Where I become a maestro for a day
As it approached lunchtime, I realized that I’d forgotten Lynnette.
Mondays are really long days for me. I wake up at 4 to walk the dogs, take out the trash, and get myself ready for work. And then I head to one office for a videoconference that starts at 6. After the videoconference, I usually have just enough time to grab myself some breakfast1 before heading to my other office by 7:30 for the start of the work day.
As it’s the start of the week, I want to start the week on a good physical note, so I make sure to visit the gym over lunch2. Only, well, I realized that I left my
mistress bass, Lynnette, at home. Typically, she sits in the back of my truck all day every Monday, just waiting for some attention. Alas, she was at home.
See, after work on Mondays, I have symphony practice. Since going all of the way home, eating, and heading right back out the door makes me more tired, and kind-of confuses the kids, I try to stop for
a beer or two a relaxing dinner before practice. But, that wasn’t going to happen . . . I worked until the end of the day, went home, changed, played with babies, ate3, got a little work done, and made it out the door.
Well, I’m skipping the whole “threw my elbow out” in the “play with babies” part of that, but that didn’t affect me too too much.
Anywho, I went to symphony and was a little concerned by the elbow, because I couldn’t draw a down bow all of the way without pain. But, we were sight-reading music for an upcoming fundraiser, and I wasn’t too concerned . . . it was mostly show-tuney type stuff, and that means a lot of pizzicato.
Only, then one of the French horn players, who happens to be the conductor’s father, went to the podium. It turns out that our conductor, who is actually just a fill-in, was deathly ill from morning sickness5 and wouldn’t make it.
In the past, these types of situations played out pretty easily. If the conductor couldn’t make it due to a last-minute appointment, the concertmaster (who was an orchestra director) would take over. If she wasn’t available, the lead violist would take over.
The thing is, our last conductor actually left the orchestra, so the concertmaster was already the active conductor . . . that’s the one who is all knocked up & stuff. The lead violist was a no show.
We were an orchestra without a leader.
Until I raised my hand.
I’m not shy6, and I’m not, exactly, new to being in front of an orchestra. I’d conducted my high school orchestra. As a high schooler, I actually conducted a full concert for the middle school orchestra. I started college as a music major — being in front of a group of musicians doesn’t phase me.
The thing is, I wasn’t expecting to be in front of a group of musicians right then. And the situation was far from optimal. First off, we were all sight-reading, so I (or any given orchestra member) wasn’t really sure what anything we were playing sounded like. Then, I didn’t have any scores. And I had no baton. And I was the only bass in attendance that night, so we lost an entire section. And because these were show-tunes, and we’ll be performing these songs with a choir, the keys were all very un-symphony-friendly key signatures.
But, again, I’m not shy, and I’m far from shy about making mistakes. So, I got a pencil for a baton7, and I grabbed some violin parts, and I conducted.
Trainwrecks? There were a few. But, it was fun. I’m a big guy. Despite the fact that I didn’t have a glowstick for a baton, noone in the orchestra could claim that they couldn’t see me. And, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through years of playing in orchestras, a big downbeat can do wonders, even if the entire French Horn section is ignoring me.
From the front of the orchestra, I realized a few things.
- The ultra-flowy passages where strings are playing, seemingly, run after run after run come across, even when there’s not a single person who actually “nailed” the passage. This made me feel better about “faking” my parts when playing.
- Some in an orchestra will always insist that they’re in tune, even when they’re not.
- You can actually feel an orchestra pulling on a tempo when you’re the one who is beating the baton. I treated the whole thing like an odd game of tug of war. And since I’m the one who was throwing out downbeats, I always won.
All in all, it was a fun, though unexepcted night . . . but the orchestra would be in much better hands if my days with the baton were limited.