Cellist Marks 50th Year with the VSO

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(Host)  Melissa Brown is approaching her 50th year as a cellist with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.  She’s the only member to have worked with all four of the orchestra’s music directors.  She shared her recollections recently with VPR’s Steve Zind.

(Zind) Melissa Brown says her mother introduced her to music when she was young. First piano, then violin, and finally cello at the urging of a school orchestra director who needed a cellist. 

Brown says the sound of the instrument – and its range – have always appealed to her. . 

(Brown) "I just like it that it’s dark sounding, and low notes I like very much.  I kind of like the minor sounding sort of things."

(Zind)  And Brown remembers being captivated by a particular recording when she first began playing.

(Brown) "I remember a pink vinyl record that I had and we had a wind-up record player in our dining room and put that pink record on and it would be a Vivaldi 5th Cello Sonata."

 (Zind) The Vermont Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1934 by Alan Carter.  When Brown joined in 1961, Carter was still the music director.

(Brown) "Alan was the beginning person and he had so much enthusiasm for it, being his own orchestra really.  He treated us all very well.  We always went to the Dog Team to have our dinners when we went to Middlebury."

(Zind) Carter was followed by one of the more colorful figures and controversial figures in VSO history: Efrain Guigui.

(Brown) "Who was a fantastic musician and really an inspiring person to work with and I felt that I really benefited a lot from the experience of being with him.  Quite a lot, actually."

(Zind)  Guigui directed the orchestra from 1974-1989 and he did it with flair. To celebrate the VSO’s 50th anniversary, he proposed that orchestra musicians play in every town in the state.

(Brown) "Into little gores and everything.  Everything was covered. I remember one person, Dave Brubaker, had to go to one place.  I don’t even know that there was anybody there, but it was on the list, to play his trumpet alone."

(Brown laughs)

(Zind) Brown says she went to well over one hundred towns herself as part of a small ensemble.  Her most vivid memory of that tour:   sitting alone in a church in Stannard and playing Amazing Grace on her cello as she waited for the other musicians to arrive.

( Brown plays "Amazing Grace")

 (Brown) "And this car stopped outside and two old people were sitting in it.  And they just rolled the windows down.  And then they listened.  And then they drove on. And I felt like, ‘oh, I must have made a connection somehow there’."

(Zind)  Efrain Guigui’s tenure with the orchestra had its stormy moments.

(Brown)  "He was a little bit temperamental but that’s the way conductors are sometimes."

(Zind) And in 1989, Guigui was dismissed by the board, reportedly for his temper and failing to meet deadlines.  The orchestra hit the roughest spot in its history as half the board and staff resigned to protest the firing.

(Brown) "I was on the side that felt it was not a just situation that he was confronted with there.  We sort of had our friends and our ‘not-friends’ for a while there, but it went past and no longer was an issue."

(Zind)  Brown says in the 50 years she’s been with the VSO, two things have changed.  The quality of the orchestra has continued to improve.  She credits music director Jaime Laredo . 

The other change she says, is she’s now older than the rest of the members.  Brown says despite her experience each new VSO season is just as much work for her as her very first.  

(Brown) "It is work.  There’s always this mistake that people think ‘playing’ means you’re playing, like you’re out playing in the yard or something.  But it’s really all work."

(Zind) It’s work Melissa Brown has enjoyed for 50 years and hopes to continue it into the future.  For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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