Thursday, November 29, 2012


Since I ended my last post tripping down memory lane with the fantastic rendering of “Sleigh Ride” as interpreted for-fucking-ever by Thelonius Monk, I thought you all might enjoy some of the reminiscences of a few of the pageants I’ve played in over the years. Being a working musician during Christmas brings it’s own challenges. Not the least of which is stamina. Much like the Easter, er, I mean EnergeezerBunny (per YumaBev) you better have your track shoes and be prepared for the long haul.

Courtesy of

Yes, those are violists. What a shock. I tried this a time or two in the San Jose Youth Symphony, Maestro Stoia was not amused. Ever.

I had this one stand partner, who no shit, did have Parkinson’s Disease. He was spot on with everything, was eleventy-billion years old; you just couldn’t hear him play. His sound went to the edge of his viola and stopped. I had to tune his viola for him. Tony Shapiro was his name and he loved to turn the pages. As long as I didn’t mind missing half of the next page, it was okay, Tony would catch up. It would take him half of the following page to “straighten said turned page, pick up his viola and make sure the hair on his bow hadn’t magically loosened.” He’d join in somewhere around the bottom of the page of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony of “Ode to Joy.” I’m rockin’ it and Tony is playing air viola. God bless him. When he retired, we gave him a spray-painted gold brick. He loved it; no harm done.

I had another stand partner who had narcolepsy. One morning, the bus captain was looking for him so we could leave for the next crappy one-horse town to play what I am sure was just a boffo show. The bus captain said, “Where’s Scott?” One of my dearest friends, who was just a fucking riot and so quick, said, “Somnambula’s probably hanging by his feet in a closet sleeping.” The name stuck after the hilarity subsided. Scott would sit down to play and nod off during a waltz and damn, if he wouldn’t wake up 7 measures later and come in right where he was supposed to. I inherited him because I was the only one with the stones to not freak out.

I became principal viola when it was discovered that none of the other psychos and schizos they sat beside me would cause me to lose my one remaining marble. Seriously, I had one partner, who would try and sit in my lap and talked about his “voices.” Nor would stage-related calamities unnerve me. So principal was good for me. I love audiences. I love playing by myself; the louder, the better. What can I say? I’m a ham.

When I first started playing for this church, my friend who had originally hired me, a 1st violinist with the Florida orchestra, asked if I would mind hiring the viola section. I did not and did so for several seasons. If Somnambula and others couldn’t play, due to scheduling conflicts, I’d call around. Well, the players were great, but the people? Yeah.

One year, Somnambula, who lives in New Orleans and plays in their symphony was busy, so I called a local, who had been recommended to me by the viola mafia. This guy is still around, so to protect the innocent, let’s just say his name is “Ferdinand Magellan.” He does bear the name of an explorer of the same era.

Well, “Ferdinand” is an awesome player, so I offered him 1st chair. First night, he says, “oh, I can’t! I just took a Sinutab, I’m nervous.” Mind you, I’ve already heard through the viola grapevine all of this. There are 6 violas. I really don’t care who sits where. Sit in the parking lot. Next night, he says, “Oh, I drove my car. I’m too keyed-up.” And so it goes. He sits with me. He just tears it up. Awesome. But the poor man has performer’s anxiety. Some people take Inderol. With me? It’s auditions. I cannot audition to save my life, but if I sub, or sneak in a back door? I’m there for life.

Anyway, Somnambula and I played in a lot of shitty pageants. One of these hired just the most kick-ass of orchestras, but had the worst conductor ever. Bar none.
This one church had some serious money for its “music worship” program. What it didn’t have was one ounce of artistic esthetics going on. We played this gig for years and it never changed or got better.

This Pageant ran for 4 nights and seemed to have been cobbled together by elves on hallucinogenics who had stopped to visit the folks at National Lampoon. There was a little Jesus in a Manger Catholic stuff thrown in that was delivered by some chanteuse in a silver-lamé cat-suit who would croon her way with a rather throaty delivery through “Ave Maria.” She was supposed to be well-known some-where, but I could never remember where that was. Her delivery didn’t really give me pause to reflect on the Baby Jesus and the Manger, either. Oh well, to each his own.

The Internationally Famous Conductor, What’s-His-Name, whose ineptitude is now known on 2 continents, in that he has managed to bring 2 fine orchestras crashing to their knees in cacophonious splendor, had to have another conductor behind him to do so. I have managed to stay in the saddle as long as I have, by not looking up. My bad. I looked up once and saw this forest of arms waving around. Somewhere around 3 and ¾ beats I fell, along with the rest of the string section. Damn. Anyway, Internal International Fame was granted by a Pope gig in Rome. I’m so sorry I missed that. 
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