Tennis Anyone?

By Greg Mulligan

In my many years with the BSO, I have enjoyed running and skiing with colleagues. I’ve played basketball, ping-pong, softball, and attended Baltimore Blast and O’s games with BSO friends. But nothing gives me more pleasure than a great doubles match on the tennis courts with my friends. During the cold months, we long for the spring weather to be able to get back out there, though we can even be found out on the court on a 45-degree winter morning as long as the sun is shining.

While we musicians need to take care of our bodies – especially arms and hands – it is a great release to have an activity that uses our big muscles instead of our small ones with which we play our instruments. And while “tennis elbow,” sore shoulders and backs are something to beware of, I can only think of one BSO musician who has missed work over all the last 37 years because of a tennis injury.

Greg Mulligan, Ken Goldstein, David Coombs, Seth Horner
Greg Mulligan, Ken Goldstein, David Coombs, Seth Horner

Some of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians who enjoy tennis are violinists Ken Goldstein, Wonju Kim, and Ivan Stefanovic. Contrabassoonist David Coombs is a frequent partner, as is our Acting Principal Tuba player, Seth Horner. Violist Karin Brown’s husband and occasional BSO substitute cellist Dan Levitov also joins us frequently. Now and then, we can even still get Principal Percussionist Chris Williams out on the court.

When asked about time spent on the court with colleagues, Ken Goldstein commented: “One of the most enjoyable activities in my life, even when I don’t win, is playing tennis with my BSO friends.  Playing doubles is a fairly sociable activity for us.  We always manage to have a great time together, even when some of us are pretty frustrated by our lack of consistency.  It’s a great way for us to collaborate in a venue other than music, to let different aspects of our personalities come to the surface, and to challenge ourselves to discover new ways to elevate our game.”

Seth Horner agreed on many of Ken’s points “Playing tennis with my colleagues is a life affirming activity that helps remind us to take care of our bodies and to find joy outside of music. I learn a tremendous amount from my tennis partners, not just about tennis – but also about the music business and life in general. We always have a great time and no matter how I might feel about my musicianship on a given week, tennis keeps things in perspective.”

Dan Levitov adds “Tennis with my BSO friends is one of my favorite things. Our game is friendly, fun, and healthfully competitive. Although it is a release from work, sometimes playing tennis with musicians reminds me of making music with them. My playing is influenced by the play of my colleagues, and the more I notice their movement and anticipate their next action, the better I play. Timing, rhythm, and technique help too. And, just like on stage at the BSO, when someone plays an artful shot or hits a screaming fast serve, we can’t help but show our appreciation with some applause or a ‘bravo’.”

There is a certain kind of intense focus and attention to detail that typifies our work together in the orchestra and as chamber musicians.  The release we experience on the tennis court is an essential complement to the work we do in the concert hall. The spirit of camaraderie and collaboration and the sheer physicality of our time on the court is an incredibly refreshing and energizing outlet for all of us.