Lots of orchestras have traditions: big opening night parties, for example, or singing hallelujah to open a summer festival. At the New Century Chamber Orchestra, we have Hail to the Chief.
And our chief, of course, is Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
The tradition began a couple of years ago, in Ohio, on Nadja’s first New Century tour, when Associate Concertmaster Dawn Harms announced on a bus zooming across the country, to loud cheers from the Orchestra, that Nadja was the beloved chief of our tribe. Dawn then solemnly presented Nadja with a carved, wooden, 20-inch long, American Indian chief, in full color, purchased at a truck stop along the way.
Nadja thought it was very funny, but she was also touched. The Indian chief kept us company throughout the tour. A tradition was born.
On the next tour, rolling along the Massachusetts Turnpike from Boston to New York, Dawn located a carved wooden Mohawk walking stick, six feet long and with a chief’s head at the top, again purchased at a truck stop gift shop along the way. And again, a solemn presentation was made, on the bus, to our leader.
To everyone’s surprise and pleasure, Nadja sported the walking stick for the remained of the tour.
On the long ride Friday from Chicago through a bit of Indiana and across much of Michigan to Ann Arbor, the tradition was renewed. As the bus pushed through the dark Michigan landscape, cellist Michelle Djokic presented Nadja with a “hand-made” crown (original materials, it is guessed, from Burger King) and then personally “bejeweled” to dazzling effect. We commoners on the bus all cheered our leader, the chief, as she was crowned.
The main event was next. Dawn, who had been to the White House while the Orchestra was in Washington, DC, presented Nadja with an elegant Hail to the Chef apron (with an “i” added with more glue-on “diamonds”) from the White House gift shop, complete with the Presidential seal, to more loud cheering and singing from everyone on the bus.
Nadja refers to the Orchestra as her “peeps,” and so, as a final gift, she received a glow-in-the-dark baby chick. Nadja thanked everyone from the bottom of her heart, resulting in more cheering and singing.
The good humor was fueled in large measure by Operations Director Everett Doner, who, prior to our departure, had stocked the bus with as close to a full bar as one man can carry. Everett then served as bartender, providing elegant garnishes of pickles, onions and more to Bloody Marys, and Principal Second Violin Candace Guirao (right) assisted him as a cocktail waitress, charmingly working the aisle of the bus with a serving tray and keeping everyone in good spirits.
Nadja, with help from Principal Cellist Susan Babini, added to the fun. Nadja announced that everyone on the bus was to get a tattoo (“even Parker”, left) that she had acquired, and to choose our “preferred” tattoo and the location where Nadja and Susie, working as a team, would apply it. Nadja was soon sporting two small lightning bolts on her cheeks (think of the comic book hero The Flash), which were just right for her.
By the time they were done, the orchestra was covered not just with tattoos but with glued-on sapphires and rubies on faces, hands and arms. Violinist Karen Sor and violist Emily Onderdonk (below) were especially exotic. Everyone was laughing non-stop, and we made quite an impression at the remaining rest stops along the way.
And what kind of a bus ride would it be without singing? We sang everything from Beatles songs to selections from The Sound of Music, as we rolled along.
Between the open bar and the tattoos, the gleaming crown and the presidential apron for our Chief, the glowing chick and singing, the New Century Chamber Orchestra was in fine form by the time we arrived in Ann Arbor.