by ANDREW NISSEN
First-year GD Trombone
I sit in Margie Apfelbaum’s office on a very comfortable couch, and I ask if it’s good for sleeping on. “I don’t know,” Margie says. Though I’m inclined to believe her, there’s a hint of something else in her smile.
Margie is a benevolent, cheerful, hard-working stalwart of NEC. Now entering her third decade in service as the Administrative Director of Orchestras, she interacts with most of the instrumental students who come through the school. And she has an awesome couch in her office.
Aside from the couch, I ask, what’s a good part about working at NEC? “It’s a really nice community of smart, talented people– talent both in and outside of music. People seem to be well-rounded and articulate, and I learn something new just about every day. I also get to work with young people, so it keeps me young and energetic.” I wonder aloud if NEC has changed in the years that Margie has been here. “Tremendously,” she replies. “I think we’ve always had very, very talented students here, but – to use a sports terms – we have a very deep bench now. There were years that the orchestra department had, like, three bass players and five violists; the orchestra department has grown very well since that point. The quality of what happens in the orchestra is just really, really high.”
I ask Margie about the sports term “deep bench.” Is it a baseball thing, I naïvely think? “Well, the term applies to any sports. It means there’s a lot of talent throughout the team. I’m a big sports fan.” Is she a Red Sox fan? “Of course!” she grins. “I watched one game at LAX before a red-eye flight, and an entire pizza place in the terminal had been taken over by Red Sox fans. One waiter told us that the Red Sox weren’t going to win the World Series, and went on about how much he hated them. I really wanted to fly back as soon as the Red Sox won and just go…” (She makes a, ahem, colorful physical gesture that can’t be described here.)
Back to music– what’s the worst excuse Margie’s seen from a student for missing orchestra? “Oh! I get some pretty funny emails. I once had a student who said they couldn’t come to rehearsal because of the Boston Marathon. I asked, ‘Are you running in it?’ and they said, ‘No, but I’d like to watch it.’” One of her craziest memories was witnessing a student show up drunk to a concert. She recalls, “The student enlisted a relative to tell me that before the concert a bottle of whiskey had fallen on him, so that’s why he smelled like alcohol!” With a knowing smile, she says, “I’ve been doing this for a while, so I can tell when people are making stuff up.”
We talk about some of Margie’s dreams for NEC. “I’d like to do a festival around the first week of April dealing with humor in music,” she says. “I love comedy, and I’ve done some stand-up as a hobby. I think there are so many humorous pieces, and the festival could coincide with April Fools Day.” Who knows– maybe now that people are reading this article, they’ll become interested in making it happen!
As for upcoming holiday plans? “My partner and I got a new puppy this year, so we won’t be vacationing away during the break. One thing I try to do is invite students staying in town over the break away from family without anywhere to go. [My wife and I] try to get in touch with them and have them over on Christmas Eve for a nice meal.” So maybe she’s a stickler for orchestra attendance– but she gives away free food!
Margie and I talk for quite some time. She’s easy to talk to, and we have many topics to talk about. There’s the time that Bruce Springsteen opened for her during the dedication of the Zakim Bridge (Margie sounded a shofar at the end of the ceremony, and Bruce played at the beginning!) We look at pictures of her beautiful puppy, Louie, who is half Australian Cattle Dog, half “not-quite-sure.” Margie does a lot of photography and has a professional certificate in photography. Very into politics, Margie was always down at the State House around the time that same-sex marriage was in debate in Massachusetts. It’s very important to Margie, as it enabled her and her long-time partner Meridith to finally marry. We also talk about Margie’s resident town, Watertown, which became world-famous for all the wrong reasons this past April as television viewers across the world witnessed police cars and military tanks close in on her neighborhood. “As horrible as the whole thing was, it really was an amazing time in Boston’s history. What terrorists don’t realize is that they galvanize people to care more for one another. The response by everyone at NEC was so amazing. It just showed how thoughtful, articulate, and soulful everyone is here.”
As we part, Margie leaves me with one final gem: “I say that one of the reasons I love what I do is because I’m able to get rich. It’s not measured by money, but by the experiences of my life, the people I get to meet, and the places I get to go. Every time we have a concert here, I watch the transformation from infancy to full-growth. It’s amazing.” I think so too.