Symphony's assistant concertmaster must prep for anything from classical to juggling

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 10:05pm

Erin Hall (Eric England/SouthComm)


Nashville may have earned its moniker Music City mostly because of country music, but throughout the years, musicians of all kinds have migrated here, making the city a hotbed of talent from rock ’n’ roll to opera.

Classical music is no exception; the Nashville Symphony has earned 14 Grammy nominations and seven Grammy wins and is one of the most active recording orchestras in the nation. And when they’re not winning Grammys, making guest appearances at Carnegie Hall or doing more than 140 performances annually, the 85-member orchestra is actively engaged in the community, offering free concerts throughout the year and conducting educational and outreach programs in schools across Middle Tennessee. With the dwindling presence of arts in public schools, these enrichment and educational programs may be one of the only ways to expose children and members of the community to classical music.

For assistant concertmaster Erin Hall, her appreciation of the arts was born early and actively nurtured. Hall came from a family of musicians. “Everybody plays, and I started when I was 5,” she recalled. “I chose the violin, and my mom was thrilled, signed me up for lessons, and I’ve been playing ever since."

At the time, Hall and her family lived in a small town in Pennsylvania — she moved to Nashville in seventh grade — so her mother drove her to Pittsburgh for lessons every Saturday. “I was dedicated from the start, to give up my Saturdays as a child, and go there for lessons,” she said. “I guess I enjoyed it, because I stuck with it.”

After moving to Nashville, Hall attended Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet. She describes herself as a serious high school student who kept an open mind about her future, but she felt strongly about pursuing a career in music, attending Juilliard and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“I was just finishing my master’s, and I really didn’t think I would be coming back to Nashville,” Hall said. “It wasn’t on the radar at the time, but there was an opening [with the Nashville Symphony], and my family was still here, so I decided to give it a try.”

Hall says that when she moved back to Nashville in 1998, she was surprised by how much the city — and the overall music scene — had grown, and how important the symphony was to the city.

Fifteen years later, Hall is the assistant concertmaster and third chair violin with the symphony. As assistant concertmaster, she’s third in command behind the associate concertmaster and the concertmaster. “The concertmaster is technically the second conductor, and the whole orchestra, all basically looks to that chair as well as the conductor to make sure things stay together,” she explained. “I have to be on top of things and ready to move up into associate or concertmaster at any time, so I have to be as strong as they are and ready to take it on. So when I am in that position, I assume that wider responsibility, not just for my section, but for everybody.”

In addition to her role within the symphony, Hall teaches at Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt and, like most performers in the Symphony, does freelance and session work around Nashville. Balancing these commitments with symphony rehearsals — and the additional necessary practice time outside of rehearsals — can be tough, which explains why so many musicians end up marrying other musicians.

“There are a lot of couples in our orchestra!” Hall said, laughing and explaining how she met her husband, who plays the flute, when she first joined the symphony. “It’s crazy. I guess we just work so closely together, and we pretty much only see each other, so it’s inevitable.”

In addition to various classical, jazz and children’s performances throughout each season, the Nashville Symphony always has a strong pops series, providing the performers with a variety of different musical genres to explore. Last year, the string section backed Earth, Wind & Fire at the Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel.

“[Earth, Wind & Fire] asked the symphony to do it; they were hoping to get this great broad range of music groups out there and thought it would be cool to hire the symphony to be the backup band, to mix the classical world with the pop world,” Hall said. “We’re comfortable doing those types of shows because we do the pop series at the hall. We had a really good time — I wanted to be out there dancing.”

In addition to exploring other musical genres, the Nashville Symphony has participated in some downright bizarre shows. “Before I got here, they used to do a lot of strange things that I missed out on,” Hall explained. “They played in a cow pasture of some sort somewhere.”

Sometimes, Hall’s job has even felt somewhat hazardous. “Many years ago, we played with a juggling act of about four people,” Hall recalled. “We were onstage playing while they were throwing bowling pins and all sorts of things back and forth. I thought that was scary enough until they lit sticks on fire and started throwing those right next to us and our wooden instruments.” Happily, no mass ignition occurred.

While Hall has had the opportunity to play on a variety of projects throughout her career, she is looking forward to an upcoming performance this spring. “Two years ago, a friend of mine told me about a symphony show that she did with Cirque du Soleil,” Hall said. “Their shows are fantastic, so I have been hoping that someday they would collaborate with us. Lucky for me, they are finally coming to Nashville and doing three shows with us in May.”

Hall said she’s very excited for this performance, “Just as long as they don’t add juggling to their program,” she said, laughing.