Teri Herel, CHSO Clarinetist, Master Potter & Tango Dancer
I met Paul Surapine about twenty-five years ago in his basement.
I’d been studying clarinet in school, and during summers off I would hunt down a clarinet teacher in whatever town I happened to be working in. That particular summer I called late, because I had started to give up on solving some problems in my playing. I’d found that most of the summer teachers were looking for a way to buy an end of the season grill (one told me so), and I wasn’t learning much. I always asked each teacher the same questions, and was answered with a version of, “work on it, it will come.” My technique was declining and becoming a hindrance to any musicality. So that summer out of frustration and boredom, I finally called a number someone had given me and set up a lesson time with whomever I’d be buying a grill for next.
The short version of the story (a very fun one best told over beer) is that halfway through my first lesson with Paul I started to ask the same old questions, and for the first time I was given very specific answers. He was able to tell me what the problem was, what the source was, and most importantly he had very detailed solutions. I knew in that moment I’d found what I wanted in a teacher. I went home and started to practice the way he had outlined, and I was able to see results almost immediately. I had a lot of work to do, and I worked with Paul for about eight years. At that time I thought it would be interesting to work with his teacher for a while, and I spent another seven years or so getting abused by Kal Opperman. I know that Paul, at least, has a very fancy and nice grill now.
Today I believe in serendipity, and I find it no small coincidence that the symphony Paul went on to create has become for me an experience that I find humbling and profound every time we play. Being able to sit in the center of a symphony orchestra filled with musicians as accomplished as ours and as soulful as ours, playing the most glorious symphonies ever written, time and time again, still staggers me.
As I try to describe the Claflin Hill experience and why it resonates so strongly, I would have to say it’s because it reaches, as my lessons with Paul did years ago, the definition of what I would want an orchestra to be: I work with extraordinary people who show me concert after concert that their souls have depth and grace and beauty (and skill). We know that the audience feels our energy by their response to us, but we also feel it amongst ourselves. We want to succeed together: We listen, we balance, we give, we take, and we do it with the most beautiful fervent energy. I would even say that we fight to protect this spirit: We’ve all played in other groups and know that this is what makes Claflin Hill unique. find that I carry this energy into other areas of my life. I don’t know if it originates from Claflin Hill, or if Paul is drawn to hire musicians who innately possess it, but I do know that it is nurtured by Claflin Hill. Either way, I have learned that art thrives in an atmosphere of energy and communication. There is no competition: I don’t compete with other artists in any venue. I am, instead, inspired by their skill, their work ethic, and their energy. I work the way I do in order to live up to what I hope is their same expectation of me. I want people I have never had a conversation with to know me through my work. I want to inspire them in the same way I am inspired by great artists. I want to be their definition of what art should be. Today, twenty-five years after that first meeting, I am as excited as always to be part of this Claflin Hill Symphony season. I’m practicing E-flat clarinet for the opening symphony concert (and perhaps some more Clarinet Choir concerts), I’m looking forward to sharing some of my ceramic art with you at the Holiday Pops concert, and most importantly I’m looking forward to being surrounded by my colleagues, basking in their skill, and doing my best to give that energy back.