Wednesday, February 28, 2007

my neighbors may not like this ...

some of you may know that i used to be an orchestral musician. i spent 6 years in college studying viola and freelancing with symphonies. there were times it was a lot of fun, but ultimately just not what i was cut out for. you know a profession is not for you if law school seems more manageable.

being a violist is not all concerts and getting drunk on cheap wine, though i'll admit that is a healthy portion of it. it's hours on end stuck in a practice room that smells like feet practicing the same four bars of music, and then getting verbally abused by a conductor, chamber music coach, fellow musician and/or professor. towards the end, i often spent 6 or 7 hours a day with that big hunk of wood on my shoulder, twisting my arms and back into completely abnormal positions and wondering why the hell i hadn't quit years before.

don't get me wrong, it's a great life if you can do it. and there are some amazing, beautiful moments. for me, those were mainly on stage with symphonies, where i found myself at least two or three times a month. that part of it, i truly loved.

i've only been to one symphony concert since i stopped playing. a coworker had a couple of tickets to the national symphony she couldn't use, and i took them at the last minute. i had no idea i'd react the way i did, not even when the musicians started meandering on stage, fudging around with bars they still hadn't perfected, winking to friends a few stands over and folding over certain pages of music for quick turning during the concert. but when the hall went dark, the concertmaster entered the stage and the strings silently tapped the tips of their bows on the music in lieu of applause, my heart sank. and as the oboe gave that first A for the brass, the tears came with a vengeance and dripped onto my lap.

i'd be lying if i said that wasn't the reason i haven't been back. for me, there was nothing more glorious than those saturday evenings or sunday afternoons, knowing that there would be no verbal abuse, only applause. no words, no scolding. no going back to things i had messed up - just music. those hours with the hunk of wood on my shoulder didn't feel uncomfortable. ultimately, it couldn't make up for the unsettling feeling that i was supposed to be doing something else with my life, but it came close.

towards the end, i was really unhappy with it all, and for four years now, that expensive and beautiful hunk of wood has basically been sitting in my closet. i briefly toyed with selling it, but i know i could never do that. that hunk of wood was made for me, stained a red to actually match the shade i was dying my pixie-cut hair back in 2001. i could never let it go.

the unhappiness left a strong impression, a bad taste in my mouth. for a long time, the thought of playing conjured up stress that i couldn't put my finger on. i just couldn't do it. also toward the end, before i realized it was time to exit the stage, i was preparing some pretty obscure orchestral excerpts for auditions ... pieces rarely played but chosen for how brutally difficult they were - and by difficult i mean impossible. tonight i heard a piece on the radio that i just *knew* i had spent a lot of time on, but i couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. i knew each entrance, and in my head played along with the viola part. it was fun, i'll admit, imagining myself back on stage playing along to this beautiful music ...

when i got home, i quickly googled "viola symphony audition materials" and pulled up a standard list. there it was. as soon as i saw the list, i knew. i had heard strauss' don juan.

listen: i hated don juan. i spent hours on that shit, and it was the bane of my existence, my nemesis. i thought strauss was satan incarnate for what he'd written. i'd cursed him, literally sworn on his dead name. if you'd brought me to his grave, i would have spit. i am not exaggerating. the mere thought of that music used to make me shudder. maybe even throw up a little in my mouth. it could cause me a nervous breakdown. and it did. a few times.

but not tonight. tonight, it was just lovely music that i had once played. tonight, knowing that i'd never have to play that, or have to play anything i didn't want, again, i think i turned a corner.

so if you see me with one of these sometime soon, please don't tease.


Miss Scarlet said...

Aww. Sometimes I hear stuff and know I've played it (clarinet), but can't remember when. I really need to start keeping a list of what I've done.

E :) said...

I'm a cellist and played in orchestras and string quartets for many years. The music industry is horrible, but I regret giving up the pursuit of it as a profession because I just loved the music so much. Sigh. Your post brought back so many memories.

Anonymous said...

you're kidding me.. here i am catching up on your blog during a Friday morning coffee break (that will hopefully last all day). i had JUST been thinking about how i missed playing in the symphony and why my French horn sits forlornly in a corner of the basement. Ditto and thanks for all you wrote -- my audition piece nemesis is Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel. LOL.