For nearly five decades, Rebecca Brooks has served as the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster and principal violinist. This evening, Brooks gives her last performance with the orchestra and retires with the end of the season.
"It's just time," said the 77-year-old Brooks.
Her retirement, announced to the orchestra during rehearsals for the March concert, was strategically timed to precede conductor John Farrer's departure, which will be at the end of next season.
"Everyone was shocked, including John," Brooks said. "They didn't want me to, which is nice. It's really gratifying.
"John and I talked it over. I told him I could stay and go out when he did, but we felt it was better for the stability of the orchestra to have that in place before he left."
Brooks joined the orchestra during the 1963-64 season, during the tenure of conductor Edouard Hurlimann. Brooks had recently moved to Bakersfield with her husband, Dale, who had joined the music faculty at Bakersfield College.
"Eddie asked me to be his concertmaster that summer," Brooks said.
Starting with the 1965-65 season, with associate concertmaster Jean Dodson seated next to her, Brooks began leaving her own mark on the orchestra over the next 48 years.
A concertmaster has many responsibilities: as principal violinist for the orchestra, the concertmaster performs any violin solos included in an orchestral work. As concertmasters must be accomplished soloists, they sometimes perform as the "guest" soloist with the orchestra, as Brooks has done on more than one occasion.
The other responsibility most understood by audience members occurs at the beginning of each concert, when the concertmaster walks out after the orchestra is seated, and tunes the orchestra in preparation for the conductor.
But it is the unseen duties that have the most influence on the orchestra, and it is here that Brooks' legacy will be most keenly felt. As concertmaster, Brooks is responsible for determining how the string players will perform together, to ensure a unified sound and to give the conductor what he or she is asking for.
"We do a lot of preparation before we go into rehearsal," Brooks said. "I will decide how the first violin part should be played, then work with the leaders of the other string sections to work out their bowings."
From there, Brooks and other string section leaders mark all the rest of the parts -- thousands over the years.
Farrer sees the concertmaster role, and Brooks' performance especially, as even more far-reaching.
"It not just a violin position, and a leadership position, and a musician position -- it's a diplomatic position," Farrer said.
Farrer said the concertmaster is the bridge between the orchestra members and the conductor, transmitting questions and responses between them, and finding the answers to performance problems. Farrer recalled an incident from this week's rehearsals, in which the musicians' performance of a passage was contrary to his interpretation.
"She instantly came up with a solution and it was exactly what I wanted," Farrer said. "She is so respected by everyone in the orchestra, when she says something, that's it."
Brooks will be succeeded by Julia Haney, who replaced long-serving associate concertmaster Dodson last season. Haney earned her bachelor of music degree from St. Olaf College and her master of music degree from Indiana University, has played in several orchestras in the Midwest and in Connecticut and currently serves on the music faculty at CSUB. She is married to Dr. Joel Haney, who also is on the CSUB music faculty.
"She's an excellent mediator for the musicians and the conductor and between the sections," Haney said of Brooks. "She's a tremendous player; she has a tremendous leadership in playing, showing what it means to play a phrase and making musical decisions."
Beyond the role she has played in the orchestra, Brooks has touched the lives of most of the BSO string players in the most fundamental way: as a teacher.
"I think it's almost everybody," Brooks said. "They've had a least a lesson or two, many for a long time."
Brooks will continue to teach privately, and to play in her string quartet for various functions. And she has hundreds of rehearsals and performances, including numerous solos, to savor, including some unexpected events.
"I was kissed by Henry Mancini!" Brooks said, referring to a concert during the Hurlimann years at which Mancini was the guest artist.
"The first thing to say is that there's nothing you can say to properly recognize and reward that kind of loyalty, and skill, and work," Farrer said. "There is no way, except to say her contribution is beyond measure and she will be sorely missed.
"How can you measure 48 years?"