Entertaining the Conductor

The other night we had a pops concert, a tribute to Arthur Fiedler. The program style reflected his unique balance of light music with one substantial classical piece. We played about a half hour of "medium" light classical, some Wagner overtures and a Puccini Arias arrangement for orchestra. After an intermission, we played the entire Tchaikovsky violin concert, a hefty chunk of music for a pops audience. Then came another intermission. Yes, two intermissions. At the Boston Pops, much of the audience is set up at tables, so they can eat and drink during the concert. Then two intermissions make sense. Anyway, onward.

The third half was all schlock. "Fiddle Faddle", a tough little bugger, especially at the caffeinated tempos our conductor likes. Then a piece for typewriter and orchestra, very cute. Our principal percussionist dressed as a sleazy secretary, with a blue beehive wig and a cigarette hanging out of his/her mouth. The typewriter was the real thing, a heavy, old battle ax. The part was mostly the ticking of the keys, inter-spaced with the ripping of the carriage and the infamous little bell to warn you to return the carriage. Fun.

Anyway, one of the traditions of Fiedler was to spontaneously insert an encore in the middle of the third half. Our conductor warned us. On Saturday night he decided to do it. The piece was "Stars and Stripes". My music had gotten shuffled into the mix of everything in my folder, and I couldn't find it. He started the piece, as I frantically looked for the part. Bum, bum-t-um tum, tum-tum-tum-tum-tum-TUM! The music started. I've played it many, many times, but in different keys, and with different repeats, etc. It's not an easy piece, and I don't have it memorized. So I kept looking. It wasn't there. I thought someone had played a joke on me, but our orchestra doesn't play jokes, they just get even. I started at the beginning of the folder and turned each piece over. I'm right in the middle of the orchestra, dead center, in sight of all. There I am calmly (now I know all are looking at me, so calm is the key) paging through my music...The piece is not that long, so it's about a third over...and finally, there it is, hiding between Fiddle Faddle and Buglers Holiday. I knew it, it was a conspiracy between the string and the brass! Anyway, I dove in and played the rest.

After the concert, as I walked out of the hall, the conductor happened to see me, and laughed as he said, "Dave, I had so much fun watching you frantically looking for your music during the march. Thanks for breaking the monotony and making me laugh!"

I smiled. At least someone enjoyed it.

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4 comments for “Entertaining the Conductor

  1. October 28, 2006 at

    Hi Jennifer- Wow, that must have been a moment of transcendence, when survival and poise unite. But then again, as performers, we’ve learned the art of “fake it with style”. At least someone else was playing the right part.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  2. October 26, 2006 at

    I was playing a concert with my college orchestra, sitting in the first stand of the violas (therefore no music to peek at in front of you in the section). We were playing Brahms’s third symphony and as I turn the page at the very end of the movement, I discover the last page is missing. And it wasn’t mixed up with anything else on the stand either. It was just gone. Turns out, my stand partner had left it in his case. So basically we both had to improvise a whole page of noodley piannissimo passages. It could have been worse, I suppose. At least we knew how we were supposed to fit with the orchestra timing-wise, even if the notes themselves were a little more random than they should have been!

  3. October 25, 2006 at

    Oh yes, the stuck-swab-heart-attack, unique to clarinetists and oboists! Glad you survived. Next time try this trick. Separate the middle joints, grab what amount of swab you can from the bottom, and twist it tight, very tight, thereby shrinking its width and hopefully unhitching it from the register tube.

  4. Lord Doomhammer
    October 25, 2006 at

    oh god, I have SO been there.

    at my first Concert Band concert, we played, among other things, this 4-movement piece. Sort of chamber-musicy in arrangement and tone. I had a Tacet in the second movement, so I took the opportunity to swab out my instrument…and the swab gets stuck around the octave pole. I yank on it once or twice, and it’s stuck FAST. I’m thinking, oh crap, there’s two more movements and another piece beyond this one, what am I going to do?? After two minutes, many chafed fingers, and many beads-of-sweat-on-forehead, I managed to extract the dang thing. Almost as scary as not having the music =)

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