Category: Musical Mania

Flashback Friday: His First and Last Solo

This story was first posted on July 26, 2017. I once attended an orchestra concert at an elementary school where someone’s bow went flying during one of the pieces. It was definitely a highlight of the concert. It was for me, anyway.

Gerard started playing the violin when he was three years old.  He had two lessons, and then quit because he hated to practice.  He picked it up again when he was ten and didn’t mind practicing so much.  It helped that he didn’t really practice all that often, of course.

Perhaps for that reason, he continued taking violin lessons for the next seven years.  By then, he was good enough that it was fun to practice.  He could play famous songs and sound somewhat good.  So, he continued to play and practice and practice and play.

After years of effort, he managed to earn a spot in the city orchestra.  This was very motivating.  Gerard began to practice like he never had before.  And, one day, after years and years of work, he worked his way up to fourth chair violin.

Gerard had to practice constantly to keep his place, but he was proud of his position on the orchestra.  He sat on the front row, nearly facing the conductor, and sometimes he felt like the star of the orchestra.

And then, one day, they had a potluck sectional practice.  All the violin players brought food from home to share after the practice.  They usually practiced and practiced and were corrected and corrected.  Then they went home.

But today, they ate potato salad and potato chips and deviled eggs and talked about the weather.  Well, Gerard talked about the weather anyway.  Some of the rest talked politics, and then most of the violinists were so angry that the meeting ended quickly.  People just picked up their dishes and left.

Gerard, who hadn’t eaten anything but a few of the potato chips he’d brought, went home and made himself a ham sandwich with extra mustard.  Then he practiced his violin, because it turned out that he had a little bit of free time, and he never, ever, ever was going back to the second row of violins.

That evening, the phone rang.  More than half of the violin section had food poisoning, and that included the first three violins.  Gerard was going to be first violin for the benefit concert.  “Was it the potato salad?” Gerard asked.

“Why do you ask?” the conductor asked.  “Did you bring the potato salad?”

“No.  I brought potato chips.  I just thought that it was always the potato salad on TV, isn’t it?”  Gerard said.   Now he was feeling a little nervous.  If the police came to question him, how would he prove that he didn’t bring the potato salad?

Who brought the potato salad?  Did they poison everyone on purpose?  Would they come after him next now that he was temporary first chair?  He hadn’t realized that accepting the position would make him such a target.

Gerard didn’t want to think about it, so he practiced even more.  After all, he’d be playing as first chair violin in two days, and this time he had a solo.  Gerard wasn’t sure if he was more happy or terrified.

The day of the concert came.  Gerard didn’t like his new seat on the end of the row where everyone could stare at him.  He tried to block all that out and play his best.  Everything started out okay.  And then, four pages before his solo, at the end of a difficult run, his bow somehow flew out of his hand and disappeared somewhere behind him.

Gerard turned around in his chair.  Everyone was playing as though nothing had happened and there hadn’t been a flying violin bow anywhere.  He looked under his seat through the maze of feet.    There it was.  Three rows back.

He looked at the score and flipped forward two pages to where the orchestra was currently playing.  There just wasn’t time.  He turned and poked the seventh chair violinist sitting next to him.  The man frowned and kept playing.

Gerard took a deep breath and started to tickle the violinist.  The man paused and Gerard’s hand darted out and stole his bow.  It was just in time.  Gerard felt all eyes on him as he played his solo.

The moment he was done, the bow was snatched out of his hands, and the scowling seventh chair violinist started playing again.   Face burning with embarrassment, Gerard stood and walked back three rows.

He tried to carefully navigate the cramped spaces between chairs and stands.  He only knocked over one music stand.  He caught it before it hit the floor, but the music went everywhere.  Ignoring the whispered insults, he dove for his bow and hurried back to his seat.  The show must go on, and all that.

In the end, even though he hoped no one noticed his slight mishap, it ended up being all anyone wanted to talk about.  Even a year later, people kept coming up to tell him that it had been their favorite concert.  And the seventh chair violinist was still glaring at him and offering to serve him some potato salad.

Gerard knew that everyone else thought that was a joke.  But Gerard wasn’t so sure.  He was pretty sure he saw mayonnaise packets in the man’s violin case once.

No Show

Marcus Arnold, the great conductor, had an enormous problem. It was the evening before the performance, and all the sheet music they would be playing from had just been recalled. There was some dispute over copyright between some musicians on the other side of the world, and now his orchestra had no music to play.

