Musician Behind the Mask: Carla Ecker, Concertmaster
We decided to hold a series of interviews to learn more about how the RVS musicians are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and to share their stories with you. This first installment features Carla Ecker, who has served as Concertmaster of the Rogue Valley Symphony since 2017. She resides in Phoenix, AZ with her husband, Alan, where she performs with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, and otherwise freelances playing chamber music, shows, and whatever other interesting things come her way. Carla spends her summers in Santa Fe, NM where she performs with the Santa Fe Opera, eats copious amounts of green chile, and hikes the abundant NM trails.
How has the Covid-19 health crisis affected you as a musician?
These definitely have been some of the strangest times I’ve ever seen and I might even say that COVID-19 has turned my musical life upside down! The most obvious thing is that the entirety of my professional performing life has been canceled for the foreseeable future. In fact, the last concert I played was in the Rogue Valley on March 1st. A key part of being a musician is self-discipline, and I am definitely a creature that craves structure. Without a schedule of rehearsals and concerts to keep me in line, I’ve definitely needed to dig a little deeper to keep myself motivated to practice. On the positive side, I have rediscovered the freedom to play for the fun of it, and to take on playing projects for my own gratification as opposed to trying to always just keep up with the things on my performing schedule. In normal life, those things are mainly orchestral works with a smattering of chamber music when I’m so lucky. Not to say that those things aren’t wonderful, but right now there is a new freedom of choice…things I’ve always wanted to learn, things that I don’t normally have time for. AND, a very important and wonderful aspect of this is having the time to really slow down and to learn things at a pace without pressure. I find that I really discover wonderfully useful things when I allow myself a little more leash.
Are there any aspects of your professional life that are unchanged?
I can say that my cravings for music and for performing are unchanged. In fact, they are definitely heightened. (I suppose that means that they ARE changed!) But so much is different. In almost every conversation I have with my colleague friends we explore ideas of what will remain changed, and what will snap back. We are now in a cycle of constantly exploring new options and new ways to keep being who we are. Performing music is not just what we do, but it is what we are. We’ve never really had to face the reality of that changing until now.
What do you think is the role of musicians now?
I believe that we need to keep reminding the world of this sensation that we feel only when we are in a room where there is live music being played. We may not be able to feel it for now, at least in large group form, but we must not forget the power of it. We need to let people know that this power is still here for them, maybe just in slightly altered forms for now. We will all have our concert hall experiences back again. I know that we will be together again in that way, because it is a huge part of our humanity. For now, we can still reach each other in unique ways. Something that will always remain in my memory is driving down to my friend Steven’s house for a social-distancing lawn concert in early March. During the drive, I listened to our governor here in AZ announce stay-at-home orders which would begin the very next day. Myself and three other violin colleagues and friends spaced ourselves around a tree in Steven’s front lawn and played Telemann Quartets for his responsibly-spaced neighbors. It was a very special afternoon.
Have you re-discovered an old hobby/passion while in quarantine?
YES! My tennis racket had probably gathered nearly 10 years of dust when I dug it out and ventured to my neighborhood park. I had forgotten how much I truly love the game and the feel of it, and it’s been great therapy to go and hit some balls against that wall and rediscover my swing. I’ve always loved cooking, so like everyone else on the planet I’ve been cooking more than I have in years! I’ve dug out the Duolingo and am LOVING pretending that I’m actually learning Italian. AND, not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I could give Edward Scissorhands a run for his money. That’s Carla Scissorhands to you, and my hedges have never looked better!
Have you read or watched anything interesting that you’d want to share?
My newest project is the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of the century. My husband, Alan, and I just watched The African Queen the other night. In this day and age of all things digitized, it’s really fun to rediscover some old greats made in a time when things were much simpler.
For inspiration (and to check myself if I ever start to feel sorry for myself), The Book of Gutsy Women, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, is a great collection of stories about resilient, sassy women throughout history who really made a difference.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a beautiful novel of historical fiction that I was loaned by a great friend, and it’s written in a way that you can take little bites out of.
A summer project I’m looking forward to is studying Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, which I was to perform this summer with the Santa Fe Opera. Due to the season being cancelled, this will be the first summer in over 25 years that I will not be in Santa Fe playing the operas that I adore, so I’ll try and get to know Tristan the best I can without being in the pit.
What’s something you’re grateful for today?
Being forced to quarantine with my cherished husband, Alan. We really like each other!
And being one of the luckiest ones in this day and age to not have lost a loved one or seen one close to me suffer with this illness.
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
Being on the stage with my orchestra, your orchestra, the RVS, as well as here in Phoenix and Santa Fe, and anywhere else that’ll have me!
And finally being able to celebrate everything, or nothing, in person with all of the people that I love. And HUGS!!!!!!! And last but not least, waking up tomorrow with a better solution, a better resolution, and a new lease on our present COVID-19 life.
Next up: Lori Calhoun, Principal Clarinet