SASO Up Close and Personal: Rehearsals and Programs

Now that we are in the summer doldrums of heat and monsoon tempest, the new season of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is several months away. This affords an opportune time to explore how public orchestra concerts matriculate. Two general areas, programing and rehearsals will be covered and explored.

Looking at rehearsal first, there are a variety of events that need to take place prior to the first downbeat of the conductor’s baton. The conductor has previously selected the music to be performed for the entire season. The librarian has the music for each concert ahead of time by borrowing, renting, buying or securing it from the SASO library. He then places parts in a folder for each player which are ready for the first rehearsal. There is also a personnel manager who insures that there are musicians to cover the requirements of the selections as some works need fewer or greater number of players. This person also is in charge of auditions of new members.

At each rehearsal orchestra volunteers set up chairs but each player puts the chair away afterwards. The conductors stand and podium are included. Percussion instruments that are needed are set up by the performers. Anywhere from two to five timpani are moved into place, drums are unpacked and instruments like xylophone, bells and chimes are set up if needed. The orchestra owns all of its’ own percussion instruments.

There are seven rehearsals for each concert. one of these is a sectional where the strings, woodwinds and brass, each have their own, to work out problems, phrasing, and intonation. Three of the rehearsals take place during concert week: two evenings, Saturday morning dress rehearsal followed by a Saturday night and Sunday afternoon concert. Regular rehearsals run from 7 to 9:30 PM and the dress runs 9 to 12 AM and there is a 15 minute break at each.

The conductor sends everyone an e-mail prior to each rehearsal stating which selections or parts of these at a specific time will be rehearsed. When the players arrive they are prepared to rehearse specific sections. Two minutes prior to starting, the oboe sounds A 440 for tuning by sections: brass, woodwinds, low strings, high strings. There are various problems to be covered at a rehearsal. Two important ones are intonation and phrasing(bowing in the strings-when does the bow go up or down.) Others are knowing your music, arriving on time, mistakes in the printed parts, and instrument problems. One important aspect of a community orchestra like SASO is attendance. It is vitally important that each player attend all rehearsals. All the wind and percussion musicians play different individual parts and only the string players have uniform parts. This means that the former are basically playing solo parts and the strings have the major problem of matching each other exactly. Only rehearsing can resolve this serious problem.

Performance is the other part of this essay. Far in advance, a variety of necessary arrangements need resolution: concert dates, advertising and public relations, ticket availability, long distance travel arrangements, music selection and acquiring the parts. Closer to concert dates, uniform review and concert locations are covered for new members. Donors are very important for an orchestra group as ticket sales never cover expenses which include conductor’s salary, buying or renting music(each selection can run hundreds of dollars), purchasing percussion instruments, facility, stage and storage rentals, instrument hauling trailer, and “thises and thats” that turn up.

On the day of a concert the volunteer group sets up chairs, risers, checks lighting, piano if called for and PA system. There is also a stage manager, a very important role, in charge who also hauls the instruments from site to site. An hour prior to the program there is a sound check to get the “feel” of the auditorium. At concert time as at rehearsals, the concert master signals for the tuning A from the oboe. The conductor comes on stage and the concert is underway. Following the program the audience leaves fulfilled and pleased and the musicians pack up and depart with a feeling of accomplishment having performed the composers works correctly. For information about the new 2011-12 SASO season, musicians, tickets, or general information go to

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SASO’s Story

Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.