“Couldn’t we still perform?” he asked the administrator of the music library. “Our performance is tomorrow. I’ve sold tickets, rented the hall, and printed the programs. I even paid to advertise in the papers.”

“You wouldn’t be able to perform legally. I wouldn’t risk it. Judging by the current issues, I think the people involved are quite willing to take things to court,” the administrator replied.

Marcus looked back through their repertoire. Should they play something from a previous month? Without enough rehearsal, it would be difficult to perform to their usual standards. It would probably be better for their reputation to cancel and return the money. There was enough cushion in their budget to handle a cancellation.

And so he made a list of phone calls to make in the morning. It was going to be a long day. After thinking it all over, he decided to send out emails right away and then follow them up with a call in the morning. He wasn’t giving them much advance notice after all. Finally, he posted a message canceling the concert on social media and the orchestra website.

Despite staying up late the night before, he was up early in the morning, responding to a flood of concerned emails. As soon as possible, he called the administrative office of the concert hall. He spent a half hour on hold.

The administrative assistant who answered the phone was sympathetic but unwilling to refund any of their deposit. “We won’t require you to pay the full amount, but with the late notice we won’t be able to rent the hall to anyone else. We’re losing money here. However, since the orchestra is a regular and valued client, we will post cancellation notices for your concert at the box office at no extra charge.”

His email the night before was too late to add the news about the canceled concert to the morning’s newspaper. After a phone call, they agreed to add the information to their website. “Unfortunately, it’s really late notice. It would be better for you to let us know two days in advance in the future.”

He spent the rest of the day answering calls and emails from people who wanted refunds for their tickets. A few demanded that the orchestra perform anyway or reschedule. The next week was a mess of accounting and public relations work.

Marcus Arnold vowed never to choose any music by the litigious composer again. Not even if it sounded like it might bring about world peace. Well, maybe for world peace. Otherwise, never again.

Meanwhile, many of the orchestra members were waking up the morning of the concert to bad news. They had put in all the hard work to prepare for a concert that wasn’t going to happen. It was a sad morning for the orchestra.

A few of the orchestra members weren’t consistent with checking their email. Most of them found out from social media or friends that had heard the news and called to commiserate or vent or console. Five of them didn’t find out until they showed up at the concert hall in performance attire with their instruments.

Instead of arriving for a pre-concert rehearsal, they found the concert hall dark and locked. They all agreed that it was the right day and time for the concert, so the violinist offered to call a friend and find out why no one was there. While she was on the phone, the cellist passed the box office and ran back with the news.

“The concert is canceled,” they said in unison.

The two remaining violinists and the violist were shocked. “Now what?” the violist asked.

“We’re here, we could play on the steps, like a mini concert,” the cellist said.

“We could go to the mall and start playing. It’ll be like a flash mob,” a violinist suggested.

“I think I’m just going to go home and eat a tub of ice cream and check my emails,” the violist said. “What a lousy day.”

Luckily, the next concert was their best of the season and the orchestra recovered. Marcus Arnold always prepared back up pieces and never again scheduled a show where all the music came from one composer. And all the orchestra members checked their email every day first thing. If there was any orchestra news, everyone knew it.

The enormous problem turned out to be not so bad, in retrospect. It wasn’t great, but things turned out fine. Sometimes things are like that.

Practice Makes Perfect

Amy had always wanted to learn to play the piano. She imagined herself onstage in a sparkly gown, sitting at the keyboard of a grand piano, playing something complex and beautiful. The audience would be at the edge of their seats, completely silent in awe of her performance. When she hit the last note, there would be a long pause, and then the applause would be like thunder.

And so, after a year of pleading for piano lessons instead of ballet, her mom finally made the switch. Piano was in and ballet was out. The old piano in the corner was now in tune, and Amy had just flown through a month of lessons.

Unfortunately, piano lessons were a bit like ballet, in that you didn’t get very far in a month. Amy had taken ballet lessons for a year, and they still hadn’t learned any neat leaps or twirls. It would be years before any of them would be able to stand on their toes. Many years.

Here she was, a month into piano lessons, and she was just picking out simple tunes with one hand. Forget buying a sparkly dress for the end of the year, she may not be playing in her dream concert at the end of the decade. It was a little discouraging.

Fortunately, Amy knew how to meet her goals a little more quickly. Read More