In my living room in New York, I recently asked Bernie Tamosaitis what he thought of a particular work. He grabbed his cello and beautifully played the opening movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The playing was as fine as one could imagine. The only thing missing was a chair; he played this glorious work crouched down on his knees.
Some players practice hours and hours, which, of course helps the final results. Yet sometimes the effort can sound stiff. Tamosaitis, on the other hand, has a sound that is effortless. He is a natural, and he is passionate about music. This passion is evident the moment he speaks of music.
Tamosaitis comes from a family of musicians. I knew his brother Joe Tamosaitis while studying at Juilliard, and to this day I cannot think of a finer bass player. Recently the brothers lost their younger brother, Richie, who was also a very fine bass player; he also studied at Juilliard. Their sister studied viola at Juilliard before college. At one time there were four Tamosaitises studying at the famed music school at the same time.
Tamosaitis has music in his blood and goodness in his heart. A personal friend of mine remarked on Tamosaitis’s kindness and humanity after witnessing Tamosaitis coax the utmost from a wind player at a recent rehearsal.
Bernie is well known in the Westchester County area in NY as a teacher and mentor, and here his passion for music has found the perfect outlet. In 2002 Tamosaitis founded the St. Thomas Orchestra.
“Since then he [Tamosaitis] has experienced the pleasure and pride of overseeing the considerable growth and musical development of the orchestra, which today can be counted as one of the most accomplished and inclusive in Westchester County,” according to the orchestra’s website.
An orchestra of music lovers
Some might question the importance of above remark since the St. Thomas Orchestra participants range in age from 15 to 85 and are professionals from many fields (business, law, medicine), not just professional musicians.
For years growing up as a musician, I played in orchestras, which were a mix of both amateurs and high-ranking professionals. I couldn’t help admiring the amateurs involved. For they were fueled by passion; it was a great event for them to gather and make music.
In contrast to their often jaded professional counterparts (ready to spear their competition’s last performance), the wide-eyed amateurs came ready to dig into Tchaikovsky’s symphonies or Mahler’s songs and forget their mundane problems. Their hearts opened to play beautiful music.
Yet with all of their great enthusiasm, amateurs need to be guided by masterful ears and eyes. Tamosaitis and his well-chosen warriors (Peter Arike, for example, who cofounded the orchestra), help the nonprofessionals in the ranks play at their highest levels.
So what makes an orchestra leader also good at building an orchestra? For starters, seeing to it that the existing personnel are kept inspired and full of passion. When passion is taken away all else tumbles quickly.
Also important is helpful support so that players realize they can make mistakes but that they should be making intelligent mistakes. After all, missing some notes in a passage is part of the refining process.
The greatest of all conductors, Arturo Toscanini, would get mad when he sensed musicians were not making music. A dropped note here and there was not what irked the great maestro most. Only if he felt the musicians were slacking off would heads roll.
Last, perhaps, a great leader, even an orchestra leader, inspires others to lead.
Recently George Drapeau, a passionate violist with St. Thomas Orchestra, its CEO, and a savvy entrepreneur, joined with others in the orchestra to help raise money. They are creating a fund to support musical study for aspiring young string players.
These young players (presently in high school who already play in the St. Thomas Orchestra or who will soon) will have the opportunity to learn from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The funding will provide full fare to Montreal and back and will offer a chance to be coached by Canadian masters.
Who knows, the meetings could be turning points for young and sensitive musicians! What a wonderful gift to come from a community of nonprofessional musicians.
“Bernie Tamosaitis is a treasure in the Westchester community and continues to help the arts prosper here,” says Drapeau
For more about the St. Thomas Orchestra and to find their performance schedule visit www.storchestra.org.
Eric Shumsky is a concert violist. For more information, see www.shumskymusic.com.
About Bernard Tamosaitis
-- born in Brooklyn, New York, Tamosaitis studied at the Juilliard School with Channing Robbins and graduated with a B.A. in cello in 1979.
-- was coprincipal of the Bellas Artes Orchestra of Mexico City and a section member of La Filarmónica de las Américas which toured Central and South America.
--toured with the Quinteto de Xalapa, a resident piano and string quartet ensemble at the University of Veracruz, which performed extensively throughout Mexico and Latin America.
-- performs with the Ridgeford (CT) Symphony and Canta Libre, a chamber music group which recorded a CD featuring harp, flute and strings. The recording was hailed enthusiastically by the BBC Music Magazine.
-- is married to Sayuri Iida, a frequent piano soloist with St. Thomas Orchestra. The couple has two children, Alexis and Lori, and reside in Rye Neck.
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