American Dreamscapes- Epilogue

So now it’s Monday after the CHSO Season Finale, and I’m closing the books on another year – our sixteenth consecutive season.

Over the past month we’ve been talking about the program for the season finale– building excitement and anticipation amongst both our audience and orchestra members– and then it was concert week.   We immersed in intense rehearsals to put together this complex program in three nights of practice – coordinating new vocal charts, narrators, navigating through the intricacies of Leonard Bernstein’s masterful West Side Story, and then it was concert night and I was so intensely focused on getting through each part of the program, that I wasn’t aware of it as a whole.

After the concert, I was almost in a fog.  All that was running through my mind at the time was, “It’s over, I think it was good.”   People were coming up to myself and orchestra members exclaiming praise on the event that night.   I know the “America the Beautiful” was an effective encore after the evening’s flow – everyone in the hall was on their feet singing strongly – it was like a sudden “Flash Mob” – and for a moment, I was brought to tears.

We all adjourned to the Caffe Sorrento to unwind, have some great food, and share stories.   I was still kind of in a stupor.   It’s over, the season is done.   Was it as good a finale as the season deserved?  Was I at my best?   I think it was a similar feeling to “post partem!”

Below is the message I sent out today to the orchestra. It pretty much sums up my feeling today about the night, our orchestra, and our audience.

“I just want to thank you all and congratulate you on a phenomenal Season Finale on Saturday night – a truly appropriate climax to an already amazing and stellar season.

It was a complex and varied program, with all the new charts, and the constantly changing instrument set up, and dealing with a singer and narrators to boot.  (Imagine, we were thinking of also doing a projected image package on the screen along with it, and the TV station had wanted to bring a new 30-foot camera boom to extend over the orchestra to get some better individual camera angles on you!!!!!)

After the concert, I was so mentally exhausted, I wasn’t even sure how happy I was with the concert!  I thought we had done a pretty good job with everything, but I wasn’t sure it was as great as I hoped or that I was as perfect as I wanted to be.   I know the audience seemed pretty ecstatic over it.

I just finished watching a video clip of the entire Bernstein, shot by Bernadette up in the side balcony.   Watch this clip and relive this stellar moment!

I was astounded.    Astonished, humbled, moved, proud, and grateful for the privilege of working with you all as fellow musicians and community advocates.

The performance was worthy of national broadcast, and going viral so we can share your great artistry with the world.

The GORGEOUS orchestra sound, and especially of the strings in the elegiac slow moments in the Bernstein – reminiscent of the Intermezzo from Cavaleria Rusticana --  the perfect intonation in the woodwinds in those moments, the power and percussive force of our brass and percussionists – and the total emotion, intensity and energy of all you brought our audience a profound rendering of Lenny’s masterwork – creating a moving narrative and morality play for our community – a fitting centerpiece to the theme of the evening.

And I know that our Claflin Hill audience and supporters feel the same way about THEIR orchestra.

It is INDEED quite a feat we’ve all accomplished together – the creation of a vibrant, musical culture and a community – sharing great music, educating young people, a workplace for great musicians to create together and be a family, and an audience that participates in a true communal sense – supporting, engaging in dialogue and sharing with friends and enlarging the circle.

Thank you again to all – orchestra members, audience members, board members, donors and corporate sponsors.   And CONGRATULATION to ALL of YOU.   You have made this happen.

Stay tuned, for there’s more to come. . . . .

Paul Surapine


How the arts open our minds and our hearts.

It seems altogether fitting that we close out this season with a performance of the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s fabled “West Side Story” – our own “American” version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” – fresh on the heels of our performances in February of both Sergei Prokofiev and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music based on the same story.

West Side Story was indeed a groundbreaking Broadway production that included a “Dream Team” of creative talent: music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Hal Prince.

Bernstein integrated ethnic Puerto Rican dance rhythms and motifs into his score which, up to that point, was probably one of the most difficult Broadway shows to play as a musician. 

Taking the story of the Montagues and the Capulets, and setting it down in West Side New York City – changing the antagonists from patrician and wealthy feuding families to blue collar Irish Catholics at odds with the most recent “immigrants” into their turf, the Puerto Ricans made the story come alive for a new generation of audience who could actually identify with the characters being portrayed on the stage.

West Side Story became a “Morality” play for a generation – speaking of social issues such as acceptance, tolerance, and the “Dream of America” – whether it should be for everyone, or just those who were already here.

But then, Broadway has always used the stage as a “bully pulpit” – the numerous shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein illuminated many social issues, such as date rape, (Oklahoma), wife beating, (Carousel), inter-racial relationships, (South Pacific), and even Nazis, (The Sound of Music).

Kalmen Opperman

Kalmen Opperman

I was only one or two years old when West Side Story was running on Broadway.  My future clarinet teacher, Kalmen Opperman played in the original orchestra!   I remember my Mother saying that she and my Dad went on a trip to New York City and saw West Side Story on Broadway.   In fact, I remember her saying they didn’t really like it at the time!

It was after all, a very different and “gritty” Broadway show – a polar opposite from the Rodgers and Hammerstein productions that people were used to.   Its depiction of life in the tenements and slums of the lower West Side, together with the sometimes loud and dissonant music depicting gang fights was a culture shock to many people from the nice suburbs in the countryside.

In fact, although West Side Story was nominated for a number of Tony awards in its first year on Broadway, the award for Best Show went to “The Music Man” that year.   Moreover, Columbia Records initially declined to produce the original cast recording, saying it was “too depressing and difficult!”

In the end, both my parents, and countless millions in succeeding generations now love West Side Story, and it will stand forever as one of the greatest and most innovative shows in the musical theater – and yes, it remains for us as a “morality” play and musical civic lesson as we still continue the dialogue on the “American Dream” and the “melting pot” that has made America great.

At Claflin Hill, we’re all relishing the opportunity to “dig into” Lenny Bernstein’s masterful score and share it with you, as we continue our musical journey and exploration, bringing to culmination another amazing season right here in Our Town.

Paul Surapine