The Met Opera’s timpanist is now playing in … Korea

The Met Opera’s timpanist is now playing in … Korea


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2020

From Jason Haaheim, principal timpanist at the Metropolitan Opera:

… on December 18th, I sat down behind timpani in a room full of real live musicians to begin rehearsing the first movement of Beethoven 9, my first large ensemble rehearsal in 282 days. It’s almost impossible to describe the complexity of those onrushing emotions: joy, elation, relief, fear, serenity, guilt, reconnection, disorientation…all in a blender while my ears were on fire and my mind was contemplating the gravity of that moment.

Two hundred and sixty-four days without safe access to timpani was by far my longest break in playing since I picked up my first pair of drumsticks in the fall of 1989, thirty-one years ago. Among the challenges facing percussionists and timpanists is that our gear takes up a lot of space. This means that many percussion and timpani professionals in big cities keep nearly all of their gear at the hall, where they’ll necessarily do the majority of their practicing. This is all the more necessary in a place like New York City, where even if I could afford an apartment sizable enough to comfortably fit a timpani practice studio, and could somehow play without riling my poor neighbors, the drums themselves are so large that they literally would not fit through the front door. Timpani at home is a nonstarter. So, since 2013, all of my gear has lived at the Met… which meant that when Lincoln Center shut down on March 12th, my life of practicing timpani shut down with it.

Read on here.


  • Dave says:

    A terrific read, even if the headline wrongly gives the impression that Seoul has poached/nabbed/grabbed the Met’s timpanist in a transfer coup.

    I also like the part where he likens the crises in the first movement of LvB9 to the battering we’re getting from all sides of the covid pandemic; it knocks into a cooked hat the ridiculous stuff those sociologists have been dishing out.

  • S says:

    Thanks, Norman. That was a worthwhile read. I agree with him that the response in the U.S. has been pitiful, especially in comparison with Korea (and New Zealand and every other civilized nation).

    While happy for Jason, my heart breaks for all those other great musicians, furloughed, like they don’t matter. I wish our country could understand how much we need the magic they create.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Happy that you got back to your timps, Jason!
    Stay safe….

  • Leor says:

    The disproportionate response to the virus (in the form of extended lockdowns) is what will ultimately prove to be the death knell of the classical music industry as we know it. When the virus subsides, lingering fear will keep audiences (and donors) away for years to come. Lockdowns are not a result of science-based decision making. “This is not a highly nuanced, sophisticated response. This is a fear-driven response” as New York governor Cuomo has admitted in private. Instead of arguing against them, this guy is arguing that if we had masked up harder, and had a Democrat as president, the US would look just like South Korea right now. Instead or hoping for some fantasy world where the government cares about classical music and is going to give you your job back, let’s get out of our partisan cubby-holes and start criticizing the decisions of officials of all parties who have shut you down and clearly don’t care what happens to your livelihood.

    • Out of work musician says:

      Cool story, Leor. We’re still waiting for your “highly nuanced, sophisticated response.”

    • William Safford says:

      I disagree. Lockdowns were the result of a *failure* to act at the beginning of the pandemic.

      This failure is of the Orange Enemy of the People.

      The Orange Enemy of the People was repeatedly warned about the threat of the impending pandemic. He resolutely ignored it for months, other than to take a few desultory steps to limit airline travel from China. He refused to accept the advice of scientists. He refused to act.

      Since then, the Orange One has acted against the safety and health of people in the U.S. He refuses to wear a mask, thus setting a terrible example for his partisan followers. He refused to create a unified Federal-level approach to combating the pandemic. His people failed to lock in contracts for enough vaccine doses to cover the entire U.S. population in the next few months. And much more.

      Many Republican officeholders took their cues from the Orange One, and themselves acted against the greater good.

      This is indeed a partisan failure of one party, because of the failure of its loser of a leader, the Orange Menace.

  • Peter Chun says:

    Nice reading, though his comments about the state of things in the US—CoVID-wise, and especially political realities—show extreme bias as to be almost comical…

    I appreciate all the things he was describing, especially the sensory overload he was experiencing to be in a rehearsal for the first time in almost a year… Those sounded perfectly reasonable and understandable… and sympathized.

    • William Safford says:

      “Nice reading, though his comments about the state of things in the US—CoVID-wise, and especially political realities—show extreme bias as to be almost comical…”

      In what way?

    • Nick2 says:

      “show extreme bias as to be almost comical” – What a ridiculous and utterly stupid response!

      First let me say that I found Jason Haaheim’s blog absolutely fascinating reading. Thank you so much, Jason. The excellence of the writing style brings home more than any other article I have read the devastation that has affected musicians everywhere, in particular in the United States where few organisations have made any attempt to maintain any form of paid employment for their musicians under contract.

      Second, his description of what he found on arrival in Seoul must show to so many doubters that the United States has handled covid19 almost as though Trump and his cohorts wanted so many to become infected and die. I accept that is a harsh statement and many will disagree. But Trump knew right at the outset what the country would be up against. We know from his very own words on March 19 as recorded by the writer and journalist Bob Woodward that he clearly stated “This is a war”. In a war, the President is the Commander in Chief and he and his military chiefs direct that war. Trump took one look at this war and ran for the exit. He left the management of the war to the individual States. He then compounded that disastrous error by making it all a political issue, encouraging Republican governors to pursue anti-prevention measures (no need to wear masks, no need to socially distance, no need to pay attention to the science etc.) and trashing most Democratic governors both on twitter and verbally who did enact the medically advised procedures. Who can forget that States were outbidding each other for desperately needed medical supplies? Who can forget that he failed to implement the war powers act to ensure these supplies would be provided in a timely and efficient manner? He just ran from responsibility!

      If he is remembered it for anything it surely must be the fact that he is directly responsible for the unnecessary death of most of the 400,000 and more who will eventually die of covid19. Hopefully the pathetic robot-like members in Congress and the Senate who still hail his wisdom parrot-fashion will quickly realise that they are willing conspirators in this disaster.

      In the meantime, those who love the arts are left to wonder when Jason and all involved in the presentation of operas, concerts, plays, musicals etc. will be treated with the dignity and respect the fully deserve. And when will Boards of US arts organisations realise they they are ultimately responsible for all those they employ? They cannot weasel out by saying it is the ultimate responsibility of their paid executives.