The SPO Experience as Seen by an Inexperienced Musician
By Bob Bill
If one can see the world in a grain of sand, perhaps the SPO experience can be conveyed by a second violinist, only 5 years with an Orchestra with over 100 years of performances, conducted by Maestro Robert C. Babb with dedication, tenacity, pleading, and love for 40 years.
I joined SPO to get more time to be with my busy wife Susan – violist, organist, choir director, and teacher of all things strings. My musical background, to be generous, was modest: piano lessons as a child until the neighbors complained and then learning the violin over 30 years later in parallel with my son Sam’s Suzuki lessons. Emboldened by Susan as my second violin stand partner (until she betrayed me to return to her first love, the viola), I was little prepared for the completely different musical experience of playing in an ensemble. This has given me an experience so utterly different from just passively listening that it is as if I needed a new word for the experience of music.
The linchpin in this experience has been the empathetic leadership of SPO conductor Bob Babb. With extensive academic training (Mansfield University, New England Conservatory and study in New York and Paris), he has brought his skills to numerous professional groups, but his special talent is his ability to bring out the art of music to those who love music, but have not for many diverse reasons followed that passion vocationally. Bob tirelessly and creatively searches for the levers to cajole, drag, seduce, or entice everyone to find their best musical voice. The result is that mysterious merging of many voices to create music. Whether Bob is acrobatically illustrating a rhythm, intoning a theme, or gently (or not so gently) reminding us of dynamics rehearsed the week before, Bob’s love of the orchestra makes it clear that he is not only the conductor, but also a fellow member pulling together with us.
A frequently heard challenge is that “It’s not about the notes.” I fear that my playing sometimes makes this true in ways not meant, but I know he means that it is about our heart and passion.