Oct. 24, 2016Vol. 47, Issue 2

'Wouldn’t You Like to Know!'

Q&A with Scott Seaton, North State Symphony Musical Director

North State Symphony musical director Scott Seaton gave audiences a fresh concert experience during his amazing first year.

For North State Symphony musical director Scott Seaton, the 2015–16 season made for a fun, inspiring, and innovative first year at the helm of one of the University’s most beloved community organizations.  

“It was an incredible year of growth,” said Seaton, who focused on audience engagement and diversifying the symphony’s repertoire of offerings. The results were amazing, as ticket sales increased by 27 percent.

One of his more popular additions has been soliciting anonymous audience questions during select performances via text message, Facebook, and Twitter.

The intention is to make the experience more informal and accessible to new audiences, said Seaton, who also introduced the NSS POPS concert series this season that collaborates with local bands like the Chico-based collective Uncle Dad, a group that sold out Laxson last year.

But, more simply put, “It’s fun!”

Here are some of his favorite questions from social media—and his replies. 

Are the musicians in the North State Symphony full-time musicians or part-time?

The musicians who make up the North State Symphony all have other jobs because we certainly can’t pay them enough to live on (we only do a fraction of the amount of concerts larger orchestras do!).  Our musicians come from as far as Bend, Oregon, and the San Francisco area. All have jobs with other orchestras, and most teach on the side as well.

Has the conductor ever gotten so into a song that he fell off the podium?

No, but I’ve come very close a few times!

Who is your biggest living inspiration today?

I’m very much inspired by Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is arguably the best orchestra in the world. For him to have a position like that—and to be as humble and as much of a team player that he is—is pretty amazing.  

What's the most expensive instrument on stage?

Wouldn’t you like to know!

Do the sheets of Plexiglas on the stage, between rows of musicians, have a function?

Yes, the Plexiglas protects the winds and strings from the enormous volume of the brass instruments. Imagine listening to a large stereo right next to your ear for several hours—the musicians need to protect their ears to do their jobs effectively!

Why does the conductor exit the stage and re-enter between each piece? Is he getting water or is it tradition?

I just HAVE to check Facebook between pieces. OK, I’m kidding! It’s tradition for the conductor to exit between pieces to have a small break and so the orchestra can retune if need be. Some pieces also have different instrumentations, and there has to be time to allow musicians to enter and exit the stage.

Musical talent—genetic or environment? Do children learn to play music because of the household they were raised in or because of their DNA?

This is a great question and one that probably has several different opinions. I really believe that some people are simply tone deaf (not to say that these people can’t appreciate music; just that they probably wouldn’t want to bet on a career playing in a professional orchestra). So a basic talent level is probably required along with the right encouragement from family members and friends. I know I was pushed pretty hard by my parents to practice, and it took me several years to really get into it.

Please yell I LOVE YOU from the podium and we'll yell it back.

Will do!

Are you single and ready to mingle?

I get this quite a bit, actually! Wouldn’t you like to know. :)

Maestro Scott Seaton and his baton.

Maestro Scott Seaton and his baton.

Seaton said one of the most rewarding aspects of his first year at Chico State has been “just being in this incredibly vibrant community.”

He notes that it is distinctive for the University to have a professional orchestra, whose players he says essentially serve as artists in residence. The most talented students do have an opportunity to audition to perform with NSS.

“When they leave here, (our students) could potentially already have professional experience on their resume, which is an incredible, rare thing,” said Seaton, who also directs the CSU String Ensemble (MUSC 411F), which is open to all students. “Other universities have a student orchestra that their students are automatically in, whereas here, it’s a privilege. They have to earn the right to play with the symphony.”

Seaton’s stepdad was a musician and pushed him early on to pursue music, he said. But he wasn’t involved in orchestra until junior high after his family moved to Nashville from rural areas across the country.

“I’ve lived in many states on farms in the middle of the nowhere. So, I really came from the backwoods—we’re talking cows and corn,” said Seaton, who is focusing this year on expand the NSS’s educational outreach programs, which currently engage about 6,000 North State students through holiday performances and the local youth concert series at Laxson Auditorium, the Cascade Theatre in Redding, and the State Theatre in Red Bluff.

“There are a lot of programs close by that have little or no music, so we’re trying to get in there. That’s where the seeds have to be planted,” he said. “We need to invest in youth education and exposure and getting people to see how much fun this is—how much they should have this in their lives.”

The goal is to raise enough private support to participate in Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program, which will send NSS musicians to teach weekly at local schools, culminating in a concert at Laxson where students will play with the symphony.

“It’s not just important to me, it’s important to the institution of orchestras as a whole,” he said. “Because that’s where our new audiences are going to come from. The future depends on it.” 

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