Two decades and counting...


Sometimes I think one the smartest, most balanced people in the world was “Chauncey Gardener” – the central character in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “Being There.”  He was a simple-minded person who was a gardener – and he related the entire outside world, of which he had little contact with, save by watching television – to the cycles of life in a garden.

Like many of us, I like to work in our gardens and our yard in the spring – trying to make our little corner of Claflin and Forest Street into a pleasing little moment in our neighbors travels through the neighborhood.   Garden beds of seasonal, flowering perennials in the small front yard, hedges of tiger lilies and hostias as borders along the walks and fences, large sprawling and expanding beds of vegetables and herbs on the side yard, soaking up that great “southern exposure” to the sun that my father-in-law used to exclaim over!  “You’ve got a GREAT Southern Exposure in your yard – your tomatoes, cukes and squash will love it here!!!”

I think we can all agree that we had what seemed like an extremely long winter this year, and spring just never seemed to be coming.  Dismal, raw, rainy day after rainy day throughout mid March and April – never allowing any of us a day or an afternoon when we were available to go out and start the “spring yard clean-up.”  

It seems like just six weeks ago I looked out at my yard and gardens – still littered with piles of leaves and dead plants and branches  -- everything colored in that pale, brown dead grass hue – and thought, “I don’t know HOW we’re ever going to get this yard in shape this year.   It just seems too over-whelming and its so late in the year already.

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It was April 28th – the CHSO had just finished the season – maybe I’d have a few hours of slow-time on certain days in the coming week – if only the weather is bearable on those days – just go out for an hour or two at a time and pick a specific goal for the day.   One day after another day, whenever possible – my son Zach got very interested in helping in the garden this spring – Susan did her garden boxes in the windows, helped weed flower bed, and even mowed the lawn!

Little by little it started to make a come-back – the grass turned green – there were those persistent spots in the lawn where grass doesn’t seem to want to grow – but it grows great several inches over in the flower bed I’m trying to clear!!   We got all of the vegetable beds turned over and weeded and spread four yards – now up to six – of nice mulch from Peter Hawkes farm in Mendon.  Plants are in— its starting to look like one of the best garden and yard years yet!!

Now we can take that moment to stand up on the patio and survey the kingdom – as the sun goes down behind the houses across the street – bathing our yard and its flowering flora in that nice early summer golden light in the early evening.

It’s kind of like what running an orchestra is like!

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Nine months ago we set ourselves some projects and goals to bring to life in the coming year.   As we stood at the edge of the other side of the season, there’s those moments of saying “Wow, that’s an amazing season program!!!   And “Holy Cow! – HOW are we going to do that????” 

There are those moments several weeks out ahead of the next big CHSO concert when I open the scores of the pieces we are going to perform and I think to myself, “OMG, HOW are we going to get through all of this music in three rehearsals?  I hope everyone is looking at their music!!!”   As everyone has become aware of, at CHSO, we do VERY adventurous and daring concert programs – sometimes the equivalent of what another orchestra would do in TWO concerts, we do in ONE!

One of our horns, Neil Godwin, replied to one of my emails confirming his availability for a concert that included the Beethoven Seventh Symphony and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, saying, “Yes, I’m on for that.  By the way, you know that this is an INSANE program?!!”

And it was insanely amazing!   Those CHSO musicians we’ve all come to know as neighbors always show up ready to crank it out!   I always leave the Tuesday rehearsal and head to the Sorrento for a beer and a few moments to “de-compress” and think, “Wow, that went really well!  What a concert we’re going to have!”  I go home and map out the next two rehearsals – what spots do we need to really focus on in the next rehearsal?   How do we allocate time through the rest of the week so we can bring it all back together by Saturday?   I send emails with notes to the orchestra – “watch for the tempo change in this spot,  winds – tighten up the articulation in this spot, etc”

And on Saturday evenings, around 10:30 PM, a lot of the orchestra are back at the Sorrento, celebrating yet another climatic and exhilarating concert experience together – shared by colleagues and audience members – a lot of them come down to celebrate at the Sorrento with us!

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 We’re all standing together for a moment on our “cultural patio” surveying the wonderful, flowering creation we’ve built to make our little corner of the world more beautiful – and to present it with pride to guests who happen into town.   “Did you know we also have an amazing orchestra here?”

As human beings, we are no more or no less than any other social creature in the organic world.

Watch one ant crawling along laboring to carry some little seed or particle of sand to some destination or project we can only surmise about.   Soon, there’s another ant following him, and pretty quick you see an entire line of them, marching along, joining in – “hey, Andrew Ant is building a new colony over there.   Let’s pitch in and get the job done!”

I can remember the first person I told I was starting an orchestra.  It was Ken Cole, who was the President of The Milford National Bank & Trust, and a fellow Rotarian.  I had just got off the phone that morning with Christi Nigro, the Choral Director at Worcester State College.  I was contracting an orchestra for her to perform Carmina Burana in the spring of 2000,  Suddenly the idea came to me of raising enough money to repeat the concert the following night in Milford.  “Christi, I’m toying with the idea of starting a new orchestra in Milford.   There had been one here in the 80s and early 90s but it went out of business.   Maybe now is a good time to try it again and Carmina Burana would be an amazing “launch concert” for it.”   Christi agreed to the double performance, and I set off to find $10,000! 

I went to my Rotary Lunch that noontime and sat down across from Ken.  Ken said, “and how is the world treating you today, Paul?”   I replied, “Great!  I’m going to start an orchestra!”

I’ll never forget Ken’s reaction – he raised his eyebrows in a “quizzical” pursed expression and said, “Hmm, is there a market for that here?”  I said in a jaunty fashion, “Not yet, but we’re going to create it!!”

 Ken nodded amusedly and turned his attention to the salad.

“Build it and they will come.”  James Earl Jones’ great line at the end of “Field of Dreams” – a movie I still sob all the way through the end.  (Hey, I played catch with my Dad, and later with my sons). 

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That final scene, as Kevin Costner and the ghost of his father play a game of catch under the bright lights of the beautiful baseball diamond, ablaze in the middle of “NoWhere” – the camera rises to take in a growing stream of lights inching their way down back roads – coming to see the realization of a man’s dream that was also their dream.

Today, twenty years after that lunch, many, many concerts since, hundreds of musicians and thousands of individual concert goers and new friends have inched along the roads and by-ways to find their way into town to see the new wonder they heard was happening in Milford.

The Hall is quiet for the summer, but if you stand in the clock tower in the twilight and look to the east, west, north and south, you can see those long arteries of lights lining up, getting ready to make the winding trip to that place where the music now lives!   There is much more to do, but first we can spend a few moments on the patio in the summer evenings to enjoy and relish what we have done, before we get back to work to prepare for our next guests arrival!

“In the garden, we have the seasons.”

“Build it and they will come.”

They are.