As one year closes, and another begins, we bid farewell to two longtime members of the Central City Opera Orchestra who step down after decades of dedicated music-making with our company. Andy Holmes (bass) and Ingrid Peoria (violin) take us behind the scenes in the orchestra pit, dish about their lives as professional instrumentalists and celebrate many incredible memories.
Tell us about your roles in the CCO Orchestra over the years. What does life look like day to day during the Festival, what about during the rest of the year?
Andy: It’s amazing how the orchestra supports and interacts with the stage. And every performance is different—it doesn’t matter if this is your 45th performance of Carmen—it’s different from performance number 42, 43 or 44 and you have to be ready to adjust on the fly!
It’s hard work! Six days a week. No one in the orchestra is based in Central City. A few people find places to stay, but unlike the singers and production staff who have housing provided by the company, most of the orchestra commutes every day from Denver or other cities along the Front Range. With the commute, our work day is at least five or six hours. Sometimes there are two shows or a show and a rehearsal in one day, which means leaving home at 12:00 or 1:00 in the afternoon and not getting home till midnight.
As for the rest of the year—we’re all professional musicians—this is how we earn our living, so everyone goes somewhere else to perform. Central City Opera is not our only job. Some of us are in the Colorado Symphony, some in the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, some in the Boulder Philharmonic, some go back to Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte or Los Angeles.
Ingrid: I played in the CCO second violin section for 30 years. Day to day life as a member of the Festival orchestra generally involves traveling to Central City every day except Monday for rehearsals and/or performances, often more than one service in any given day. So there’s juggling responsibilities at home—especially if you have kids—and making sure you’re on the road in time to get into the pit before the downbeat, factoring in the daily traffic report. You might get home at midnight or later if there was an evening service, or if it was a matinee, sometimes you’re going to a different gig afterwards. Or you might be arriving in Central City from an earlier gig. So then you get up the next day and do it again.
And of course you have to be prepared with the music when you show up to a rehearsal or performance. My life looked like that for many summer seasons before my husband and I bought a little house in Central City right behind the Opera House in 2003. We lived in it every summer and shut it down for the winter. That cut our commute time down to about 30 seconds!
During the rest of the year, unless a CCO orchestra musician is a member of a negotiating committee or is asked to sit on an audition panel, there isn’t much we’re involved with.
Tell us about your world and work outside your position at CCO.
Ingrid: I’ve been a freelance violinist for over 40 years, and I have a bachelor’s degree in violin performance. While I have had the occasional part-time job not related to music, especially early in my career, the main source of income for me has been from playing. This has included lots and lots of orchestral playing, other opera companies, ballet, touring shows, weddings, receptions, church services, recording jobs, various other pickup jobs, etc. And like many freelance musicians, I supplemented that with teaching, although I never did a lot of that.
Andy: In addition to the playing for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (longer even than Central City!), I’ve also performed with the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado, Boulder Philharmonic, Colorado Music Festival and many others. I also taught music (mostly orchestra, but also some band, piano, music theory and music appreciation) for 31 years in the Westminster Public Schools. I’ve been happily married to my wife Sarah—a viola player for Central City Opera for many years—for 12 years. We both have grown children from previous marriages, two in Denver and one in Los Angeles. We’ve been enjoying our French Bulldog Bijou for two years now!
What’s something people might not know about playing in an orchestra and/or working as a musician that you’d like to share with our audience?
Andy: Somewhere in time, someone decided that what we do should be called “playing.” I’d like to find him or her and smack them! It’s not “play”—it’s hard work! The level of mental concentration is amazing! And there’s a huge physical effort as well. At the end of a performance or rehearsal, the musicians are mentally, physically and sometimes emotionally exhausted. Many do regular stretching exercises daily, even during breaks in performances and get regular massages to loosen tense muscles. Additionally, with the long days of work, it’s hard to keep up with day to day chores at home—groceries, laundry, yard work, time with family/children.
Ingrid: Working as a musician is definitely work. It takes lots of time and preparation, and it’s physically demanding. You have to keep up your skills in order to do your job, which takes consistent practice. I’ve had people express surprise that professional musicians practice. “Don’t you already know how to play?” “Don’t you already know this piece?” Well, yes and yes, but just as a dancer or an athlete has to keep in shape, so do we.
Another thing people might not be aware of is how loud it can be in a pit. The one in Central City Opera House is quite small with a low ceiling, and most of the orchestra is completely under the stage, so sometimes it is very loud indeed. Ear plugs are a common accessory. Needless to say, many of us can hear very little of what is happening onstage (and we’re usually kind of busy anyway!) but sometimes people assume that our experience is similar to the audience’s, when in fact, it is quite different, but often very thrilling. It’s pretty cool to sit in the middle of an orchestra playing great opera, and not many people get to do that.
How did you make your way into the field of opera?
Ingrid: I didn’t set out to become an opera orchestra musician, I just auditioned when there was an opening in the CCO Orchestra and won a position. Musicians take auditions when and where they can, regardless of whether the audition is for a symphony orchestra, an opera orchestra or another musical organization.
