At Thursday’s edition in the Madison Hotel, for example, Lorna Davis, president of Biscuits, North America, for Mondelez International (Nabisco), revealed that Nabisco cranks out 15 million Oreos a day at its Fair Lawn plant.
And James Roe, oboist-turned-president of the New Jersey Symphony, introduced us to viola jokes.
Between the Folk Project and the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade, we have heard plenty of banjo- and bagpipe jokes.
But it was surprising to learn, after some prodding, that violas get the abuse among orchestral musicians. Our money would have been on the triangle player.
As James told it:
“The viola stops the rehearsal and says to the conductor, ‘The French horn player has un-tuned my strings…and he won’t tell me which one!’”
More v-jokes are here. What did violists ever do to anybody?
Susan Stucker, chief operating officer for the New Jersey Symphony, and one of our table-mates at Great Conversations, suggested that violas are picked on because they have their own special clef.
‘BUBBLE OF AWARENESS’
Serious topics also came up. At least, we think so. The din from 31 tables of conversationalists was considerable.
Guests of honor at each table ranged from artists such as Janet Taylor Pickett to retired sports stars Al Leiter and Joe Morris to psychiatrist/poet Owen Lewis. Patrons of Morristown-based Morris Arts paid $225 apiece to dine and chat with the celebrities.
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Our featured table guest, James Roe, indulged our curiosity about what it’s like to perform in an orchestra. He compared it to an athletic feat, requiring a blend of muscle memory–achieved via rehearsal–and concentration.
James returned recently to Michigan to perform a Mozart piece with his hometown orchestra, where he got his start as a youth. His role as president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony leaves little time for the oboe; he had not played the instrument for seven months, in fact, and worried if he still had the “mental stamina” to get through the concert.
Of course, he did.
So exactly how, we asked, do classical musicians follow the score and the conductor at the same time?
“It’s like being in a bubble of awareness,” James explained. “Your mind is in several places and several times at once. We’re not reading the music. It’s in our bodies, in our muscle memories.”
The joy, he said, comes from interacting in the moment, nudging and being nudged by other passionate musicians, adding the subtle nuances that inform the magic.
It’s a special sort of teamwork, he said, which can leave a musician a little sad when the final note is sounded. A Wagnerian opera is an epic undertaking; each performance is a unique journey with your symphonic comrades, an experience never to be repeated.
That’s a bit how we felt when Great Conversations drew to a close. But everyone was sent home with a special musical memory: Jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli, who at 88 lets his guitar do his talking, performed with Ed Laub to conclude the dinner. Now that’s a tasty tidbit.