strung out
                  my life as an amateur violist

   pushed into the deep end  |  # f

  Orchestras above a certain caliber practice a number of rules and procedures, an etiquette if you will, that is largely the product of European tradition. For example, when the concertmaster (the first chair of the first violin section) stands at the beginning of the rehearsal, that means shut up and be still because one of the sections of the orchestra is about to be cued to begin tuning.  

The authority line is pretty direct. The conductor is god -- you are not. The principals of each section (the person who sits in the first chair of a section) are somewhere between you and god, er, I mean the conductor, but they are mortal as are you.  

Another thing I would come to learn: conductor archtypes. There is the cool, controlled British conductor with the crisp, precise baton. There is the fluid, lyrical style of the French conductor. And there is the Russian conductor -- passionate, driven and somewhat volatile. Can you guess which type Mr. A was?  

These things and many more I would learn -- the hard way.  

First rehearsal. I’ve got my fiddle out -- so where do I sit? I consult a nice lady who has a list in her hands. You sit up there. She’s pointing to the first chair of the second violin section. 


I’m trying to maintain as all 90 of the folding chairs fill up with kids aged from nine all the way up to, uh-oh, my age of fifteen. Mr. A ascends the podium and begins the rehearsal. We’re playing something called Overture to Iphigenia in Aulis. (A cool piece by Gluck. I find out later that it’s from an opera about the beginning of the Iliad. I got hooked on Greek mythology in the seventh grade.)  

I bumble and stumble through the beginning but I get lost somewhere on the second or third line. It’s not an easy piece but everybody around me seems to be doing o.k.  Mr. A stops the orchestra and looks at me. He re-starts the orchestra. I get lost again.  

I was given the music a week ago, but failed to recognize the gravity of the situation. Compounding matters were my poor sight-reading skills and the lack of notice of the leadership role I would be tagged with.  

Mr. A stops the orchestra a second time and glares at me. In a loud voice he scolded me in front of 90 of my peers who would be hearing my name for the first time, “Chris Naze, I had expected better. I am very disappointed in you.”  

I froze sitting bolt upright, flushing crimson, and staring straight into the middle distance knowing that were I to lose my composure I might run or cry, or both.  

Of course, we continued, me bumbling and stumbling even worse. But somehow, in spite of my utterly mortified state I was hearing for the first time what it is like to be inside of a complex, multi-layered and powerful symphonic sound. I was plainly in way over my head. I had been humiliated in a way that I had never experienced before and I will never forget the feeling of shame of that moment.  

However, the music was gorgeous. I wasn’t going to lay down and quit. If he wanted to toss me out, he could. But I wasn't going to go easily. This was the something I had been chasing since Our First March.  I wasn’t going to let a whopping bruise to my ego get in the way.  

To his credit, Mr. A gently pulled me aside after rehearsal and told me that he was going to give someone else a shot at the first chair. Phew! By all means, let someone else lead the section! I thought.  I just wanted to play.  

As I packed my instrument, Mom asked if I wanted to bail out. No, I wasn’t ready to give up. In spite of the worst humiliation of my entire life, I was coming back. The forces at work here were strong. Having just watched her son get shredded by a temperamental stranger, I don’t think she understood my decision. 

I didn’t entirely understand it myself. >>


 days of naze   days:strung out