Saturday, August 4, 2012

ROW 80 DAY 25 PLAYING THE VIOLIN AND HOW TO AVOID IT


Ring ring!

Me: "Hello!"

Manager: "Hey, Mary. Are you doing anything the week of November 20th to the 25th?"

Me: "Well, let me check my calendar." Sound of pages flapping in the breeze. "Hmm, nothing but the Merry Parade of Turkeys and Turkeys, We Got Your Turkeys Right Here with Skitch Henderson Sound Alikes." At this time, I am living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am also still playing in Tampa and pretty much driving all over the south. I am also exclusively playing the viola.

Manager: "So, you have open time?"

Me: "Yes." To my everlasting regret, I said, "Yes."

Manager: "Great! I need a violinist for..."

I didn't hear the rest. I was in shock. I told people for years that I didn't play the violin. I never played the violin. I played AT the violin. I still don't play the violin. I hate the screechy little fuckers. They're all under your chin being little and screamy. What the hell is that? I just hate it. The only reason I started to "play" the sons of bitches is because I got sucker punched and caught unawares. I didn't even own a violin for years. I refused to buy one. I rented one for years and a student model at that. I figured since I didn't want to play the bastard, I wasn't going to be pretentious about it and get some big, souped-up Lamborghini violin or something. I have a Lamborghini viola. I rented a violin with steel tuners, tape on the finger board which I never, ever, ever allowed any of my students to use. That pussy Suziki shit with tape is beyond horrible. If you can't use hand-framing and play by ear, like the God Galamian intended, burn that hunk of wood. You don't deserve to call yourself a non-fretted string player.

So, I'd rent these god-awful violins with tin strings and "play" in these violin sections, in the hopes that people would get the hint and quit hiring me to "play" the goddamned violin. I'd tell my managers shit like, "why the hell are you hiring me to play the violin? Did every other violinist in Tampa die/migrate/go on vacation?" They still hired me. I tried drinking my way through rehearsals and that didn't work. I started ending up in first violin sections. You know what really, really sucks? Playing Mozart on the violin. Yes sir, there is Hell in a barrel right there. Eighteen ledger lines above the staff and I'm playing "guess the note." I can't even read that shit. It's in soprano clef. I normally read the viola clef. Okay, I read soprano clef just fine, but when you're up towards the direction of the sun weird shit starts to happen, physically. I'm surprised the stage didn't melt or something, when I hit some of those harmonics. God knows my ears are still ringing.

After a while, I kind of resigned myself to this violin thing, but not really; I've taught it more than I've played it and I did end up buying a few of them and then selling them as quickly as possible; they were taking over my house. I'm just not a fan of the instrument, per se. I certainly appreciate the artistry and love listening to it but, I adore playing viola. Go figure.

I was laughing about it though, when I thought about all the variations of different types of gigs and positions I've held. I played with Styx and I can't remember how this came up, but it was also the same with a Johnny Mathis tune. "Sail Away" which is so lovely, is an absolute bitch to play. It consists of 64th notes, practically in its entirety. Denis Deyoung's father was part of the OSS in WWII and was one of the first to reach Paris, with the Allies. You can here the Chopin and Debussy in Styx's music. An interesting little bit of trivia along with the silly today. There, aren't you edified?

Styx's music is challenging and we had a lot of fun playing it. But, one of the things that does happen with playing that type of music, is you can lose the edge on your heftier musical "chops" as we call them. We were touring pretty extensively at the time with Styx and "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto" -ing all over the place and having a hell of a lot of fun. In the midst of this tour, we had layover a trio gig, myself, a violinist and cellist and none of us were exactly slouches. Being the, uh, "professionals" that we were supposed to be, we show up for this luncheon or whatever the hell it was to provide "background" music and proceed to play trios, for a couple of hours. I just grabbed a bunch of my trio music and off we went. 

Now, it is axiomatic that the fewer instruments you have, the more difficult the music is going to be, especially if you are going to play, oh say, Beethoven. If we were going to play Mozart, or "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries" (Pizzicatto all the way!), we might have had half a chance, but Beethoven? It was... interesting. I have played all of his String Quartets. They rock. His Trio in C Minor rocks. It also requires lots and lots and lots of practice. Playing Styx's "Mr. Roboto" for 18 weeks straight does not constitute practicing Beethoven's trio. We all learned a valuable lesson that day. That lesson is this: Do not play the Beethoven C minor Trio, until you know the audience is drunker than a bunch of hoot owls.



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