Playing The Nutcracker

Bob MarlattElizabeth England.jpg

By Elaine Sorrentino
Everyone loves The Nutcracker, with its magical world of dancing snowflakes, sugar plum fairies, unsurpassed costuming, and gorgeous music that circles through your memory for the entire holiday season.  This year, however, there’s another wonderful surprise for those who attend Boston Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker at the Opera House this holiday season.  You’ll see a couple of familiar faces in the orchestra pit!

South Shore Conservatory (SSC) instructor Robert Marlatt is principal horn for Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker, has played with the company since November 1996, and has performed more than 800 Nutcrackers over the course of his Boston Ballet time.  He will play 39 performances this season.  Also, SSC instructor Elizabeth England has been playing oboe for The Nutcracker since 2016.  She was awarded tenure in May of 2017, and will play 44 performances this season.

Both musicians shared that the process of auditioning for Boston Ballet was a bit intimidating, starting with auditioning anonymously from behind a screen for members of the orchestra and the music director!  They needed to play a prepared solo piece, customarily repertoire from the orchestral world, such as a Sibelius symphony, Beethoven works, or Stravinsky violin concerto, in addition to works created specifically for the ballet genre, such as Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, or Romeo and Juliet. Then they played some orchestral passages.  Neither Robert not Elizabeth needed to wait long after auditioning, as they were notified the same day of their being accepted into the next round of auditions, the semi-finals.  Again, they performed their solo plus a new set of orchestral passages from behind a curtain.  In the final round, however, they were also given instructions on how to play differently by the conductor, in order to demonstrate the musicianship of a candidate.  Clearly both of these accomplished musicians passed this test too, with flying colors, and the next thing they knew, they were Boston Ballet musicians.

Where so many ballet companies perform without a live orchestra, and others have drastically reduced the orchestration, Robert and Elizabeth realize how fortunate we are here in the Greater Boston area to have Boston Ballet in our backyard.  They feel that live music is an integral part of the whole Nutcracker experience.  “It makes a huge difference! It’s a collaboration and multi-discipline art form; if you take away an enormous component of that collaboration, I think that’s unfortunate,” says Elizabeth.

From the orchestra pit, the musicians cannot see the dancers, but during quiet spots in the music, they can hear the dancers’ toe shoes on the stage.  So, what’s makes playing for The Nutcracker special?  Robert says, “The smiles from the audience. Before every show and at intermission, the orchestra pit is surrounded by kids and parents, and we know that, for many, it is their first experience hearing a live symphony orchestra.”

Elizabeth is in agreement. “The audiences! It is so special to create this beautiful world for the audience. Hearing the children in the audience laughing and enjoying themselves is wonderful. Creating a space for everyone to enjoy themselves and be uplifted by this shared experience is a beautiful thing. People come down to the front of the house to look in the pit before the show, during intermission, and after the show. It’s a delight to speak with them, answer any questions they have, and share a smile.”

In Elizabeth’s teaching studio, her students are having fun playing Nutcracker music, but Robert’s students haven’t started yet.  “Maybe I’ll surprise them next week with the ‘Waltz of the Flowers!’” he quips.

To sign up for lessons with Robert or Elizabeth, or to learn more about South Shore Conservatory’s private lesson program, visit or call 781-749-7565 x10.


Holiday Favorites concert in Duxbury, December 12 at 11 am

If you happened to miss our Holiday Favorites concert on Sunday, don’t fret!  South Shore Conservatory’s Coffee Break Concert Series presents its own version of Holiday Favorites Tuesday, December 12 at 11 am, with charming husband and wife piano duo Mark Goodman and Jennifer Cope Goodman. They will present songs of the season, some of it on piano four hands, with discussion of the “ins and outs” of piano four hands playing.

This concert is sponsored by The Village at Duxbury and is free to the public.