Andy: Like any other professional orchestra or opera company in the United States, it started with answering a help wanted ad for a bass player because I could use the money. I replied to the ad and was invited to audition. I won the audition, was hired, earned tenure and continued for a total of 37 seasons. While the initial motivation had a lot to do with money, over the years the artistic rewards have been amazing. It’s so great to play for an organization where the quality is so high from everyone involved—the singers, the orchestra, conductors, stage directors, stage hands, production staff!
Why does the art form appeal to you?
Andy: When I first joined the Orchestra, I had quite a bit of orchestral playing experience but very little experience in opera playing. Back then, all the productions were sung in English, regardless of the original language of the composer. (Somewhere I still have a t-shirt that says “Central City Opera—We Do It In English!”). My first season we were in rehearsals for La traviata. My section leader, who was a big opera buff, pointed to a note in our part and said, “In the original Italian, the word there is “piangi,” and it means “to cry,” so when we play that note, we have to sound like we’re crying. That’s when I really started to understand the role of the orchestra in an opera company.
Ingrid: I hadn’t played much opera when I started with CCO, but I really came to love it, and the opera pit became probably my favorite place to be as a musician.
How have you seen the industry change throughout your career?
Andy: Artistically, the company has grown enormously. It’s always been a good orchestra, but it has improved immensely over the years. Likewise with the singers, the leads (the top 2 or 3 roles) have always been good, but now the lesser roles and the chorus of apprentices are amazing as well!
I’ve been grateful that the Association has invested considerable funds in improving the orchestra pit in the Opera House. When I first started, it was cold and drafty with leaks in the foundation walls that created extreme dampness. By the end of each season, all the musicians were coming down with summer colds! Over the years, the company has enlarged the pit, sealed the foundation to eliminate moisture, improved the lighting and added heaters to make it a safe, comfortable, healthy place to work.
Ingrid: One of the biggest changes in the music industry since I began is the travel that many musicians now do for their jobs. When I started playing in CCO in 1990, almost the entire orchestra was local. Now, a significant percentage of the musicians travel to Central City from elsewhere. That’s the reality for many musicians now, having jobs in orchestras not only in different cities but in different states.
Andy, you’re leaving the orchestra as our longest standing member. Congratulations! Will you both share some favorite memories and stories from your time with CCO? What about your favorite opera you’ve played with us?
Andy: Favorite operas—anything by Puccini or Verdi. I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to play Rigoletto because of the 2020 postponement! I love the way they use the orchestra to enhance the drama! We did a series of operas by American composers in the late ‘90s, Susannah, The Crucible and Summer and Smoke that were great! And I’ll never forget Dead Man Walking—it’s the only opera that ever made me cry in the pit.
As for memories: Early in my career, whenever it was time for the orchestra “bow,” my stand partner would turn so the audience couldn’t see him, and shout “Bravo”!
In 1985, the comic opera Daughter of the Regiment (La fille de régiment) was made even more comic, as the lead role was sung by a soprano who was seven months pregnant! There was also a pregnant violinist that year…
I’ve done Carmen five times in Central City (and excerpts many times in other places). After my third production, I was so sick of it that I swore I’d never do it again. But then, nine years later, I played my fourth production and really enjoyed it!
Ingrid: Once, a helium balloon used as a prop escaped and floated to the house ceiling. A few days later, during the performance of a different opera, it gradually descended, then ascended, up and down for several minutes. It finally came within reach of the conductor, who managed to grab its string and, as I remember it, stabbed it with his baton. The audience loved it.
I’m not sure I could pick a favorite opera, but I will say that although I’ve played three productions of La bohème, three of Tosca, and four of Madama Butterfly during my tenure at Central City Opera, I never got tired of playing Puccini.
Check out Andy’s photo album of great memories below!
What will you do next and/or in your free time? Will you continue playing and practicing?
Ingrid: I think I’ll wait and see what 2021 has in store before I answer this question!
Andy: I won’t miss the commute up the mountain, which has gotten much more difficult lately, or the performance pressure, or the grind of working six long days a week for six to eight weeks. I will miss the camaraderie of the orchestra and the personal satisfaction of performing with such a high quality organization. It will be nice to be able to keep up with the yard work and expand my summer travels with my wife, Sarah, also a former member of the CCO Orchestra. Once the pandemic eases, I’m planning to continue to perform with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and Tiny Tots Inside the Orchestra and other opportunities as they come up.
What does Central City Opera mean to you?
Ingrid: Central City Opera has played a huge part in my personal and professional life. I spent so many summers there among so many wonderful colleagues. I also met my husband, Kim Peoria, in the pit when he joined the orchestra in 1992 as second bassoon. He eventually also became the Orchestra Personnel Manager and Assistant to the Music Director. Our son has spent almost every summer of his life in our little house up in Central City. Sadly, Kim passed away in 2018, but I still have all those memories of summers in the mountains making music in that beautiful old opera house.
Andy: Proud memories—Of the musicians, conductors and appreciative singers and audiences! And proud to have contributed to the growth of Central City Opera over the years.
By the numbers—
37 seasons, 91 productions, 5 section Leader/stand partners
5 Carmens, 5 La traviatas, 5 Madama Butterflies, 4 La bohèmes, 4 Ballad of Baby Does, 2 world premieres
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Andy: Please support your local performing artists and arts organizations—they’ve been hit extremely hard by the pandemic!