Trivial Tuesday — Violin Miscellany and Other Tangents

April 15, 2008
The End of Symphony Season

Last Saturday night was the finale for the TSO. I’ve been absent from playing with a symphony for several years (multiple long-distance moves, inadequate time to prepare for auditions, new baby, the usual excuses…) and this year, decided it was time to take the plunge. To my delight and surprise, I was actually offered a job. My first “real” symphony job! I’ve played in several symphonies and regional orchestras, most of them without an audition. Someone heard me play somewhere or someone I already knew asked if I was available. I’ve also held auditioned positions before, but only landed sub or extra gigs. But in a lot of ways, being a sub is actually a more “secure” job, because if you do your job (be available at their beck and call, and learn the music), they call you back first, before they call anyone else. On the flip side, it’s also harder to be a sub because you’re not there all the time, so it’s more difficult to really get to know people and you generally don’t get the music until a day or two before the first rehearsal. This is the first time I’ve ever played with regular contract. In a way, it was a really huge deal for me, because it was the first time I ever got the same job I auditioned for. So, it’s time to review and reminisce over the season.

Things I did well: being on time to rehearsals, not falling off the riser, looking at the music prior to the first rehearsal and organizing my copies, not getting lost in the building.

Things I need to work on: ingratiating myself, being less of a wallflower.

The wallflower part is pretty difficult. I am not naturally a “people person” in large groups. I’m much more comfortable with one-on-one interaction. So, I tend to sit back and observe, because I’ve found that you can learn much of what you need to know about other people by listening twice as much as you talk. Plus it’s hard to really get to know one’s colleagues during two 15-minute breaks per week. I’ve read all the member bios that the symphony compiled, and was quite impressed by the breadth of experience that we have as a group. It seems, though, that one of the only things that most of us really have in common is that we play in the TSO. Most of the members have day jobs that aren’t in music. There are also quite a number of retirees who play. And people who drive long distances to play, because there aren’t enough players locally to fill the roster. So, I’m considering ways to get more involved next year, both in the symphony and in the broader musical community. I am starting to feel like I belong here, and that’s a nice place to be.

We did some interesting music this season. Old standards, like symphonies (Prokofieff 5, Brahms 1, Tchaikovsky 3, Dvorak’s “New World”) and Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2. If I practiced the Chopin second violin part everyday, I’d have arms like Atlas! But I tend to agree with Chopin, that that concerto is very playable without an orchestra. Why would any pianist in his right mind pay an orchestra to mess up a perfectly lovely piece of music? It really doesn’t add anything, but that’s just my opinion. I’m a violinist, what do I know? And some newer pieces and more obscure pieces like An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise by Peter Maxwell Davies (featuring a bagpipe soloist) and A Festive Violet Pulse by Nancy Galbraith. I originally thought that the Galbraith work was so new that there were no notes to be written about it, since there were none in the concert program. World Wide Web to the rescue! A Festive Violet Pulse is from 1997 according to Galbraith’s official webpage (Wikipedia says 1998), and Ms. Galbraith is the chair of composition at Carnegie Mellon University. My biggest critique is that the final phrase of the second violin part contained an extremely awkward tenth. Tenths are awkward enough, but aren’t terribly difficult provided they are placed in the appropriate register. The only other place I’ve seen a tenth exactly like that is in the 3rd movement of the Bruch g minor concerto, but it’s a double stop, not fingered. And it’s hard to play because of the register. Fingered tenths are, I think, more difficult because it’s almost impossible to reach and be in tune at the same time. And violinists don’t have an overblow key (or whatever it’s called) like wind instruments do that allows them to switch octaves quickly and easily. Other than that, a very exciting and fun piece to listen to. Although I’m still not sure why it’s violet instead of red or black or puce.

Overall, I think this season was a success and I’m already looking forward to next season, which promises to be even better.