Saturday, September 20, 2014

PLAYING THE VIOLIN AND HOW TO AVOID IT – REDUX

courtesy of: Copyscape.com

What a riveting start to a post. A list of the post you are about to read and the places you can currently read it. All are legitimate, with the exception of "Otto Benjamin Violins, blah blah." Unless you are fluent in Cowface and Dingbat the site is unreadable, but this is how my friends, Andi Roo and Aaron Brinker brought to my attention the fact that my deathless prose had been gasp! stolen.


(IT SHOULD BE NOTED, IN THE INTEREST OF OPEN AND FAIR DISCLOSURE, THAT THE READER WILL NEVER FIND OUT HOW TO AVOID PLAYING THE VIOLIN BY READING THIS POST)

I first unleashed this little gem on an unsuspecting world back in early August of 2012, and it went on to become one of my most “popular” pieces, right up there with my “nameless guy who fell down in the Falcons' Superdome and was horrified” and “E. T. Phone Home” posts. This piece also has the erm, distinction along with a couple of other nameless pieces of being stolen and sold on a now-defunct “for-content” website. How ironical, I jestically say, as I've never earned dime one for my blatherings. There's a reason for this. I get PAID (or I used to) to play music and not for writing verbiage. Maybe I should be paid to not write verbiage; I haven't a clue as to whether I'm any good or not as a writer, I just know that from the age of fifteen, I wrote, and understood English at a post-doctoral level.

Einstein wrote his “General Theory of Relativity” and I read an English translation of it. I cannot say whether it was riveting or boring; it got the point across, but it lacked something of the elegance of his little E = MC2 equation by pages and pages and so on and so forth. I think my writing is a lot like that. It's kind of hilarious to me that someone “stole” my piece and sold it, when I wouldn't have the balls to try and peddle my own jun -, er, work, yet, in solidarity to my writerly friends, and I owe them much and they depend on their writing for a living, I went the whole route of writing the “publisher” and kindly requesting they remove my piece. I kept it light and airy and the piece was removed within 24 hours. The website disappeared shortly thereafter.


I'll bet he was fun in a string quartet!

I owe what little writing talent I possess to my parents who were very well-read, and downright scholarly in their own ways. My mother held two degrees, and my father, never having graduated from high school, lied his way into the Air Force, went to the Flight Academy and flew B-29s for roughly three years in the Korean action, until he mustered out on a medical discharge, after two crash-landings. That's two whole more flights than I ever want to have endured, WITHOUT the crashing. He continued to fly, privately, as did my mother; I think they were both a pair of loons. I loathe flying. 
 

 He was the epitome of cool; he brought me home from the hospital and was my primary caregiver until I started kindergarten. He and my mom were great together, until they weren't, due to her own mental illness, but she was a star, too. My folks had the hearts of lions.

He then attended college; went year-round and graduated 3rd in his class. Maybe there were only four students, but he was pretty bright. He did all this while caring for me, as my mom was working three jobs. To keep me quiet, he played a combination of Glenn Miller, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Tommy Dorsey and Debussy on the Hi-Fi, but not all at once, so he could do his homework. I was a preemie and tended to be fussy. Music was the perfect panacea and the only thing I ever loved deeply and passionately. I love working with computers, but that is more about problem-solving and it kind of sucks as performance art; no one is going to pay for an evening of watching me code, or resolve a system issue caused by the r.schmitt trojan virus. Boring stuff.


My Ma was no slouch in the brains department, either. While working on her second degree, a B.S. in Psychology, she was programming in Fortran, a machine language hardly anyone uses. I found her books, after her death. Since she was taking no classes, she was either plotting a takeover of the world, or writing games for her own enjoyment. I would bet the former.

I went to college on scholarship, and was a lazy student, due to having perfect pitch. But, I have since learned that without music in my life, my life had lost it's anchor. To make this short and sweet, I was diagnosed with essential tremor, after having exhibited symptoms for years and harboring latent symptoms for decades. I finally had to stop playing altogether. This is a condition much like Parkinson's Disease, without the heavy medications; call it “Parkinson's Lite” if you like, but it can be every bit as horrible as Parkinson's, with core tremors and psychosis. I have all the inherent symptoms; tremors, drooling, no sense of smell, I stagger, occasionally and stutter when excited. It also has deep psychological components and at times those were ruinous. But, I found an awesome, awesome neurologist, who found a good medication that mitigates the core tremor and has allowed me to resume my mostly abnormal, life.


Me, the sole offspring of the two pilots above, on the left, with a touring buddy and my partner in crime, "Wolf", a superb viola made only ten years after the death of Beethoven in 1827. I'm happy, because I'm NOT playing the violin!

In fact, I have started playing AGAIN, and have auditioned and am playing in the Tampa Bay Symphony, a group I started with 20 years ago, when I first moved to Tampa. So, I'm currently practicing up a storm, and participating in some clinical trials that I hope helps people farther on down the road. The Parkinson's Foundation has been very, very good to me and I am fortunate indeed to have found them. But that is not what this post is about. It's about playing the violin. Now, that I'm back in the harness, I have to say once again, it is to be avoided; at all costs.


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 hadn't played the violin since I was sixteen, and here I was at 45. I play AT the violin. I still don't play the violin. I hate the screechy little suckers. 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 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, tin strings, and 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.

Aargh! No, it's not "Talk Like a Pirate Day!" Those tapes! When you shift positions, the intervals change! It's impossible to develop your "ear" assuming you have one to begin with, if you're using tape as a "guideline" Fluidity counts. Not everyone is meant to play non-fretted instruments; those folks need to stick to "Guitar Hero!"

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 play loud. Real loud and shrieky, when the music asked for piano. I'd ask 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, because everyone else was out smoking blunts during the breaks; they couldn't tell stoned from drunk.

People thought I was a good violin player; I guess because I didn't give a damn and was reckless; I was the Nic Cage of violinists raging around on my rented violins. I started ending up in first violin sections, so it got exponentially suckier. You know what really, really sucks? Playing Mozart on the violin. I hate Mozart. I hate Mozart, MORE than I hate the violin, if such a thing were possible. Because Mozart's a pussy. He gets right up to an idea and says “never mind” and plays mezzo-forte, before limping off into the 600th pianissimo iteration of the same shit he wrote over and over and over and over. 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, weirdness starts to happen, physically. Purple becomes yellow. CRYSTAL-BLUE PERSUASION! Mountains walk. Cats do algebra. The horn section is being played by The California Raisins. I look down, unsurprised to find that the stage has turned to lava, when I hit some of those harmonics. My stand partner's hair catches fire. God knows my ears are still ringing.

I was laughing about it though, when I thought about all the variations and different types of gigs and positions I've held. I played with Styx and I can't remember how this came up, but it is also the same with a Johnny Mathis tune; one of his “Brazilian” set. "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 hear 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 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 a layover and and my trio, myself, a violinist and cellist, picked up this "fun" gig 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.


Beethoven is my muse; he's always been in my life. I auditioned on his 5th Symphony and won it. I am a rock-and-roll violist!

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, Johnny Mercer, we might have stood a chance, or maybe, some Beatles transcriptions, 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; leave the Beethoven at home, if you haven't looked at it in the last, say, week or so. Thank god the Luncheon guests were drunk.
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