Thursday, October 6, 2016



Note: This is the post that was famously "stolen" and was being sold online when I first began my blogging/writing, or whatever this phase of my life/career is. It was brought to my attention by Aaron Brinker, a good friend, who was running a Dad blog and posting about his son. In a show of solidarity, I went along and raised hell, although at the time, I wasn't living on my writing, as many of the people who had had their posts hijacked and sold online were, so it was important that I go along, as well. I'm glad I did. Intellectual property is the property of the person who thought it up, and stealing anything like that for profit, when these wonderful men and women were trying to eke out a living was awful. With the advent of different net security features and ways to track your own work, it's much, much harder for people to get away with things like that now. Yay!

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 The 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, because I loathe, despise and generally hate playing the violin (Note: This is called "foreshadowing" in Great Writing, which this isn't.)

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 - well, except for those five years, when I first started out in the Los Angeles Public School District, but we didn't have violas, we had 3rd violin parts, which were TREMENDOUSLY boring, and even in my first all-district concert, I somehow weaseled my way into the 2nd violins, which I thought pretty much sucked too. If I hadn't found violas, I might have given up the whole upper string things altogether and taken up the cello, but my hands are way too small, and all I've ever been able to play on the cello is stuff in micro-tones that sounds like “Singapore's Greatest Hits”, so I'm so grateful Beethoven wrote boss viola parts and made my life forever happy, but I'm really rambling now and if I talk about Beethoven, Mr. Wells will haunt me and give me another “C-” on a paper that really deserved an “A”. But Bobby Lee knows all about that! Oh God, I'm doing it again! Stop DIGRESSING!

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 into the Witless Protection Program, where they belonged, the idiots?" They still hired me. 

These horrible bricks of wood that were rental violins also had tapes on them for the "Suzuki" method, were just terrible; my fingers would "trip" over the tape, thus un-enhancing my playing. That pussy Suzuki shit with tape is beyond horrible. How in the hell are you going to understand that when your hand shifts from From 1st to 2nd position, all of the intervals change from – for a D Major Scale – open D string, whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step (or open A string), whole-step, whole-step, half-step in 1st position to - for 2nd position - (3rd finger on the G string, whole-step, whole-step (or high-position on the “D” string), half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step. These configurations change for every mode (Major or minor, Aeolian – being natural minor, Mixolydian; there are seven in all) and for every scale. String players routinely shift to whatever position suits their playing style; I tend to jump all over the place; 1st, 4th 6th, 2nd, 3rd, whatever. For Shostakovich's Big Symphony Number 5, we're in about 11th position I think for the famous viola solo. We, and be we, I mean all string players are subject to this, are at the mercy of physical laws and the higher up the fingerboard we go, the more important are ears become. Some of the intervals are micrometers apart. That's where our “hand-framing” exercises come in, and that's the last of any kind of facts you'll read in THIS post. I truly digressed!

If you learn the "Suzuki" method you're hand is frozen in one position using the tape system, and if you can't use hand-framing and play by ear, and LEARN your goddamned fingerboard like the God, the Pedagogue Ivan Galamian intended, burn that hunk of wood! You don't deserve to call yourself a non-fretted string player.

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. The only two things that Mozart ever wrote that were worth a shit were “Don Giovanni” and his “Great Mass in C minor”; the latter left unfinished at his death. I have NEVER liked any other piece by Mozart; no passion, and he was too fussy, but he made up for it in spades with Don Giovanni and his Mass. Playing Mozart on the viola is a big enough pain in the ass; all precision and no payoff; playing him on the violin is just sheer torture. A lesson in pointillism to me, with all the fussy pretentiousness of that day and time. Ick.

Anyway, the other fun thing about the violin, is the climb. Lots of heights on the violin, especially in the 1st violin section. Since the dingbat managers were seating me in the 1st violin sections, bizarre things were happening around me. Sheesh. 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. Colors aren't normal, and they begin to have an aroma. Sightings of the dead were not uncommon when I was in the 1st violins. 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 sold them just as quickly as possible; they were taking over my house; I felt like the Pod People had invaded. I'm just not a fan of the instrument, as far as playing it goes. I certainly appreciate the artistry and love listening to them, but, I adore playing viola. Go figure.

I was laughing about it though, when I talking to a fellow "road warrior" about all the variations of different types of gigs and positions we've played. I played with Styx and I can't remember how this came up, but it was also the same with a Johnny Mathis tune about Brazil. "Sail Away" which is so lovely, is an absolute bitch to play. It consists of 64th notes, practically in its entirety. Everyone runs up and down the fingerboard in both tunes, and in all string sections. It almost reminded me of band music from Marching Band and then, I remembered that I didn't play in Marching Band, except that I did, for my last two years in high school. I played the glockenspiel. Badly.

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? And didn't I write myself out of that little digression neatly?

Styx's music is challenging and we had a lot of fun playing it. But, one of the things that does happen when playing that type of music, is you do lose the edge on your heftier musical "chops" as they're called. 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 my trio picked up a gig. Myself, a violinist and cellist; none of us were exactly slouches. Being the, uh, "professionals" that we were supposed to be, we showed up for this luncheon or whatever the hell it was to provide "background" music and proceeded 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. Thank God for alcohol that day!


Heather M. Gardner said...

Instruments are beyond my capabilities as a human.

But, singing....LOVE IT!


Viola Fury said...


I love music; singing, playing. I first saw instruments being played as a tiny child and I knew that I wanted to play the instrument where the players were moving their arms like wings over the instruments; they looked so free and so wild at the same time - Lord knows what I was listening to and seeing, but I knew I wanted to do it. My first memory of actual pieces of music were interestingly enough two pieces that we played last year; "Scheherazade" by Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov's "Piano Concerto no. 2, in C minor", both burned into my brain from my early years through repeated hearings.

I have my father to thank for this. He played no instrument, but sang constantly and had perfect pitch. I do sing, although, unlike my better 2/3 who does it on stage and does it well, it's not something anyone wants to hear. I, like my father, have perfect pitch, and he, like you, had no understanding of instruments. When I first began to play, he was rather mystified by it all, I think, but as the years went on, he began to accept it as something natural that I did, but nothing that he would ever attempt. He told various people that he played the comb. A typical Dad joke. Thanks for reading. This was fun to write, Heather! <3