strung out
my life as an amateur violist

  hangin' in, holdin' on  |  #p   finale
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
My sons, Jack (kinda bugged that I'm turned toward his cousin, Nicholas) and David.  
 

  My you are a glutton for punishment! Herein the Author concludes his tale of Life as an Amateur Violist and thanks the Reader for his or her kind attention...  

Leaving the PYP meant not only having to find a new gig, but also having to find a new instrument, period. I was viola-less. Over the last four years, I had become spoiled playing a fine Marc Moreland viola that had been a gift to the PYP from one Sidney Ray Stukelman (hey, I figure the guy deserves another plug -- it’s a damn fine instrument!).  

I was going to miss that big fine viola. It has a deep brown/auburn varnish that is very distinct from the more traditional reddish/orange. (Marc later told me that the dark Spanish wines he had been drinking at the time were his inspiration.) The sonorous tone is a product of its pleasingly large, round curves.  

I took my German violin in hand for a down payment on a viola and returned to the shop whence I had purchased it: Paul Schuback Violin Shop. Marc happened to be manning the counter that day and I told him how much I had enjoyed playing the viola he made. He was feeling pretty proud and offered to make me my very own. Unfortunately the $5000 price range was a bit beyond my means (having been out in the vicious marketplace for only a year). I secretly filed the custom built viola idea away on my wish list.  

They didn’t have a lot in my price range (I could just barely afford payments on two grand), but I did find a nice viola that was very responsive with a definitely narrower tone than the Moreland viola, but decent. It was made in 1980 by a citizen of Rome named Guisseppe Lucci. Marc gave me what seemed to be a fair price on the instrument, a cheap bow and a bare bones case. Through no merit on my part, beyond choosing it as the best in my range, it turned out to be the best investment I made in my life.  

The Rose City is blessed with a fair number of decent quality string groups. For the next six years I kept up active participation in three of the them: the Columbia Symphony, the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and the Little Orchestra of Portland.  

Coming into the Columbia Symphony was like meeting an old acquaintance. The CSO was an incarnation of the Palatine Hill Symphony, an orchestra formerly resident at my alma mater, Lewis & Clark College, and founded by Jerry Luedders, an excellent classical saxophonist and former conductor of the L&C Chamber Orchestra. Later I had a great time as standpartner of Linda, a fairly recent alumna of the PYP viola section.  

The CSO is unusual in that it consists of about 20% union musicians, who are paid (some of whom return the money to the financially strapped orchestra), and 80% amateurs, such as myself, who obviously are not paid. The orchestra could not survive if that ratio were to tip significantly. The pay issue did not loom large, but at one point the union was giving us a hard time on one issue or another and threatened legal action. While the union members were by and large technically better than the rest of us, the gap was not always that wide.  

The single largest difference between the CSO and the PYP was rehearsal frequency. The CSO performed after only five rehearsals compared to something closer to twenty for the PYP. Whew! The result was more concerts in a season (about six) and a quality that would sometimes surpass and sometimes fall short of the PYP. Not at all bad considering the rehearsal differential, but could be frustrating if you wanted to sink your teeth into a piece.  

The audience size is another key distinction. The PYP requires parents to purchase at least one set of season tickets. (Rightfully so I might add. No tuition is charged and the bills must be paid.) However, such requirements are impossible to impose on adult players, and thus the CSO plays to a crowd anywhere from 200 to 400 versus 1800 to 2200.  

The Portland Chamber Orchestra is like CSO in that it exists because of a large contingent of non-union players. The PCO claims to be the oldest continuously operating pro-am chamber orchestra in the U.S. (impressed?), which I believe given the fact that it was founded in 1947 by one Boris Sirpo. Chamber orchestra is an important part of a rounded string player’s activity. It requires one to be much more alert due to the fact that your mistakes are more exposed.  

The PCO runs a short, intense rehearsal schedule to prepare for a concert, which can be refreshing and also a bit taxing. The commitment and quality of the players were key to the PCO becoming the source of many of my most rewarding chamber music experiences.  

Charles Schneider, a talented concert programmer and conductor who happens to look a lot like a Chicago cab driver, led the PCO through a rousing performance of Kurt Weill's Symphony in one of my favorite experiences with the orchestra.  

The Little Orchestra of Portland was a splinter group that defected from another chamber orchestra. The LOP was led by my former viola teacher, Eugene Kaza, a retired music teacher of Hungarian descent, who had taught at Grant High School, the school where Mr. Holland’s Opus was shot. (Not a bad picture. If they just could have made his big finale composition less schmaltzy...)  

The LOP was a very egalitarian affair with players of widely differing ability. It truly was a community orchestra and while you wouldn’t mistake it for a more refined ensemble, it managed to make some respectable sounding music. Concerts had a warm, friendly tone; the barriers between audience and musician were at a minimum. While the CSO and PCO are still alive and kicking, sadly the LOP dissolved in 1994(?) after about an eight year run.  

On June 6, 1993 (D-Day!), my first son, Jack, was born. His arrival changed my life (and still continues to on a regular basis). One of the ways it changed my life was in my music. Having gladly made a pact with my mate to be a true co-parent, the juggling of schedules for evening rehearsals became overwhelming. With the arrival of David on May 28, 1996, my life as a happy father of two wonderful boys was beginning and my life as an amateur musician was over. At least for a little while. 

Over nearly twenty straight years, I attended thousands of rehearsals and performed hundreds of concerts from locations as ignominious as an elementary school hallway to the heights of Avery Fisher Hall. Five instruments, five personal teachers, countless strings, handfuls of cakes of rosin, unmeasurable anxiety and stress. And immeasurable satisfaction and joy.  

I am a violist.  

It comes in a not terribly distant second to being a dad, in terms of the parts of me of which I am most proud, how I would want to be remembered.  

I miss the feel of the strings beneath my fingers, the smell of rosin, and especially the sounds of fellow players warming up. For now, my memories and mind’s ear sustain me.  

I can’t quite see the time when this Dad will be sufficiently free to become Violist again, but I know one thing: it will come -- and when it does, I will be eager to answer the call.  
 

 

Life without music would be a mistake. 
-Nietzche  

Res severa est verum gaudium. (Serious things are the true joy.) 
-Jacob Avshalomov  

The whole idea of punk was that anyone could do it. 
-Joey Ramone

     

     
 

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