strung out
                  my life as an amateur violist

   the audition  |  # e

  The Summer of 1979 my mother moved us to a “farm” out in Scappoose, Oregon. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of leaving all of my friends behind and making a new start in a strange, new high school, but I felt that it was important to be with my mother. I probably could have stayed. My sisters were living with my dad -- my brother came with me. Mom needed to make a break from Longview and start a new life in a new place with her new husband. The silver lining? I would be moving 30 minutes closer to Portland and my newfound musical desire.  

Preparations for the August audition helped divert my attention from our miserable new home. Don’t get me wrong. The 10 acres overlooked wooded hills that led down to the valley floor and the Columbia River in the distance, but the house was a tiny two story shack that reeked of a strange pungent smell mixed with Pine Sol.  

The heat was terrible upstairs in my little room as I sawed away at the Brandenburg violin part I had played in the junior high competition. This was the best thing I knew and I was going to use it. Looking back, that decision was certainly my only hope, yet at the same time it’s pretty embarrassing. Auditioning with a part from an ensemble piece is a telltale mark of a rookie. I was praying that the conductor wouldn’t ask me to play a scale or an arpeggio as the nice woman from the Portland Youth Philharmonic office had explained was possible. My technique was (and is to a lesser degree now) quite weak. I was operating on pure desire and muscle memory of Bach’s marvelous composition.  


The day arrived. Glencoe Elementary School has been the site of PYP rehearsals for more than 30 years. My mother and I opened the front door and stepped into the entryway where we were greeted by cordial volunteers (mostly mothers of orchestra members). I stepped into the multi-purpose room where a few other kids were taking out their instruments and looking as nervous as I felt. The wait wasn’t long. I was summoned back into the entryway to a little office that looked like a nurse’s station. It was. But it was doing double duty as the audition room of Jacob Avshalomov, conductor and musical director of the oldest youth orchestra in America.  

Jacob Avshalomov is a man of gravitas. His white hair sweeps back on both sides of his head. He carries himself with a certain posture and dignity that you don’t often see. The conductor greeted me warmly and introduced himself, explaining that most people called him Mr. A. He invited me to begin. I did and I managed to get through it a little worse for the wear. Towards the end of the movement, the climax involves some third and fifth position fingerings (high notes) and my intonation got a little loosey-goosey (which Mom was quick to point out afterwards).  

Mr. A was gracious and commented what a fun piece the Brandenburg is and that I seemed to enjoy it. I don’t exactly recall but I believe he made a very tactful remark about needing to upgrade to a better instrument. (Gads, I was playing on a factory made Roth.) I also can’t recall if he had me sight read anything. (Sight reading is when you are given music you’ve never seen before and are asked to play a section of it.) If he did, I would have totally sucked. Sight reading was just one more of my myriad weaknesses.  

He thanked me for coming in and showed me out of the little makeshift audition room. I wasn’t sure how this thing worked so I went out and told Mom how it went (she had heard me play through the door) and then packed my violin up. One of the ladies gave me a postcard sized slip of paper as we moved to leave.  

I was in!  

I was elated! I was officially a member of the Preparatory PYP. (The Prep is to the Portland Youth Philharmonic what a farm team is to the majors.)  

I had made another precarious jump upward in my musical climb. In retrospect, making it through that audition was one of the ballsiest things I have ever done in my life. If I had known the history and reputation of Avshalomov and the PYP, or the quality of musicians affiliated with it, I doubt that I would ever have made it past the initial phone call. Ignorance was the friend of courage that day.  

Within a few short weeks I would discover what sort of mess I had gotten myself into. >>


 days of naze   days:strung out