Q&A with MSO's Beverly Butts

April 22, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN

During the first full week of April, Beverly Butts traveled twice to Washington County from her home in Hershey, Pa., to perform with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's woodwind quintet. The clarinetist made both trips to play at elementary school concerts.

Butts has been involved in MSO's educational outreach for almost all of her more than 25 years with the orchestra. She also participates in the Kinder Konzerts and Symphony Saturdays programs and annual youth concerts for Tri-State area fourth-graders.

"I am a music teacher, and I feel very strongly about music education. I think it's very, very, very important to reach out to as many students as possible," she said in a recent telephone interview.

Butts, who teaches at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., performs quite a bit - different kinds of music on clarinet and saxophone.


"I really enjoy playing different kinds of music," she said. "I obviously love playing with the symphony. I also love playing opera, playing musicals. Variety keeps everything really fresh."

Butts compared being a musician to being an athlete. "If you don't practice every day or very frequently, you get out of shape."

For woodwind players, breathing, blowing, "tonguing," facial muscles and all 10 fingers are involved. "Your whole sense of coordination has to be highly developed," she said.

But Butts' career choice is not without rewards.

At the end of a concert when the audience applauds - standing, cheering and hollering - it's "goose-bump time" for the musicians, she said.

"It makes you feel so fabulous. The work that you've done has come to fruition and is appreciated. It's just marvelous," she said.

1. How long have you been playing clarinet? When did you start? Why?

I actually started when I was in fourth grade. Clarinet, ironically, was not my first choice. I wanted to play the flute.

I have an older brother, six years older, and he played the saxophone. He convinced me that if I took up the clarinet, then I would have more chances to play not only clarinet, but I could also play saxophone.

He was absolutely right, because when I got into junior high or middle school, I found out there was a jazz band. The jazz band director said, "Well, we don't have clarinets in jazz band. It's only saxophones."

So I said, OK. That very same day I went home, got my brother's saxophone, and the rest is history. I've been playing

saxophone ever since.

I love playing saxophone. I'm very partial to jazz. I don't improvise, but I play big band stuff, and when shows come through, I do play saxophone. I really enjoy it. I also play flute.

2. How long have you played with the MSO?

Since 1983. Principal clarinet since 1992.

3. Do you play with other musical ensembles?

I am also principal clarinet with the York (Pa.) Symphony. I also play with the Harrisburg (Pa.) Symphony quite frequently.

I've been a concerto soloist with Maryland (Symphony Orchestra) and (with) York at least half a dozen times.

4. How do you prepare for a concert? How much time do you spend preparing for each performance?

It depends on the repertoire that we're playing. There are lots of different kinds of preparation that occur. (There's) actual sitting down and learning the notes. If it's a brand-new piece it obviously takes longer than if it's, for example, Beethoven Fifth and, something that I've played many times before. Then it's just a matter of review rather than starting from scratch. So, there's the nitty-gritty of note learning.

I also sit sometimes with a recording to see how my part fits in with all the other parts of the orchestra. I listen so I get an idea of the entire work.

Since I'm a clarinetist, I also have to do preparation for my reeds, which can also be very time consuming. Reeds are different in different locations. Every instrument has its own set of problems. When you play a reed instrument that's obviously a consideration, because reeds don't last forever. A reed can last anywhere from a couple hours, to maybe, one week depending on how hard you use it.

5. Do you practice every day? How long?

Oh yes. I practice every day. I'd say, two hours, generally - sometimes more than that. For example, if it's a concert week, my own personal practice time is at least two hours, then there would be above-and-beyond rehearsal for the symphony.

Practice is obviously very important, particularly if you're a principal player - not that it's not important if you're not. But if there are solos to be played, it's important to really do some good practice.

Usually, I have other things on the burner, too - not just MSO music, so it does become kind of a juggling act. For example, we are playing "Peter and the Wolf" with the woodwind quintet, so I have that on my stand. Next week of course, I have to practice Mahler, and then the week after that, I have to also start practicing music that I'm playing with another orchestra.

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