it easy. Many of these musicians find alternate sources of income by teaching at camps, giving private lessons or free-lancing with other orchestras. Some pursue hobbies, while others sharpen their musical skills.
It is not uncommon for small-to-medium-sized orchestras to break during the summer. The Richmond Symphony contract requires the musicians to play for a 38-week season and specifies the number of concerts to be played during that time. When this contract was originally created, it was noted that people have far less free time during the summer; vacations take precedent over classical music concerts.
Larger orchestras, such as Boston, San Francisco and the Virginia Symphony (Norfolk), employ their musicians for a 52-week season. Summertime, for these orchestras, often means a cross-country or European tour, or recording in the studio. Bruce Cauthen, the Symphony's marketing director, hopes these ventures will someday be a reality for Richmond. This summer, however, the Wintergreen Performing Arts Festival July 3-4 and July 10-11, will be the only chance to see the Symphony until September.
Many musicians take advantage of the time off by making extra money playing in music festivals and free-lancing. With the popular summer nuptial season, Symphony musicians are in high demand for the weddings throughout the area.
"During the summer, especially May and August, I am playing for a wedding almost every weekend," says violinist Susanna Klein. Klein began playing with the Richmond Symphony in January 1998, previously having free-lanced in Boston. This summer, in order to prepare for two upcoming auditions in July with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra and the National Symphony in Washington. Klein will focus on practicing. Not only will she be taking lessons, but she plans to practice for three to six hours every day.
Scott Cochran, bass trombonist with the Richmond Symphony since 1997, also intends to sharpen his skills. "During the season, I prepare for my part of the piece, and then everyone prepares together as an orchestra," he says. "My own skills on which I like to focus may get lost during this time. During the off-season, I plan to practice about two hours a day to build these skills back up."
Another reason for all this practicing is the free-lancing Cochran pursues for symphonies in North Carolina and Virginia. He needs to be ready to play on a moment's notice when he is called in to substitute for a sick musician. With only one bass trombonist position in each orchestra (and only two tenor trombonist positions), Cochran keeps his playing sharp to compete for these highly selective spaces.
Not all of the Richmond Symphony musicians focus on free-lancing or practicing during the summer. Some travel and pursue other hobbies. Adam DeGraff, Richmond's principal second violinist with since January 1998, is one such musician. During the summer, this self-described "wannabe farmer" lays down his violin and picks up his gardening tools, but he hardly takes the summer off. DeGraff and his wife are attempting to organically raise all of their own food on about four acres of land. Their endeavors include an orchard, herb and vegetable gardens, flax and cotton plants and soon, sheep and chickens. DeGraff's wife, Lisa, formerly a professional flute player, has retired to pursue this lifestyle.
"We are trying to live our ideals as completely as possible," DeGraff says. " ... All of my friends make fun of me, but I love