The Musical Journey, Pt.23


Back in the States: Jet Lag, a Wedding and Packing Our Bags Again!

The Byrnes clan

The Byrnes clan

When you’ve been away from home for three months and Europe is seven times zones to the east, it can take a while for your body to adjust. At 3 a.m. something’s telling you to get up. Part of your brain is repeating “There’s a lot to do”! The to-do list is long and includes things like addressing bills, getting a sprinkler system running, having your cars inspected, preparing for guests, seeing students, getting a haircut, sifting through a couple of boxes of mail, trying to practice your instrument, organizing masterclass topics and running a multitude of errands. Somehow, it gets done.

Following months of careful preparation, the Byrnes, Weathers and Hampton clans descended on Salt Lake City for the wedding between Colleen Hampton and Tucker Weathers. Jonathan Byrnes officiated the ceremony, which took place in a small amphitheater up Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City. The weather was gorgeous, as was the bride, and the vows exchanged were personal and endearing. The couple have known each other since elementary school, and a true picture of happiness radiates from them both. After living in our home for a year, they now have an apartment less than a block away. Lisa is already planning on weekly Sunday dinners. The newly married couple would head off for Glacier National Park, fitting for a pair so connected to the outdoors. Aunt Lisa wonders what happened to the little boy she’s known since his very first day. Tucker’s a man now and I remind her “He’s only a block away”!

Rehearsal dinner with Colleen Hampton, Tucker Weathers, Bob and Lisa

Colleen Hampton, Tucker Weathers, Bob and Lisa

It’s never a good time to get sick, but sick I got in the days following the wedding. A trip to the clinic on 900 East revealed I had a prostate infection. Dr. McNally made the right call and prescribed “Ciprofloxacin”, an antibiotic. Sparing you the gory details, I began to make a slow recovery.

My son, Kendall Stephenson, came back to Salt Lake City for a week and, with his sister Gretchen, we went out for Thai food the night before I left for Tennessee. Kendall graduated last month from the master’s program at the New School of Social Research in New York City and is on the job hunt. Gretchen got a promotion at the Sun Company in Salt Lake City and seemed especially happy. As a Dad, it’s nice to not be worrying about your kids.

For a fifth summer I have returned to the mountains of northern Tennessee and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. The festival has been in existence for 57 years and takes place at the University of the South. The campus is consistently voted one of the most beautiful in the country. The buildings look like castles and churches. Tall trees and expansive lawns dominate the grounds. We commonly see squirrels, deer, rabbits, frogs, turtles and a variety of birds. A couple of bright red cardinals make their home close to my studio and the songbirds are forever whistling a happy tune. Powerful rainstorms are common enough to convince you to carry an umbrella and poncho. My dorm room is next door to the Woodwind House I share with the flute and clarinet studios, so if I make a dash for it, I’ll get wet versus getting drenched! The dorms and studios are stark, and the bed is like sleeping on a trampoline. We are without hooks, shelves or mirrors, and a shared bathroom means I must be sensitive to my fellow floor-mate. The studios were so loud I began hanging sheets to improve the acoustics, but 12 talented young oboe players make it all worthwhile. The faculty is made up of about 20 devoted teachers. Students this summer number 180 and come from five different countries and 39 different states. The energy level is high and the eagerness to learn is strong. Weekly lessons and masterclasses make it possible for me to make a difference. Faculty recitals had me enjoying a performance of the Beethoven Piano/Wind Quintet, with Telemann coming up later this week. After three months without my oboe, it felt good to get back to playing. My students range from 16 to 22. They are probably “stars” back home and several will be stars here, too. Their lessons, chamber music and orchestral assignments keep them very busy. This summer my students are part of an experiment. I have gathered examples of the “musical opportunities” we see in the music on our stands. We are focusing on musical expression, dynamic inflection, “singing” on the oboe, rhythmic discipline and much more. My goal is to have 12 young musicians who do more than play the notes!

Bob's oboe studio at the Sewanee Music Festival

Bob’s oboe studio at the Sewanee Music Festival

The annual concerto competition, recitals featuring my students Amy Cassiere, Nathaniel Wolff and Jordan Howard and two orchestra concerts have given my students opportunities to shine. The Symphony #4 by Tchaikovsky was the big work on Sunday and the students really delivered! Jamie Sanidad had some beautiful moments on the oboe. Stravinsky’s “Firebird” is on tap for this week and tonight we’ll have a sectional to review the important material from seven different works for orchestra. This week five students will join me for the 4th of July concert. Tuba player and organizer Eric Bubacz has prepared a patriotic celebration that is heavy on Sousa marches. This concert is usually very popular with the local music lovers. If it sounds like the students are busy, they are! To counteract their musical lives, a soccer game has been scheduled, along with a trip into Nashville, movie night, a barbecue, hikes, a talent show and much more. The volume level in the cafeteria seems to rise as young men and women make friends on this special place high on a hilltop in Tennessee.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes