Why Verdi is Important to Me

When the Chicago Symphony announced that they’d be doing a live stream of the Verdi Requiem on October 10, I was elated. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music, being performed by one of the finest orchestras on the planet. For free! But, my excitement goes even deeper than that.

Way back in the spring of 2001, I was wrapping up my freshman year of high school. Our orchestra teacher found out that the CSO was performing the Requiem, and organized a field trip. $40 would get you a seat on the bus, a ticket, and dinner at Gino’s East (and in the case of my good friend James, an entire keg of Diet Coke spilled on you. It’s a long, not terribly interesting story.)

As we took our seats, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was a young musician at the time, and had never been to see a professional orchestra. I knew basic concert etiquette, and had purchased a copy of the score at the gift shop before the show. That was it.

Over 12 years later, several details of the performance are still quite fresh in my mind. I remember Daniel Barenboim taking the stage, and then closing and setting aside his score in a very obvious fashion. The thought Holy crap! He’s going to conduct this from memory? flashed through my mind briefly, but I didn’t have time for much else. The opening notes were so incredibly soft, they required all of my concentration to hear.

Our group was seated in the highest balcony, and looking around, I noticed a music stand set up in front of us. As I was trying to figure out why, the orchestra launched into the Dies Irae and to borrow a phrase I use when I go to Dream Theater concerts, melted my face off. “Ballsy” is really the only way I can describe it. The percussionist handling the bass drum was hitting it so hard that the drum stand was literally scooting across the floor a few inches at a time.

Then suddenly…trumpets. Turns out the mystery music stand in front of us was for one of the pairs of antiphonal trumpets in the Tuba Mirum. Very cool to hear that theme echoing around the entire hall. As a young brass player, my jaw was on the floor.

That was a life-changing performance for me. Over the coming weeks I began thinking about music as a career option (I guess that’s worked out alright). I took the score home and wrote out the main theme from the Rex Tremendae, and would play it ad nauseam in the band room at school. That one performance had a profound effect on me, and that’s why I’m excited to tune in.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License