I first heard about Kaleidoscope about a year ago through my roommate I had at the time. As he explained what it was, I remember thinking that the concept of having a conductorless orchestra was fascinating, but I was particularly intrigued by the name. Having had an actual Kaleidoscope growing up, and knowing that you never know what you are going to see when you stare into one, I remember wondering if the orchestra would live up to such a name. Fastforwarding to the present day, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this orchestra embodies everything that the word ‘kaleidoscope’ would suggest.
The word itself implies observation of beauty, and having seen Kaleidoscope perform in concert, I have been able to bear witness to some of the most beautiful music making. Have you ever watched people perform and thought to yourself how incredible it is to see people so passionate about what they do? We have all thought it to some extent, but can you vividly remember the last time that you saw a group of people being so affected by a common cause, value, or ideal that it emanated off of them enough to have an affect on others? That has to be one of the most infectious things in the world, and the people who make up the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra provide that experience. Undoubtedly the orchestra itself has become a force to be reckoned with, but this orchestra would cease to exist without the individuals you see both onstage and behind the scenes.
In this series, together we will have a chance to get to know these remarkable people, as it is through their dedication that is making this orchestra known in their community. Their passion, their drive, and their commitment to something bigger than themselves cannot go unnoticed, and in true kaleidoscope fashion, they provide whoever chooses to look with something they have never seen before. So, without further ado, it is with honor that I present our first look into Kaleidoscope in an interview with Dorothy Micklea Valencia.
Name: Dorothy Micklea Valencia
From: Fayetteville, AR
Additional Position(s): Stage Manager
Carrie Rexroat: How did you initially become involved with music?
Dorothy Micklea Valencia: My earliest memory was when I was 3 or 4 when my parents took me to see Holst’s The Planets played by the Houston Symphony. My mom said I just sat there with rapt attention through the entire performance. So then my parents just started playing me a lot of Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, all the Russians, and it just became part of my vocabulary very early on. In regards to choosing percussion, I was really inspired by my mom because she was a drummer in high school and had all the pictures on the wall with her in marching band. That is where she met my dad actually; he was a tuba player in the band. When I got to the point of being in college, I remember thinking that I had no idea what to do other than go and get a music degree. That was the only thing that I ever really thought to do, was to continue and play drums, so I just did that.
CR: What is one thing you love most about being a musician?
DM: Well, there are two things. Being in Kaleidoscope is really indicative of one of the things I love most about being a musician, which is that music is made for sharing. The process of building a piece with other people of a like mind has always been inspiring to me. Even when I was in marching band, I hated football, but there were 300 people on that field of a like mind and we united to do something bigger than the sum of its parts. That was always super inspiring for me to just be able to experience that in a literal sense; it’s really powerful. The other thing is to be able to express myself in that process. To be able to be a part of that and say, ‘you know what, I only have this one triangle note in this Mahler Symphony, but I’m going to play the hell out of it.’ I’m going to put my stamp on it. Percussion allows me to put my stamp on a work that is bigger than me, because no one else is playing my part.
CR: Speaking of Kaleidoscope, how did you first become involved with the orchestra?
DM: I was recommended by Lauren Kosty. It’s cheeseball, but she really gave me my wings here in Los Angeles. She knew that I was trying to network, she knew that I was trying to meet people, she knew that I was trying to get out and do something. So she told me to call Ben Mitchell and work it out, and so I made the time to do it. It just felt right, you know? I believed in it from the outset. Producing not just what you see onstage, but the organization itself from the ground up, that really appeals to me. I have been really pushing for us to interpret a lot, like with the body language. We are so used to having a conductor up there, and not sticking out, because that was our training. The tables have turned though and I as a percussionist can stand up in front of an orchestra and coach them as any conductor would, by sharing my comments. It’s amazing, to be able to address a symphony orchestra. It is a big deal to me.
CR: Wow, that sounds amazing! So if you had to choose a word, what word do you feel best embodies your experience with Kaleidoscope?
DM: Oh wow. Just one word? Maybe collaborative.
DM: It is about what all these people think, what we, collectively, want to say. Everyone’s opinion is valid, and without everyone’s opinion, there would be something missing from the equation. It is also about a trust, about everyone trusting in the actual collaboration. It was so amazing to me when we were playing with Robert deMaine because again, there is no one up there dictating the tempo. It’s about knowing that maybe the timpani really drives the ship there at this one spot, or maybe I hand it off to the oboe soloist. The orchestra has to go with me, and I have to go with them, and whatever they dictate that the tempo is, then that’s what it is and we have to trust that and follow that. So, maybe collaboration, trust, surrender too, in a way.
DM: Well, it’s scary, right? I feel like everyone who is involved with Kaleidoscope, to a certain degree, was turned on to it by the fact that it was really scary to do. The orchestra likes to take on challenges, which can be scary, but we want to find out why it is scary at face value. I know I speak for everyone in saying that there is an element of fear in this process. Also, it is about letting go. You cannot be in rehearsal and get your tail feathers all fluffed up because someone said you need to push the tempo right there. It has nothing to do with you or your ego at that point anyway, it’s about the process and making it work. People have been so amazing about that. Just letting it go, not having an ego and it’s just been great. I think that is why Kaleidoscope is really important to the freelance landscape in Los Angeles. It’s a positive influence in a scene that can be quickly jaded.
CR: I’ve heard a lot of people describe this orchestra as being a playground in some sense, a place for people to just play and have fun doing it.
