Arts

Highlighting HSO’s Mary Irwin

HendersonvilleThe Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra (HSO), celebrates its 48th anniversary this fall. Due to COVID-19, all concerts have been canceled for 2020.

Still, the Orchestral talent plays on, and concertmaster Mary C. Irwin is one to be celebrated.

Here are a few of Mary Irwin’s special and personal memories from her past:

 Q: At what age did you first learn to play music? What instrument was it? 

When I was a baby, my parents’ house was too small for a crib room, so they pushed my crib up against an old family piano. My mother tells me that, once I had learned to stand, I would reach through the crib bars and “play” the piano. I started formal piano lessons with my aunt when I was four.

 Q: What inspired you to play classical music professionally? 

After three years of violin lessons, I managed to squeak into the SC All State orchestra in the eighth grade, where I sat in the very back of the second violins. There were two pieces on the program, Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Since I played primarily by ear and was not great at reading music yet, I prepared for that concert by listening repeatedly to recordings while following a score. There is magic in Beethoven 5, and I realized suddenly that I could be in that magic. I was hooked. I can still remember the exact moment in that symphony that captured me so completely, and that same spot still moves me today, even after hearing it hundreds of times. Such is the power of great music.

 Q: When did you start to play with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra?

Tom Joiner asked me to serve as a guest concertmaster for the HSO in the 2012-13 season. I had just moved back to my hometown of Spartanburg after twenty five years as a violinist in the Columbus Symphony in Ohio. After the HSO members had the opportunity to evaluate all of the guest concertmasters that season, I was chosen to take that position permanently.

 Q: Since the COVID-19 restrictions have limited gatherings and live music, how has that changed your artistic routine of making music? 

This year has been the first moment since I was 15 that I have not been preparing for a concert nearly every week. At first, the concert stoppage was a surprisingly welcome rest! I have been able to continue teaching through the spring and summer, and in July, the Masterworks Festival, where I have taught for 22 summers, held an abbreviated chamber music program, complete with masking and social distancing. Though there was no orchestra and many inconvenient precautions, we all agreed that the efforts were worth it: 72 students and 22 faculty were able to give 6 chamber music concerts in two weeks and we were all so thankful to get to play together again! Since then I have played in churches and with colleagues and students in small groups of two or three. But no orchestras have resumed, which is what I truly love.

 Q: How do you think this health crisis will affect classical music long term?

I do hope that this protracted quarantine on life has made people long to be with other people, and to more keenly appreciate the joy of live performances of all kinds. Once orchestras reconvene for live concerts again, I believe audiences will return as thirsty people run to water, and there will be a renaissance of community participation and pride in local events.

The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra has announced a new program designed to help keep in touch with the community  during this time while their stage is dark. The program consists of series of professionally produced videos, filled with the music we all miss, played in small groups made up of HSO members. Beyond the music, they will include insightful and candid interviews with the musicians. They have carefully chosen small ensembles from their talented pool of musicians and feature a wide range of musical themes. The first in the series will be available to view in early November.

Governor Cooper’s NC Arts Funding

Earlier this month, Governor Cooper announced a spending plan that includes $10 Million in aid to arts organizations in all 100 counties impacted by COVID-19 and related business disruptions through the NC Arts Council. This is part of a $20 million investment through the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources using allocations from the State’s Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. Arts NC has been in communication with administration officials in recent weeks discussing the increased need for relief funding for the arts as so much of the industry remains shuttered.

Efforts are ongoing to coordinate this much needed support throughout the state. The arts relief funding initiatives including the Governor’s spending plan and the arts funding bills filed earlier this year, S738 and H1068, have had significant bipartisan support in the NC House of Representatives. For more information visit the ARTS NC action center website.

Editor’s Note: Excerpts of this article come from HSO.com