When the Main Line Symphony Orchestra (MLSO) takes the stage at 8 p.m. on Friday May 6, it will be capping off an historic season in its 70-year existence. The closing concert will conclude bassoonist Vanessa Taylor’s first season as president of the orchestra — significant, given that she is the first African American to hold the position.
Rotating between four schools a week as an instrumental teacher for the School District of Philadelphia, Taylor is a graduate of Overbrook High School who earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in multicultural education from Eastern University.
She has been a bassoonist with the MLSO for 20 years and was elected president by the organization’s board of directors. Yet, as is often the case with a pioneer of any nature, Taylor was initially faced with uncertainty.
“I was nervous! I was nervous because I have never been elected to be a president of any organization, or anything at all, so I didn’t know what was expected of me or how I could make a difference,” she said. “Anytime you are elected into a position, you’re excited that someone thought you could do the job, but it’s another thing to not let everyone down and try to do the job well.”
Taylor’s responsibilities include running MLSO board meetings and being kept abreast of the ongoing activities of the 80-member orchestra, as well as providing any necessary feedback. Aside from her administrative duties, she is looking forward with great anticipation to the orchestra’s upcoming performance.
“I’m excited about the concert for this Friday because we have a harpist performing with us for a few selections, and we have a pianist coming in to play with the orchestra, so that’s a lot of fun,” said Taylor. “The third thing that’s the most exciting is there’s a piece called ‘The Wissahickon [Scenes],’ and that piece, the composer is alive. We’ve been playing these pieces where the composers are no longer around, but this piece, ‘The Wissahickon,’ the composer is alive, and he’s been coaching the orchestra!”
On a personal level, Taylor is particularly fascinated by Aaron Copeland’s “Suite from ‘Billy the Kid.’”
“My husband watches Westerns all the time — he just likes that,” she said. “But it’s kind of funny, because you never think about the music behind the Westerns, and here it is, I’m playing some of the music behind some of the Westerns, and it’s interesting. It takes you through different scenes. It says ‘The Prairie Scene,’ and then we’re playing the music that would be part of a prairie scene. It’s says, ‘The Gunfight,’ so the drums are banging ... Boom! Boom, boom boom! It’s a lot of fun, because you’re hearing what you’d hear in the Western.”
As their season concludes, Taylor invites music lovers to come out and experience this unique organization that unites passionate amateur and professional musicians on one accord. “They’re a very talented group of individuals that come together,” she said. “They’re professionals. There are professional musicians in the orchestra [and] there are professionals of other careers — doctors, lawyers — but then they come and enjoy music.”
The concert, titled “Music of the Americas,” will take place at Valley Forge Middle School, Walker Road and Valley Forge Road in Wayne. For more information, visit mlso.org.