Beyond the music

SSC Community Voices at Inly

By Dianne Morse
Three years ago I retired from the Marshfield public school system as a math coach at the middle school level. Throughout my teaching career, I was always partial to working with struggling learners and special needs students. Last December I saw a Facebook post about South Shore Conservatory’s SSC Community Voices program for developmentally-delayed adults. It intrigued me and I hoped I’d qualify. Little did I know at the time, but singing ability was not a prerequisite for this group! I contacted Creative Arts Therapy Director Eve Montague right away and offered to be a singing partner.

The first rehearsal I attended was held in January, 2017.  I loved the enthusiastic welcome that was given to each singer as they arrived. Directors Eve and Amanda handed out the ‘music’ which consisted only of large print lyrics. As they handed it out they asked each participant, “Are you reading tonight?” This touched me as so respectful of each person‘s ability and dignity as an adult with special needs. Some of the singers are unable to read, some are blind, some don’t sing at all, some don’t sing anything close to what everyone else is singing, some have perfect pitch, some know all the lyrics after only listening to a song once,  but all blend somehow in this wonderfully inclusive group.

From that first night I was sure I’d be returning weekly. On Monday nights I sing with the Snug Harbor Community Chorus at the Performing Arts Center in Duxbury. There I’m challenge to learn my part, breathe correctly, and to stay on key. I leave those Monday practices with my personal goals to practice the more difficult passages. In contrast, on Wednesday nights I leave Community Voices with a chuckle and a smiling heart.

When I arrive at CV rehearsal I always wonder where to sit.  Shall I sit beside Jennifer? She lifts my spirit- she freely shares her exuberance, pretends to read the words but really just watches my mouth, and eventually gets us both in trouble by chatting with me. She always exclaims, “This is my favorite!” with every song we sing. Shall I sit beside Patrick? He reaches out to touch my hand whenever he’s anxious. Liz always claps too loudly and Joe holds his notes long after Eve or Amanda has directed us to stop singing. All of my CV singing friends are interesting adults with special abilities.

Our spring concert was exciting! Not only was our Duxbury SSC Community Voices group singing at the Inly school in Scituate, but we combined with the Hingham SSC Community Voices group, and together numbered about 40 singers! After that concert a few of the people in the audience approached me and asked how I got involved. Since then a fellow teacher, Rena Lukoski of Hanover, has joined the group.

Our wonderful group of singers and new friends often see each other outside South Shore Conservatory on Wednesday nights. I’ve run into my singing buddies at the Wang Center, at Heritage Days in Scituate Harbor, in bowling alleys, craft shows, and in supermarkets. It’s fun to say hello and share smiles as we visit as friends. Joining Community Voices has been a unique way to experience the power and joy of music.

South Shore Conservatory’s SSC Community Voices in Duxbury and SSC Community Voices, Too! in Hingham present their holiday concerts on Wednesday, December 13,
7 pm.  These performances are joyful and free.  For more information, visit

Sharing the power of music

All Star Band

By Ed Sorrentino
I think back to the day of my first drum lesson, and what a very special time that was for me. My first drum set and the excitement of choosing a color. Then, being in the school band with my new friends. The warm stage lights in front of a huge audience with my family in the front row waiting for Mr. Rogers to signal the start of the song, and of course the white short-sleeved shirt and my father’s long tie I was wearing. These are my first memories of music in my life…how powerful this was.

Recently, Summer Music Festival (SMF), South Shore Conservatory’s instrumental music summer program for woodwind, brass and percussion students entering grade four through post high school, received an anonymous donation/scholarship specifically allocated for young students eligible for SMF’s All- Star Band program for musicians grades four through six. This ensemble provides support to beginning students through many different channels, including a team of first-rate educators, most who have come through the program sometime during the 40-plus year history of the SMF.

The five-day program includes special activities designed to introduce and strengthen music concepts as well as social skills and culminates with a final performance open to the public. Parents are encouraged to contact me at for more information on this scholarship opportunity.

The idea of giving young musicians the chance to experience the same exciting musical journey that I did at an early age, is inspirational.  I am grateful to the donors who have created this opportunity, and hope it will be used to open doors for students who could use a little tuition assistance.

Ed Sorrentino is Summer Music Festival Program Director.