In Conversation with Gary

Agnes Manley has been a good friend of mine since those long-ago days when she was one of Dorothy’s adult students and I was the accompanist for Dorothy’s teaching studio. She has been such a good friend for so long, and done so much for me (as most people who know her can also say), that when she asked me to do this article, the only possible response was “Yes, of course.” So, though this sort of self-talk is wildly outside my comfort zone, here’s a Q & A we might have had over coffee, in her living room, audited by her rabbit, if such things were currently possible. They will be again someday; in the meantime, off we go!

How and when did you meet Dorothy?
I couldn’t tell you the year, but it was well before Cellospeak was a glimmer in anyone’s thinking. My first experience of Dorothy was a panicked phone call – the accompanist for her student recital had to cancel, she had been given my name by another teacher, could I do a rehearsal Saturday morning and the recital Sunday afternoon. I could, I did, and that weekend was the beginning of a long, challenging, and rewarding relationship which I’ll always cherish.

When did you join Cellospeak?
I wasn’t part of what turned out to be the founding weekend at Orkney Springs, which is symbolized in the Cellospeak logo. But a couple of summers later Dorothy invited me to come and play cello and piano for and with the teachers and students. This was the occasion for my first Cellospeak arrangement, “Passacaglia On An Old English Tune” by Rebecca Clarke, a quartet for faculty. In the years since then my position at Cello Camp has evolved and grown, and it has always been one of the most rewarding things I get to do all year.

Describe a favorite Cellospeak moment. What is the most rewarding thing for you as conductor of Cellospeak?
I’ve grouped these two questions together because the answers would be so similar. Making the most of such gifts and talents as I’ve been given has meant training at one of the best schools, studying with some of the finest teachers, and being fortunate to enjoy professional success in some of the most interesting places, with many deeply artistic people. But the moments I most look forward to, savor at the time, and remember with the greatest warmth, are the moments when music is made with people who’ve turned their time, attention and resources to a more active way of loving music with no thought or intention of making it a profession. Cellospeak exists to serve people who’ve committed themselves wholeheartedly, done their reasonable best to prepare, and hoped to enter into an experience of our art that’s wholly different from listening for pleasure. My most special moments, hands down, are the times, individually or in small groups or in the large ensemble, when we make music together that never seemed possible until it happened, and I see the light in their eyes as they realize what just happened. It’s my privilege, my honor and my greatest pleasure to help make that happen.

Who is your favorite composer? Conductor? Orchestra? Cellist? What is your favorite piece of music?
In our current age of hyper-specialization, my career path has been quite different. When I was a freelance musician in New York City I “was” whatever those doing the hiring saw me do first. To some I was a cellist, to others a keyboard player, to others a church organist and choir director. My experience as a musician has thus been unusually broad, so it would be impossible for me to give a single answer to any of these questions. I couldn’t possibly “rank” Stephen Sondheim and Claude Debussy, or Edward Bairstow and Alexander von Zemlinsky. Mario Duchesnes, a recorder player from Sainte-Eustache, Quebec, was one of the best conductors for children’s programs I ever saw – 2,500 elementary school children per day were held rapt, in both languages, and the orchestra was at its best because his programming was as interesting for us as it was for them. Zubin Mehta came every year because at the beginning of his career Montreal (not Los Angeles) was the first orchestra to make him Music Director. One year I watched him on TV leading the New York Philharmonic in The Rite of Spring on Saturday night (from memory of course). He came to us the next afternoon to prepare Mahler’s Third (rarely opened the score). Danny Kaye (!) showed up to conduct a pension fund concert. He was stunningly clear, intensely musical, and we never sounded better – he knew what he wanted and how to get it. Zubin, Danny, Mario – “favorite?” Not possible to say. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Organizations often go through changes after a founder leaves. What would be your vision for the future of Cellospeak?
Change “often” to always. Dorothy spent the better part of her last 20 years creating a vital organization that grew and changed dramatically from the early days at Orkney Springs to Bryn Mawr. There’s no reason to think this growth and change won’t continue; attempting to stop the evolution and freeze it in its current state would be foolish, pointless, and not something anyone wants. The critical challenge is managing all the necessary changes so that the growth and evolution of Cellospeak means that the maximum number of people receive the benefits that Cellospeak is in a unique position to offer. It’s not my place to say how that might look, so I’ll close by strongly encouraging everyone who reads this to do ALL these things:

1. Share what you know about Cellospeak with others who love the cello like you do. Already did that? Time to make new friends!
2. Keep playing! I often say that music is meant to be shared with players and listeners, not to be hidden in your basement. For most of you “basement” is your only current option, but it won’t always be like this. When the time comes to get together again, be ready! Cellospeak can help by connecting you with resources of people and things that you can use – Nancy Baun on Facebook Live, anyone?
3. Communicate with anyone in leadership – directors, board members faculty, whoever you feel close to. Let them know what you’re thinking, on any topic: good things you’d like to see again, ways to make camp even better, why you think Sebastian Lee was actually the greatest etude writer ever, anything at all. But most especially, let them know what Cellospeak has meant to you in the past and how much you’re looking forward to getting back to it. Thanks for reading – keep playing!