By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
While recently flipping through a copy of the Denver Post, Neil Slade, a fixture on the local music scene, stumbled across an advertisement for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Under the heading "Notes for the Symphony," the ad featured this pitch: "Write musical history. Buy a note of music for $10 for CSO Composer-in-Residence Jon Deak to use in his latest work in progress, which will be performed at the annual Fourth of July Concert at Fiddler's Green. Your donation will help support CSO community programs year-round...The more notes you buy, the more beautiful music we can make!"
This seemingly novel idea had a familiar ring for Slade. He'd tried a variation on the same theme in 1986. His original press release read: "You or your business have a chance to immortalize your name in the annals of great music literature. For $1, you will have a measure of symphonic orchestra music written in your honor with your name inscribed on the original manuscript score. Become a part of music history with 'The People's Suite for Symphony Orchestra.'"
A major difference between the Slade scheme and the CSO project revolves around money; instead of earmarking the proceeds for future endeavors, Slade planned to use the dough to support himself during the writing of his symphony. In the end, however, his success was limited. More than 400 people contributed to his effort, including Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, but the total donations fell far short of Slade's hopes. "Nevertheless, I kept my word," Slade points out, "and spent the next year writing, arranging, copying parts and finally recording." He estimates the total cost of realizing "The People's Symphony" at $4,000.
With the piece completed, Slade took his opus to James Setapen, then the associate conductor for the Denver Symphony Orchestra (the CSO's predecessor), in the hope that the organization would agree to perform it. However, he claims Setapen never responded to his query. When questioned later in an article about Slade's brainstorm that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News, Setapen responded, "I looked at the piece quite a lot...but unfortunately, I didn't find it something we could do."
Obviously, a great deal of time has passed since this rejection. Does Slade seriously believe that the CSO lifted his concept almost a decade later? Well, he's definitely not dismissing the prospect. "It's a pretty big coincidence," he declares. "It's possible that whoever thought of this idea never heard of me, but for it to happen in Denver, Colorado, at pretty much the same orchestra that turned me down? It makes me wonder if it hasn't been brewing in someone's subconscious."
To say the least, the CSO vigorously denies that the "Notes for the Symphony" undertaking was swiped from Slade. "Not one single individual who was part of this process was involved with the orchestra back then," says Sandy Lasky, a publicity consultant for the CSO who's overseeing the new venture. "No one could possibly have known anything about it."
According to Lasky, the concept for "Notes for the Symphony" was born during meetings she attended with representatives from the CSO and TCI, the symphony's largest single corporate supporter. "It came out of a brainstorming session," Lasky divulges. "And the reason everyone liked it so much is that it's a real proactive, positive campaign--an action taken to grow. We have a deficit-free organization and a balanced budget, which makes us one of only five symphonies in the country that can say that. We thought this was a way to give something more back to the community. And we thought it would be fun, too."
Deak is also excited by "Notes." An Indiana native, he now splits his time between Denver, where he serves as composer-in-residence for the CSO, the Colorado Children's Chorale and Denver Public Schools, and New York City, where he's associate principal bassist and creative associate with the New York Philharmonic, as well as a music educator affiliated with the public-school system there. He's just started sketching out the details of his composition, which he sees as "a short, celebratory piece that will directly involve Colorado. I'm going to try and infuse it with the Colorado spirit. And when people buy a note, it won't just be a little note on a piccolo that will be all covered up. It'll be a note that will run all the way up and down the score page. And at the concert, we'll probably have the score blown up to a huge size and the notes circled, so people will be able to say, 'That one was mine.'
"I'm also hoping that people who participate will feel free to say something about the note that they want," Deak continues. "If they want to say they'd like it high, fast, low, sweet, tender, aggressive or whatever, then that's okay with me. I've decided that I'm going to allow myself to be affected and inspired by the responses that we receive."
Thus far, "Notes for the Symphony" has not generated an avalanche of popular support. In spite of television advertisements featuring celebrities such as Denver mayor Wellington Webb and "His music makes me want to run to the" John Tesh that have been running on the TCI system, Lasky reveals that the number of notes purchased only recently topped a hundred. "It's a slow start," she confesses. "This is so unique that I think people are still trying to figure out how it works." She's outwardly confident that things will eventually pick up.