Music — Our International Language

By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Sunday in Laguna Beach Mrs. McD and I bought two cups of ice cream. It was a simple commercial transaction: we got butter pecan and cookies-and-cream, and the gal behind the counter got nine bucks.  I doubt that the gal behind the counter had anything emotional invested in the deal.  Before she had even finished handing me our cups she was shouting, “Next!”

Not all transactions are like that. An artist I know takes great delight in transferring ownership of something he has created to a buyer, and not just because money changes hands. He doesn’t paint just for himself.  He wants others to enjoy his work. 

And what kind of transaction is a musical performance? Nineteenth century German novelist Berthold Auerbach said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” The temptation, of course, is to assume that the soul that Auerbach was referring to is that of the audience member. But that’s only partly so.  In a bravura performance by any orchestra, the audience is uplifted, but so are the musicians.  It is a communion between the two, not a one-way transaction.  When it’s over, the musicians don’t shout, “Next!” They can be as much in love with the performance as the audience.

On July 8 about 80 guests as well as the Laguna Woods Symphony and members of the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute Symphony Orchestra experienced this kind of communion at the Sea Country Community Center in Laguna Niguel, the site of the Age Well Senior Center. It was a concert and luncheon billed as ”Tea and Symphony.”


The group’s intergenerational violin section

“It was a wonderful afternoon for the guests and the orchestra,” said Robin Trexler, Site Manager of Age Well Senior Services. “The music was from some of our favorite musicals — Man of La Mancha, West Side Story,  Gigi and  Cabaret to name a few.  Maestra Valerie Geller conducts the Laguna Woods orchestra and the Emeritus orchestra.

The group has performed at the Disneyland concert series, at the SOKA International Music and Arts Festival, and at the sing-along and play-along Messiah each year. They number about 60 in the fall and the spring, and about 40 during the summer.

They range in age from twelve to ninety. “We have three twelve-year-olds — a violinist, a saxophonist, and a percussionist. The orchestra has a wonderful intergenerational and mentorship aspect. “ Shelby and Tony Wong, daughter and father, both play in the violin section.  Ian Hoaglund and his dad John play saxophone side by side.

The orchestra plays a pops series in the summer and a more classical repertoire during the fall and spring semesters. Valerie says they performed their first full symphony only four years ago.  Last fall they did Saint-Saens Third Symphony — the Organ Symphony — a challenge for the most accomplished ensemble, and in the spring Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This fall they’ll perform Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique.”

“We are not just about trying to sound better than anyone else,” Valerie says. “We are completely about working really hard for the love of making music.”


Maestra Valerie Geller and musicians: “We play for the love of music.”

Valerie, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a professional violinist and conductor. She played with the L.A. Philharmonic for a number of years, and is currently concert master with the South Coast Symphony, the Disneyland Symphony, and the private symphonic band, J.T. and California Dreamin’.

Each summer Valerie organizes an overseas trip for some of the musicians.  This year about 22 of them will go to Eastern Europe and literally play along the Danube.  Next year they will travel to the top of the world — Tibet.  In 2009 they journeyed to the Great Wall of China.

“It was one of the more remarkable moments of my entire life,” Valerie said.  “We were surrounded by an international audience because the tour buses were there with people from all over the world. We were playing primarily American movie and Broadway music and when we played Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music, the entire audience spontaneously broke into voice. It was one huge international chorus. As I was conducting there was just this wave of language, this homogeneity of voices singing this song.  It was very emotional and truly wonderful. Music — it’s our common language.”

Do you play? Valerie Geller and her musicians want you to join them.   “We want all the closet musicians of Laguna Woods Village to join us,” she says. “We play for the love of music. We can find a place for everyone who plays.” She thought about that a bit.  “Well maybe it’s hard to find a piece scored for harmonica, but generally, we can find a place for everyone.”

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Music — Our International Language”

  1. admin says:

    A great way to stay young!