Nov 18, 2020

Full Circle

Guest blogger Stephen Browne, filling in for Maestro Maull!

When I was six years old, a couple months shy of seven, my parents decided to take me to one of my first classical music concerts. I didn’t really know much about music at the time, or at least music outside the scope of The Beatles (thanks to Ken Dashow’s “Breakfast with The Beatles” on Q104.3 every Sunday morning), but I knew that I did at least enjoy music when I heard it… who doesn’t? So, I was interested in just what the concert would be like, especially after I learned that the main feature of the show would be a 12-year-old pianist from China: Peng Peng. I remember that I was very enamored with the fact that a kid somewhat close to me in age would be up on stage performing with this thing called an “orchestra.”

The concert was on May 15, 2005 at NJPAC in the Victoria Theatre, and at the time, The Discovery Orchestra was still called the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey. The stage was set up with a chamber orchestra positioned in its typical semi-circle around the conductor, George Marriner Maull, and Peng Peng in front of the conductor and orchestra at a piano with the lid removed. Fortunately, I’ve had pictures from the concert sent to me as well as the program, so no, I don’t have that great of a memory. What I do remember from the actual performance, though, was that there was this kid on stage absolutely tearing it up on the piano, which I thought was so cool. Peng Peng seemed to be really focused and zoned in on what he was doing. His passion worked well to sell the music to the audience and made the story being told (musically, I suppose) believable.

The other part of the concert that surprised me, and that I enjoyed, was when George stopped Peng Peng and the orchestra, turned around to the audience and started talking to us about what was going on in the music. At first, I wasn’t sure of what to make of it, but as I listened to what George was saying, and as the orchestra would then resume and demonstrate what George had pointed out, I found it to be a wonderful experience and all the more interesting. I asked my dad more about the concert recently to refresh my memory. As he described it to me, George “was not just waving his arms at the musicians, but turned around and engaged audience members in a way that was quite new to us NYC classical music snobs – and wonderful!” My dad had been uneasy about bringing a small child to a classical concert having witnessed families attempt it in the city. Some kids were quite well behaved, some relocated to parents’ laps, and others had to be walked back to the lobby or up and down the aisles. Fortunately, because of how George guided the audience’s listening and the overall interactive nature of the concert, it was easy for anyone to stay engaged, even myself as a small child. And it would seem to have made so much of a lasting impression on me to the point where, not only did I go to college to pursue music, but also ended up interning with The Discovery Orchestra twice!

Stephen Browne

Stephen Browne is an undergraduate music composition major and drummer/percussionist at Louisiana State University in his senior year. He is currently interning with The Discovery Orchestra during a leave of absence for a semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephen enjoys writing music ranging from contemporary classical to jazz and rock.