In preparing to return to the PARMA office from a week of recording sessions in the Czech Republic, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what to say to everyone about this adventure. How do I answer when someone asks “what did you learn?” or “what was the biggest takeaway?”
After some serious consideration, I have determined that I can explain the whole experience in relation to one simple thing: my shoes.
“Marina, what do your shoes have to do with this?” Well frankly, a whole lot. Let me paint the picture for you. Olomouc is full of beautiful streets with the most gorgeous cobblestone you have ever seen. Everything is within walking distance which means you are walking everywhere. For this experience, I made the active choice to pack business casual flats. Which, to clarify, is the equivalent of running across lava barefoot.
“Ok, gross. I still don’t see what that has to do with music.” Don’t worry, I’m getting there.
Due to my poor choice of shoe I had to think on my feet (pun unintended) and change strategies on the fly to make sure that no matter what I experience everything. It was a pure, unwavering determination. Which, as I learned over this past week, is the most important part of creating, performing, and recording new music: pure, unwavering determination (I told you I would get there!).
A personal favorite example of this came from a conversation with one of our musical directors, Lukas. Lukas, in addition to being a fantastic collaborator in the control room, is a talented composer whose works had actually been banned during the Russian occupation.
During the occupation, communist artists had forbidden the music, poetry, books of Czech artists. In reaction, Lukas took musical inspiration from Latin biblical text that he found correlated to the current situation in what was then Czechoslovakia. The pieces were banned from being performed in his home country so he sent his work out to countries all over the world, including America. He began to see his works given awards and performed in venues like the Library of Congress.
His determination as a composer, despite history working against him, pushed him to continue his work and we later learned that he had taught composition to many of the people we know and work with.
Another example came from the players. Recording new music is never a small challenge, especially when it is a lot of pieces with varied techniques, tones, moods, and styles. To come into the room prepared and ready to record takes a determination to get the piece right. One of our artists, Lionel Sainsbury, was kind enough to remark about how impressed he was with the preparation the group had put into his piece.
The examples continued to build up from the team in the control room going over passages eight or nine times to ensure it was done correctly, to the breaking down of language barriers, to the surprise obstacles like construction work, car horns, and a recording in a church that remained open to the public during the session.
Finally, and most important, I was able to truly see the determination of our artists. In these sessions, some were hearing their music for the first time, others were virtually attending from across the ocean, but all were working to make sure that their music was heard. I had the pleasure of speaking with artists as they discovered a new dynamic structure that changed the tone of their piece. I was able to see composers turn to their peers in the room for suggestion and trust that they were working with a group who truly cared about the outcome of that day.
On my first day in Olomouc, Bob and I were reflecting on the challenges that come with being a composer by trade – one of the biggest challenges, of course, is getting the music played and heard. It was that specific obstacle that Bob saw as the reason he started recording.
All of this said I am incredibly grateful to have been able to see the country, the performers, the team in the control room, and the way that PARMA and our artists work together from the very first note. I am also grateful to my awful choice in footwear because it made me want to experience everything that much more.
My takeaways from the sessions? Be ready to adapt, hold onto your determination, and treat every moment like you’re walking 10 miles on cobblestone in flats. Though maybe, do it all in sneakers.
– Marina Altschiller