Weight of Sound, Ep. 2: Brahms Symphony No. 4 (and More!)

In moments of collective crisis, music can be a means for solace, expression and memorial—a few bars can enliven years-old experiences and emotions. Weight of Sound is a music archive-based series that retells formative memories from musicians in the Midwest paired with the masterpieces that elicit them. Cindy Sang was a participant in Midstory's 2020 High School ThinkLab program.

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In episode 2 of Weight of Sound, Toledo Symphony violinist and teacher at Maumee Valley Country Day School Tom Sieberg shares memories brought back through Brahms Symphony No. 4—the joy and inspiration of music education and teaching music with his wife Colleen: “…she also knew how to challenge kids. I mean, that was one of her biggest gifts. She wasn’t afraid to give any group any piece of music because somehow she knew they could get it done. And she was going to see to it that they did it.”


I usually…I mean, my whole life, every night I would go to a rehearsal, or be working towards a performance. And when I wasn’t doing that, I said, “Oh, Okay. I’ll go hear the concerts.” And it was just a little bit odd sitting in the audience seeing my friends up there having such fun. And there I was just listening and it was kind of empty, but I did enjoy hearing the orchestra and thinking, you know, I’m part of that really good group up there. I can’t wait to get back. And now the whole orchestra has the same sensation because nobody’s been able to play with the pandemic. So everybody’s just raring to go.

Well, for me, Brahms, the Symphony No. 4 that I enjoy, was the one when I was in high school…my high school orchestra teacher was also a member of this Toledo Symphony. We had a pretty good orchestra when I was in high school, and he loved that Symphony so much. We performed the third movement, which was a little bit too hard for a high school orchestra. But we did it anyhow. And I just fell in love with it. And it’s been my favorite ever since.

Mrs. Sieberg was one of the biggest teasers that ever lived, and she loved to tease the kids and she loved to tease me. And the fun part of that, besides working together — she was a wonderful teacher — she would love to catch me sleeping or making a mistake. You know, if my bow is going the wrong way or if I didn’t hear an instruction and was doing something else, she would yell at me, and it was hilarious because the kids that “What!! Mr. Sieberg is in trouble!” It was so funny. 

Excerpt of a performance conducted by Colleen Sieberg. Video courtesy of Dan Karns on YouTube.

But, you know, that was just part of the fun of it. We got along so well, and I really did enjoy working with her in the classroom. So if I was in the middle of the orchestra with you all in the Wilderness Room [at Maumee Valley] and she would walk by. She got there early if I told her, “Hey, you got to come in here. This is really good.” She popped in and it was like, “Oh, good!” so I could stop and she could get back to [her classroom]. She had most of the kids at some point, and it was nice for her to reconnect with them and tease them a little bit…

I had a real problem when I first started in college. I hadn’t had anybody work with me on how to develop a beautiful tone. I mean, mine was okay. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t…you know, Colleen, she knew how to do that. It was just automatic, and she helped me a lot. I remember when I was a freshman after I got to know her, and we got to be friends. I’d be practicing in the practice room and she’d be walking down the hall and she just opened the doors and said, “Sieberg! You’re pressing too hard!” And she’d walk away. And then I said, “Oh well, she’s right” and figured it out. And she also knew how to challenge kids. I mean, that was one of her biggest gifts. She wasn’t afraid to give any group any piece of music because somehow she knew they could get it done. And she was going to see to it that they did it.

Colleen used to be the high school teacher. And when she finally couldn’t do it anymore because of the schedule, that was just my group.The first year was an amazing year. The first concert was a group of talent that Maumee Valley hadn’t seen in a long time and just boggled everybody’s mind. And they’ve just stayed good the whole time. It never took a dive. It was just better and better.” Image courtesy of Tom Sieberg.

When I was your age, I had horrible stage fright. I was very nervous in front of an audience, especially if I had a solo…it was awful. I don’t know how I actually became a performer because it was devastating. But you can grow out of that, you can get used to it. I mean, I’m not somebody that has to have the spotlight on me all the time. I just like to play music. But when you get past that, it’s nice to have people to share with, and that’s the whole point. You know you want to share what you know and share what you can do and the experience. If you can give somebody that amount of joy that you get from playing, that’s kind of half the fun. 

It’ll be a rough year for everybody…but I think every day is one day closer to being a solution to this and being back to normal. But at least you know, Zoom isn’t a terrible thing. Because now I’ve been able to stay in touch with people that otherwise, I wouldn’t. I would have never thought to do that. I didn’t even know what Zoom was a year ago. So if I feel like I want to talk to Cindy, I’ll just say hey let’s zoom and there you go.

Live performances Tom has arranged and conducted during the 2020-2021 school year:

Strings Concert (Middle and Upper School)

Spring concert, May 5, 2021. Video courtesy of Maumee Valley Videos on Youtube.

Strings Concert (Middle and Upper School)

Winter concert, February 3, 2021. Video courtesy of Maumee Valley Videos on Youtube.

Featured excerpts of live performance from: 

Brahms Symphony No. 4

March 13, 2020

Alain Trudel, conductor

Recordings courtesy of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Special thanks to Keith McWatters (Orchestra Manager) and Rachel Schultz (Director of Education & Community Engagement) for access, permission and support.


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