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The Eight and the Orchestra: Rowing and Classical Music

Anderson Memorial Bridge
Chris Voss
Anderson Memorial Bridge

I've always been fascinated by rowing: the speed, the workout, the camaraderie, and the driving rhythm that makes it all work together so smoothly.

So a couple of years ago, when I took on the evening hosting duties at WCRB, and I suddenly had a bit of time available during the day, I decided to try rowing. And it's been more fun than I ever could have imagined: rowing in an eight with seven other dedicated rowers, and when it goes well, it's much like an orchestra, with each musician doing his or her part, following the section leader. 

But not just following - it's more than that. If you've heard great orchestras, you know that the very best violin sections seem to move as one. The bowings are all worked out in advance (those are the decisions about when the bow changes direction), but it's up to the concertmaster to take the lead. And it's up to the players in the section to anticipate the concertmaster, so that every movement, and therefore every sound, is completely in sync.

It's the same with a rowing crew. Every catch (the beginning of a stroke, when the oar enters the water) and every finish (when the oar comes out) has to be timed perfectly, with each rower following the lead of the person in the stroke seat (that's the last rower in the stern). But again, just like in the orchestra, it's more than just following. If one rower (player) misses a stroke, or comes in late, or comes in early, it can be disastrous for the team. Anticipating the motion of the leader is the key, and then everything falls into place.

So with all this in mind, it came as no surprise to me to learn that violinist Hilary Hahn is a rower, or that listening to music boosts rowers' performance significantly. Those oars make beautiful music together!

And by the way... you know that rowing scene in The Social Network? Naturally, the music used to score it is classical — The Hall of the Mountain King, from Grieg's "Peer Gynt."

This weekend Boston hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta, so to help you live that life aquatic, tune in to CRB — and keep the music flowing all weekend long!

Alan McLellan is a host and producer for CRB.