DM: Yes! In the freelance world we are the lone wolves, the hired gun, and we don’t really forge any meaningful connections with other players because it is a different group of people at every gig. What we’re doing here is creating a chance to make real bonds with other players, an opportunity to get to know other players as people. That is really where you can dive in and connect with other musicians in a deeper way that the freelance scene can’t always provide.
CR: Definitely. The word ‘community’ is a word that is of vital importance to the orchestra. In your own words, how would you define ‘community’?
DM: I think that the word ‘community’ infers certain truths necessary to a healthy society, such as tolerance, diversity, and people being able to unite their disparate backgrounds and ways of thinking in order to live in harmony together. It goes back to El Sistema. That model shows that the orchestra is the microcosm of how a community can successfully function if everyone comes together and does their unique job to contribute to one common outcome. They unite to build something that is bigger than any one of them, and we struggle to achieve that across the board in our society. But I think that musicians have a special leg up on other people because we actually get to experience what that feels like. Our orchestra speaks to the word ‘community’, it has all these people with totally different backgrounds and ways of thinking and they come together enough to really just manifest something concrete together in the form of a performance. Let us not diminish that power!
CR: Do you feel that Kaleidoscope is being successful in its mission to strengthen various communities?
DM: In the music community, it has been wildly successful. It has injected a freshness and an optimism into a world where people have uttered the phrase, “classical music is dead”. Even Bernstein in his Norton Lectures is quoted as saying that he believed art music was dead and that Mahler was the last living great symphonist. Maybe there’s some subtle truth to that, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be consistently and continuously relevant and that there aren’t different ways of sharing it and presenting it to the people of the world. It is never accurate to say that classical music is dead, and I believe that in that sense that Kaleidoscope has been successful. Now, in non-music communities I feel that there’s a lot more work to still be done. People still feel these divisions and it’s up to us to break them down. Classical music is not something that’s separate from everything, it’s relevant to everything as a movement, as a lifestyle. Back in the 30s, 40s, even into the 50s art music was a household thing that everybody was familiar with. It was in the popular consciousness, it was prevalent in all areas of our society, not just a concert hall. Art music was prevalent in film, prevalent in dance halls, prevalent in television, prevalent in radio shows, where you ate dinner. That was just the standard of the sound palette that everyone was used to hearing. When we showed up and played at the homeless shelter I really felt like it was a movement. We just rolled in, brought the drums, didn’t have a crew or whatever, we were just doing it ourselves. It totally felt like a touring band or something, and I was so incredibly happy about that. The point is to just get it out there and engage with whoever is in front of us. It was really powerful, you know? That’s what it’s all about, and that is a lot of what the art music world is missing. Playing in a setting where an orchestra wouldn’t usually play should not be unique. That needs to become the standard, yeah? Little by little the symphony got compartmentalized into this specialty thing, but it’s not. You don’t need three advanced degrees to understand it. I want it to go back to that everyday experience where people were so used to having a symphony in their consciousness and in their ear.
CR: It’s true, you’re right, my immediate thought when you said you brought an orchestra to a homeless shelter was ‘who has ever done that before?’ But yes, it has to become the standard. If that is a value that is shared among the others in the orchestra, which it seems like it is, then music will be relatable to every community, not just the music community. Is that a main reason why you think people should consider supporting Kaleidoscope?
DM: I really think that is the key reason because what we are talking about is grassroots music making. If anyone really needed support it would be us. We are a true grassroots movement that stems from individuals giving of themselves and their time. I think that really speaks to kind of the world that we are in right now, we don’t want it to be about corporate entities dictating our experience. It’s about what each individual is going through. Everyone has a voice now because of the internet and social media. I mean, you can put a video up of yourself on YouTube and all of a sudden you’re a rockstar. We feel that art music applies to every branch of society and is relevant to making life better across the board. Not only do we think that it benefits everyone, but it is necessary. Great music, and experiencing live art, is not optional. It is fundamental to a society being well rounded and for people within a society to be healthy. At Kaleidoscope, we genuinely believe that. We are not afraid to just take it out there and play music in a place where music may have never touched, all those dark little corners where music doesn’t necessarily always reach to. That is why I think it is really important to support Kaleidoscope.
CR: Transitioning back to more about you, what sorts of hobbies do you have outside of music?
DM: I’ve been getting into television lately, working on acting skills. I’ve been getting more TV type gigs. Specifically I’ve been getting a recurring call for this brand new show called “Grandfathered” with John Stamos on Fox. I was hired on to be a drummer for the show in the background, but lately they have been taking me out behind the kit and putting me in the background. The camera is just right there and I’m supposed to be able to know what to do, but I’ve never acted. I’m also into fashion and styling, I’m really obsessed with brands. I really like perfumes too, I try to know perfumes and know what someone’s wearing. I try and guess it, it’s fun.
CR: Do you have a favorite quote, or a mantra that you use?
DM: I do have a mantra actually. People will take it different ways but my mantra is Sat Nam. I do a lot of yoga and in Hindi it means “truth is my name”, or that I walk in my own truth. Everywhere you go, everything that you do, you come from a place of truth. Remember who you are, what your values are, and try to live that in everything that you do. That’s my mantra.
CR: Is there something you want to leave readers with as a final statement about your experience with Kaleidoscope, what you value in it, and how you feel it will have an impact with people?
DM: For me, music is life. It is made to be shared and the more you give, the more you receive. It’s about connecting with others, it is not about taking. Through giving, we can forge important connections with other people. Music reminds me to do that everyday, and that is what Kaleidoscope shows me. Sharing with and giving to others is the most important path for people to be on. Every single time that I am engaged in a project with this orchestra I am reminded of that fact.
CR: Thank you for your time!