Music, we often hear, expresses emotion that verbal language cannot. It may be the most mysterious of the arts. “As long as I can remember, music has moved me,” says a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Daniel Anker’s documentary, Music from the Inside Out. “But I don’t know why it moves me.”
Music from the Inside Out doesn’t answer that question. But it does a heck of a job exploring it.
Anker spent five years making the ninety-minute “musical essay,” as he calls it. It comes across as a labor of love. The filmmaker, whose previous work includes the acclaimed Marsalis on Music and three years of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, obviously has a passion for music. In Music from the Inside Out, he communicates that devotion to the rest of us. In doing so, he’s created an inspired piece of filmmaking. No music-lover should miss it.
The film explores the lives and (musical) loves of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The century-old group is a fitting choice: It brought music to the masses in 1940 when it provided the soundtrack to the Disney film Fantasia. There have been scores of movies and books detailing the lives of music makers. But they mostly focus on the big names, the top soloists, the great conductors. Anker’s film features none of these. It’s the story of the mostly unknown musicians who, together, make up a great orchestra. Their voices haven’t often been heard. Music from the Inside Out investigates what music means to the people who make it.
One thing we learn is just how suffused the orchestra members’ lives are with music. It’s not just the daily practicing, the regular rehearsals and performances. Many of them, for example, moonlight. Nitzan Haroz, the principal trombonist, also loves salsa music. He went to the same club week after week before getting up the courage to dance. Now he plays regularly with the band. First violinist Zachary DePue blows off steam with a bluegrass band. The back and forth between the musicians there have taught him a lot about the give and take of the orchestra.
It may not simply be love, though, that leads these musicians to fill their free time with yet more music. They may be looking for another, more personal, artistic outlet. “Playing in an orchestra is not about self-expression,” notes French horn player Adam Unsworth. “It can be artistically frustrating at times.”
This remark may seem surprising. Every one of these players is immensely talented. Hundreds of musicians would kill for their jobs. But they’re team players, not stars. How many of them grew up hoping to be the next Yo-Yo Ma?
Concertmaster David Kim did. The charming, funny violinist is one of the most engaging personalities in the film. Like so many musicians, he started playing young–at the age of three–driven on by a parent. His mother decided that he should become a famous concert violinist and she directed both of their lives entirely to this goal. “It was almost as if she was telling me my own biography as it was happening,” Kim recalls of her single-mindedness. His mother died before she saw the fruits of her labor. Kim did find some measure of success as a soloist. But he never achieved the stature of an Itzhak Perlman. He finally realized that he never would after, surprisingly enough, watching the movie Jerry Maguire (directed by another music-lover, Cameron Crowe). He decided to give up his increasingly lackluster solo career and join an orchestra.
Amazingly, Kim doesn’t seem at all bitter that his mother drove him towards an unobtainable goal. At least on screen, he has only fond memories of her. Neither is he unhappy about his decision to become a team player, which he sees as opening up new doors for him. His mother always loved Schubert’s beautiful Cello Quintet. Now, he actually gets to play it–something he never did as a soloist. It’s rare to see someone so well-adjusted; he must make a wonderful concertmaster.
Udi Bar-David has a slightly different take on the relationship between player and orchestra. Being a musician is “very isolating,” he says, even when you’re part of a group. “It comes from the deepest part of you.” But in a film that makes frequent references to the communicative power of music, Bar-David stands out. The cellist is originally from Israel. But he entered into a collaboration with the Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen, who taught Bar-David about traditional Arab music. They don’t talk about politics; they say it all through this very distinctive, beautiful music.
In a question and answer session after the film’s opening night showing in Washington, D.C., Anker said he didn’t intend to make a film about the orchestra. He intended to make one about music. He’s done both. What immediately comes across is what an incredible group of people make up the Philadelphia Orchestra. Kim and Bar-David are just two of them. (There are also hints of interesting discord. One musician keeps a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order nearby “for heated orchestra meetings.”)
But the music is as important as the people who make it. Anker often wisely focuses on not just the musicians playing their instruments, but their faces while they do so. The passion is palpable. These talented, driven people have thought hard about what they do, and they have many insights to offer those of us who admire it.
The film doesn’t always follow a completely organized structure. And it might be frustrating to some that pieces aren’t always identified, even when musicians discuss them at length. (A nice touch is when Anker identifies a piece by moving his camera over a score’s title page.) Those issues aren’t important. Music from the Inside Out is captivating. Music and the creative process of making it are ultimately ineffable, but there’s still plenty to be said. The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra ponder such questions as what music is, what makes a great musician, and how to approach a seemingly unapproachable piece. Watching the results, it’s impossible not to be as carried away as listening to the storied orchestra perform.
Kelly Jane Torrance is arts and culture editor of Brainwash. Her Web site is kellyjanetorrance.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire