A legacy in music

A harpist in Heinz Hall Grand Lobby This weekend marked the end of another season for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. But it marked the end of something more. Three esteemed musicians were retiring from the PSO, Charlotta Klein Ross (cello), Ronald Cantelm (Bass), and James Gorton (Oboe). My wife has a particular connection with one, having performed alongside one. And the program reflected one type of legacy, with Gorton; his wife, Gretchen Van Hoesen; and daughter, Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton, being the soloists for Goossens’ Concert Piece for Oboe/English Horn, Two Harps and Orchestra as the close for a career and a season.

Certainly one way to have a legacy is through your sons and daughters. Another is through enabling a future through gifts that allow others to flourish. But what are the things that one does to create a legacy? One is through the development of raw talent, the sort of thing that we explicitly recognize when we attend a PSO concert. But while it is memorable, it is fleeting. What does it take to create something that endures?

I can think of two ways. First is to create something based on an idea, then invite others to build upon it. It is creative not only in the creation itself, but the idea and concept that can be built on. One recent set of projects surrounds the MusOpen project, which raises funds for the development of public domain scores (including computer source that makes the score) and recordings. The first is having its first fruits, with the Open Goldberg Variations and recordings of the Prague Symphony Orchestra in support of that project. The second is to teach and train the next generation.

Always there are risks. For the first, the question that always gets stated is why do things in a different way. There are certainly scanned copies of Bach’s Goldberg variations and other scores, and many editions that have been put together by dedicated scholars. But now the promise is that the music (both the description as well as the performance) can be used as a starting point in other creative works, which requires both the right to do so as well as source material that can be modified. And for the second, the question is if it makes a difference, especially when the deepest knowledge can only be passed in one-on-one interaction.

My wife and I are both at stages in our careers where we make commitments to the future. And part of that is the fact that much of what we leave behind is not going to be what we ourselves create, but in ideas and organizations passed on to students and colleagues whom we have the pleasure of working, contending, and building with, and new ideas that are developed and grown into institutional capabilities and memories.

I was listening to the stories of the musicians retiring with this season, and I was thinking about the legacies they leave behind, which was more than tales of inspired musicianship, although that was there. It was in the creation of memories, and investment in others to guide them to their futures, musical or otherwise. And in that is something worthy of the name legacy.

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Jun 18