strung out
                  my life as an amateur violist

   a different kind of school  |  # g

  Humility was never in short supply in my years in the Prep orchestra. I’m sitting somewhere in the last third of the second violin section after my spectacular debut as principal second. I’m a sophomore in high school and not having a hard time picking out the fourth and fifth graders in the orchestra, many of whom play better than me.  

Theory class was yet another opportunity to discover how little I knew. What is the interval between these notes? What are the notes in a C# minor scale? Can you dictate back that musical phrase? No, I’m not sure, and I’ll give it a try, but don’t place any bets. I’m pretty sure I was placed in the second to lowest level theory class, instead of the lowest, to spare my somewhat frayed sense of self-esteem.  

Sectionals are a special rehearsal where you work on the music with just the players in your section. Mostly it’s a low key review of trouble spots in the part. However, when a performance draws near and those trouble spots don’t clear up, it’s stand by stand (that’s just you and your standpartner) to ferret out the weak links in the chain. No, there’s no punishment for those who don’t do so hot in the spotlight (other than the embarrassment of the rest of the section hearing how bad you suck), but it is usually motivates one to revisit the music in closer detail at home.  


Now, this is not a situation one endures without some measure of reward. My less visible role in the orchestra afforded me the breathing room I needed to learn about following the conductor’s baton, watching the bowing and body language of the section leader, and listening closely to other sections to calibrate dynamics. (Dynamics in music roughly translates to volume.) Even your relationship with your standpartner is freighted with ritual tasks such as who marks the part (notes or reminders in the piece - always made with pencil) and who takes what notes in a chord and who could thrash the other in a musical duel.  

These are the elements of the orchestral musician’s craft.  

Now, you ask yourself “Naze, how could you have possibly fooled some pretty knowledgeable people into thinking you were good if in fact you were completely talentless?" (No? Then let me ask it myself.)  

O.k. I had a few things going for me. One, I was stubborn. I really wanted to play. I would take the occasional risk and suffer the occasional humiliation to keep moving forward. (Oh, yes. More humiliation to come!)  

Two, I was absolutely committed. (Life at the mental hospital isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.) I hit my marks, I respected the code of the orchestra, and was damned grateful to be there. I dug into the part.  

[Warning to Purists: Avert your eyes. Go directly to the next paragraph. Do not collect $200 but preserve your innocence.]  

Three, I learned the judicious use of fakery, an invaluable orchestra skill. Sometimes you can’t get every single note. You play something close, make sure your fingers are moving in the approximate neighborhood of where they should be and you back way off in the volume department. Everyone who has played in an orchestra has, at one time or another, relied on his standpartner or section to carry him for a few bars. This is tacitly accepted so long as it doesn’t become chronic.  

I could also actually make a half decent sound if the notes on the page weren’t too fast or too high. >>


 days of naze   days:strung out