Mary Kathryn Van Osdale
First Violin, Concertmaster Emerita
Hometown: Nashville, TN
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1974
Do you remember the first time you performed onstage?
I started violin when I was 4, and when the Blair School of Music opened, I started taking lessons there when I was 6. I got a scholarship, which was given by the women’s music sorority at Peabody College, so I gave my first little recital at the Social Religious Building on Peabody campus. They were so happy to have me. They gave me a huge corsage that I put on my chest and then proceeded to smash with my violin. They were just in horror, and I didn’t even notice. I was playing two pieces at the time —by Vivaldi and Bach — and I just switched them right in the middle. I played one piece, then the other, and then went back to the first. My poor little accompanist was just so freaked out; he was traumatized, and I didn’t even know I did it!
You joined the Nashville Symphony when you were a teenager. How has the orchestra changed for you since then?
When I first joined the orchestra, it was a community orchestra. Most everyone was a professional in another field — bankers, doctors. It was mostly nighttime rehearsals and performances, except for educational concerts during the day. But now it’s a full-time-plus job. Back then, it was classical and pops. Now it’s everything, all different genres of music. It’s really great for Music City to have a Music City orchestra — not just one thing, but something that pleases everyone.
You’ve also played on a number of recording sessions. How did you get your start?
My mother was a violinist in the Symphony, and she also played sessions. You just kind of evolve into it. You audition for a contractor — the person who hires the ensemble — and you just slowly move yourself up the ladder. You don’t get called for much at first, and then you just work your way into it. Sessions have evolved tremendously over the years. They used to have everyone record in the same room at the same time, and now we mostly overdub. It’s very rare to have the artist there with you. But we do sometimes, and that’s really cool.
What are some of your most memorable sessions?
I did a Bruce Springsteen album, and he was there in the studio. Everyone sees him with the bandana and the cool clothes, but he was in a business suit — he looked like a banker. I almost didn’t recognize him. We did the album, but no titles were on the music, because they were so afraid that the information would get out before the CD was released. I had no idea which songs I was playing until it came out.
I worked a lot with Garth Brooks. He’s an amazing man, so generous and so nice. It’s just like coming to his house when you’re in his studio on Music Row. He feeds you, he and his wife Trisha talk to you, and they’re just so lovely. I’ve worked with Dolly Parton; she’s amazing too, very funny. I did a record with Willie Nelson, and he was actually there, and that was awesome.
My husband is also a musician — he’s retired now, but he worked with Johnny Cash over the years, did The Johnny Cash Show. He actually recorded with Elvis, so he has a lot more history in that area than I do.
Nashville has changed a lot since you grew up here — what stands out the most to you?
I remember going downtown, and the only tall building was the Life and Casualty Building. I can remember going to department stores downtown to see Santa. There’s none of that anymore, but tons of tall buildings. Brentwood hardly existed; Franklin was farmland. It’s amazing. It’s really hard to travel around — you never know how long it’s going to take to get anywhere. But we have amazing restaurants and shopping opportunities — you don’t need to go to Atlanta or New York anymore, it’s all right here.
What are some of your favorite moments with the Nashville Symphony?
One of my first experiences coming to hear the Nashville Symphony was when they performed with Isaac Stern. He was kind of my hero growing up. The first record I bought was None But the Lonely Heart, and I used to play it over and over and over again. It was a combination of short pieces — they would call them encore pieces now, but he played them with such soul. I always wanted to play like that. I got his autograph, and I still have the album. I met him much later, when I was a member of the Symphony, and it’s nice when you can make that connection across time.
As a member of the orchestra, I loved doing the Mahler symphonies with Kenneth Schermerhorn. He taught us so much about how to play them. And I love playing Brahms; there’s nothing like it. I do enjoy playing with opera and ballet tremendously, because it’s all part of an orchestra experience. It builds us as musicians to be able to do different things. That’s why some of us play recording sessions. And that’s why we’re able, when different artists come in, to just step into the groove immediately, because we know how to play that kind of music.
As a professional with such a heavy performance schedule, how do you deal with the risk of injury?
My advice to musicians, especially young musicians, is that you should not stop playing for long periods of time. It’s like running — if you’re training for a marathon, you wouldn’t start distance running after a four-month break. It’s the same with being a musician — you have to do some form of playing every day. You can take some days off, but you’re going to notice it when you come back to it. You injure yourself when you stop and try to go back at it full force again. That’s why it’s important to warm up before you play, just like before you run, you do stretching exercises.
Why does classical music matter?
Experiencing classical music is like when you’re in school, and you read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Gone with the Wind or Shakespeare — it’s a foundation. Any composer will go back to the classics for ideas. It’s like somebody once said to me: you’ve played every note, you just haven’t played them in that form. Every piece that was written years ago, you’re hearing it in other music; you just don’t always realize it. Like Rachmaninoff — pop artists have taken their songs from his music.
Favorite piece of music?
Probably Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy
Favorite non-classical musician?
Favorite venue other than the Schermerhorn?
Favorite Sports Team?
I used to love watching the Bulls. I also like baseball — the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Love in the Afternoon
Sense and Sensibility
Favorite place in Nashville?
Edwin Warner Park