strung out
  my life as an amateur violist

            the show  |  # i


It was a hot August afternoon the day of my fourth annual audition.  I am sorry to say that I cannot recall the name of the piece I played that day (it was fifteen years ago -- maybe something by O. Rieding?), which is lame given the significance of the event.  However, I do remember that it was music with a modicum of technical complexity and that I performed competently -- but not so well that I was certain of Mr. A’s decision.  As a college freshman, I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) return to the Prep. Would I get my shot at the big time or would I get turned away after three years in the Prep trenches?  

The Fates smiled upon me that day.  With words to the effect of “dig into the part and be ready with a strong bow arm when the orchestra needs it”, I was in!  I was a member of the second violin section of America’s oldest youth orchestra!  

I believe two things convinced Mr. A to take a chance on me. One, he probably detected a degree of technical advancement under my new teacher.  Two, I had the guts to show up for the audition.  

Mr. A’s words of encouragement and advice confirmed my own self-appraisal of my value to the group.  I liked to think of myself as a good soldier.  Somebody like Vasquez in Aliens, somebody you could rely on to be there when you needed them.  A good comrade, someone you liked and were glad to have on your side.  

These were exciting times.  For three years I had been coming to performances of the PYP at the Civic Auditorium in downtown Portland.  The hall is elegant with clean lines and respectable acoustics.  While it seats nearly 4000, the slope of the seating provides an intimate feel.  Here I heard and felt and saw and smelled for the first time the excitement and drama of a first class performance.  Resphigi, Brahms, Gershwin, Stravinsky all came to life for me at the Civic.  

The PYP members seemed to possess that special aura of confidence and mastery that good performers possess.  After one concert, my mother, grandmother and I went to Rose’s, a deli that was famous for its huge Viennese pastries.  Sitting two tables away from us was one of the PYP cellists (I believe it was Drew).  I looked over at him with a sense of awe and a satisfaction that we were partaking of a post-concert repast worthy of a fine string player.  

Now I was one of them.  

Some memories from my rookie year...  

...there was a fairly large contingent of musicians from Lewis & Clark College that year -- about a tenth of the orchestra.  Judy, the daughter of a well loved and wonderful alumna who contributed thousands of hours of her time to the orchestra, volunteered to spearhead a carpool.  Now Judy had earned quite a reputation for her driving acumen in high school -- “Lead Foot” Oringdulph was a well-deserved nickname we soon learned.  

When we were running late (which was often -- hey, we were a bunch of college punks!) she would put that AMC Eagle through its paces.  I remember the fast clicking sound the snow studs (in Spring!) made on the pavement as she whipped that puppy down the hill, across town, down the exit and under the bridge.  The four of us would come piling out of the brown beast and race for the door just in time to reach our seats as the tuning began.  

...I needed a tuxedo for performances but was a dirt poor college freshman.  I bought a bad polyester jacket and pants from Chuck, a dorm neighbor and perennial senior from Alaska, for $50.00.  I got a raw deal.  

When the first concert rolled around, I wasn’t sure what was meant by dress rehearsal, so I wore my polyester black suit and bow tie just in case they meant “dress” rehearsal.  Rookie move and quite a fashion statement I might add. first concert in the big leagues was a mixed bag. Wagner - Overture to Die Meistersinger.  I really dislike most Wagner.  (Oo, beware the Wagnerian wrath!)  Overblown and lots of notes but not a lot of music. Mozart Piano Concert #3.  Beautiful and beautifully played.  Lastly, a treasure of a piece, Suite in F by Ernst von Dohnanyi.  Borrow or buy a copy of a recording. You won’t regret it.  This program was vintage Avshalomov: a couple of anchor pieces that were usually familiar along with a contemporary work or two that were less often heard in the concert hall.  It was the best possible way to learn firsthand the quality of twentieth century music that was out there.  

I’m having to leave out a lot, because this ain’t a book. Suffice it to say that I was absolutely pumped to be a grunt in the very back of the second violin section of this talent-packed ensemble.  If I didn’t reach any further than I had gotten that year, I figured that I could have looked back on this achievement with contentment.  

But that's not all!  The orchestra was headed on a NYC-Yugoslavia-Austria tour the following year (March 1984) and I was blissful.  Now how much would you pay?!  

I practiced harder that year than I have ever practiced in my life.  Under the tutelage of my college violin teacher I was studying Galamian technique and attacking that old warhorse, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, with my barely passable German violin.  I really believed that I was going to make an impression at my next audition.  

At the time, I had no idea how true that would be... 


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