Justin M. Brauer

Music Director | Theatre Educator | Keyboardist

Masks, Music, and Merlot with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra

Last month I made my professional orchestra debut with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra on their Halloween pops concert, featuring music from Phantom of the Opera (the reason I was called in,) Fantasia, and other spooky classics. I played on the Phantom selections as well as on a suite from Jaws.

That's me in front of the tam-tam! Photo courtesy of CUSO, by Darrell Hoemann.

That's me in front of the tam-tam! Photo courtesy of CUSO, by Darrell Hoemann.

While I'm friends with many of the musicians in the organization, I had never actually played with any of them, and was very nervous going into our only rehearsal, since I was slightly out of my element. The Phantom selections were comforting, as I have played that music what feels like a thousand times before. What I was not used to was playing it with others. I was surprised at how much my part was exposed, especially when I was playing a string patch; working through the music on my own, I thought for sure I was meant to be reinforcement for the actual string section, but I was the only player for a much larger portion of this section of the concert than I had guessed. It was fascinating discovering the way in which the string keyboard book interacts with the actual string section, and I'm not entirely sure I understand it still.

In the Jaws suite, I went into rehearsal expecting to double with the basses on the low half -step motive, and was surprised to learn during our first run that I was alone on that, as well. There were also a number of quick sections that I was struggling with in my own practice that I found out were doubled by the harp and marimba, which made them feel easier since I wasn't stressing about them as much. Being an electric keyboard player rather than a typical symphonic pianist, I also did some patch work to eliminate some nasty octave stuff. I was very proud of the work I did on this piece, and I think the ensemble sounded fantastic.

The remainder of the evening, I got to sit back and enjoy the rest of the program. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have played with these musicians, but I think it will be a while before I do any more symphonic work. It's so much less stressful in the pit!

See more pictures from the event here.

Copyright Justin M. Brauer, 2014-2019.