When Musicians Talk About Music

Music & Culture

Volume CVII, No. 1January, 2007

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Harold Robinson, principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and a member of Local 77.

The intersection of art and life is at the core of “Music From the Inside Out,” Daniel Anker’s cinematic exploration of music through the stories, the passions and the artistry of the musicians of a world-class orchestra.

The movie came out in 2004, but it’s just been released on DVD and Alfred Publishing is about to produce an accompanying curriculum for music teachers.

Filmed over a period of five years on three continents, “Music From the Inside Out” is the result of a collaboration between the filmmaker and the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Unique in style and approach, the main character of this film is music itself. Incorporating a blend of well-loved musical works — including classical, jazz, bluegrass, salsa, and world music — the film features one of the most eclectic soundtracks of any recent documentary.

In a film that strives for passion and intimacy, the musical performances are interwoven with the musicians’ individual stories, each of which has at its core the struggle to find personal expression when one’s profession requires performance as part of an ensemble.

Ultimately, the film attempts to break down the barriers that have long separated orchestra musicians and their audiences, and get to the essence of the magic and the mystery of music itself.

Unlike previous films with symphony orchestras, in “Music From the Inside Out,” it is the musicians themselves who come to the forefront, rather than the conductor or star soloist:

  • Israeli Cellist Udi Bar-David begins a collaboration with Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen, seeking to use music as a way to transcend politics.
  • Violist Judy Geist explores the role of color in her dual life as both an accomplished painter and a musician.
  • Trombonist Nitzan Haroz heads to a salsa club after a Thursday night concert and ultimately joins the band.
  • French horn player Adam Unsworth finds that his music making is enhanced by both the discipline of marathon running and the freedom of Jazz improvisation.
  • Concertmaster David Kim reveals how his mother’s death forced him to abandon his quest for a solo career, and ultimately reevaluate his life. His story becomes one of transcendence rather than compromise, as he finds true joy in his collaborations with others.
  • The powerful connection of music and memory is evoked through the story of brothers Joe and Lou Lanza who return to their Italian working class roots in a journey to their childhood home.

“My brother Lou and I were interviewed and the filmmakers even showed us visiting the house where I was born and raised in South Philadelphia,” violinist Joe Lanza told Allegro. “That was a memory lane for us! We talked at length about our father as a singer, how we used to sit with him on Saturday aftenroons to listen to the Texaco Hour opera broadcasts, and share in his deep love for music making. He taught us how to sing through our instruments!”

How did it all start?

In early spring of 2000, Daniel Anker sat in a living room with approximately 40 musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Surrounded by a film crew, with cameras rolling, Anker’s intent was to explore with them the relationship between their lives and their music. Not knowing what to expect, Anker started the conversation by simply asking, “What is music?”

Over the next several months, in similar workshops, Anker filmed approximately two-thirds of the orchestra’s 105 members in deep, introspective conversations that covered all facets of the musical experience. Drawing from these dialogues, and the personal stories that emerged, Anker spent the next two years filming the musicians in their lives both inside and outside the concert hall, and then another two years in the edit room.

Anker found the Philadelphia Orchestra to be the perfect orchestra for his film. Founded in 1900, the orchestra is considered one of the nation’s finest symphony orchestras, particularly well known after their appearance in Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia.”

The film is told solely through the voices of the musicians, without host or narrator. Anker calls it a “musical essay.” His hope is that the film is able to draw people from all walks of life into the experience of music.

For information on the project, buying a DVD, or finding out more about the accompanying curriculum, see