Archive for the 'Vee-ola' Category

Janz Enters the Guitar Competition

Right now, my orchestra is presenting the 2008 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. It’s quite a production. Ten Semi-Finalists were chosen from around the world to come to Buffalo, and after a round of competition, the field was narrowed to three. The three finalists will perform their concertos tomorrow night with the BPO, after which a winner will be crowned. This is the third time I’ve participated in the event (we have it every two years), and I’ve really come to look forward to the drama of a live competition.

Janz and I have been joking about starting a International Guitar Hero Competition for quite some time. For some reason, Guitar Hero is never not funny to us. The joke took on a life of its own this afternoon, when Janz officially entered the field of competition.

Here is his story:

Warming up

Janz nervously warms up backstage

Janz and JoAnn

Janz discusses his tempos with JoAnn before the rehearsal

Janz GH

Janz fulfills his dream of being an International Guitar Hero with a Symphony Orchestra.

Special thanks to JoAnn Falletta who was a great sport about our goofy scheming this afternoon. She didn’t bat an eyelash when Janz and I knocked on her dressing room door holding a plastic guitar.


Happy New Year!

A few years ago, on a New Years Eve concert, we did a whole show of Viennese waltzes. Waltzes have a fairly complicated system of repeats and Da Capos, and it is pretty easy to get lost if you’re not on your toes. At the end of this particular concert, after we played the final chords, we were supposed to shout “Happy New Year” in unison.  (I know, so cheesy.) Something went HORRIBLY wrong in the final number though. The brass took a repeat that the strings did not take, and we ended up more or less crashing to a halt instead of properly ending the show. I mean, we played three big loud chord-like crashes, but everyone was in the wrong place and freaking out. It was without QUESTION the single most disastrous moment I’ve been a part of as a professional. We ended the entire concert in a stunned silence.

I’ve always wanted to go back in time and be the one person in the entire orchestra who remembers to gleefully scream “Happy New Year!” after such a disaster. Now, at work, whenever something is going very very very badly, Janz and I wish each other a Happy New Year. The phrase “Happy New Year” has become synonymous with “this is a stupid plan and it’s not going to work.”

Because I’m Worth It!

I took this week off of work unpaid.  I have some practicey type stuff going on this week, and I just needed some time to chill out and not go to work.  I’ve never done this before; taken time off so that I can just do my own thing.  I’m going to be pretty broke in January as a result of this indulgence, but let me tell you, I am LOVING life this week.  Merry Christmas to me!


Over the years I have had the opportunity to coach a lot of teen-aged chamber music groups.  I enjoy teaching chamber music because the whole performance is reliant on the ability of the group to work as a team.  I don’t think I am a very good technical teacher, but I do think I’m pretty good at fostering camaraderie between a group of kids. 

As a rule, I like coaching chamber music, but every once in awhile you get a group that is just trouble.  Maybe one of the kids isn’t as good as the others, maybe they are playing a piece that’s way too hard, or maybe one of the kids is just a bad seed.  These groups can be excruciating, and watching the performance can be terrifying.  It is never fun to sit and listen, praying to baby Jesus that the group can just make it through the piece without stopping. (They always make it.)

One of the funny things about teenagers (particularly girls) is that you never know what to expect in terms of their reaction to the performance.  My all time favorite reaction came a few years ago.  I was coaching a group that was playing a piece that was WAY to hard for them, they had major trouble getting along, and they had a pretty toxic member.  It was the perfect storm of unpleasant.  The concert was……well, it was successful in that they didn’t have to stop, but they really didn’t do any of the things we had worked so hard on, and it was a pretty rocky ride. 

I went backstage fully expecting tears, and finger pointing, and surliness all around.  The first member of the group I encountered was the fifteen-year-old second violinist.  Her face was flush with emotion and drama, and I instinctively reached out to console her, about to offer my very best "Hey, nobody’s perf" speeches.   She looked up at me, eyes flashing and cheeks burning, and breathlessly said, "That.  Was so.  Awesome." 

Heh.  Yes, it was.

Is This Going To Be a 90?

Sometimes I take a step back and realize how ridiculously coddled I am as an orchestra musician. We are a highly unionized group, and everything that happens at work is specifically dictated and governed by a CBA.

Today there was a big hubbub.

We recently got a new rehearsal clock. For those not in the know, the clock is quite possibly the most important piece of equipment on the stage for the average symphony. We do not play one second over the scheduled rehearsal time, often ending rehearsals in mid-phrase. The clock also dictates precisely when we take our break. Today was the debut of our new, digital rehearsal clock, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

We couldn’t read the clock because the numbers were too dim!

Honestly, how can we be expected to perform under these horrific conditions? Are we animals, or something?



I have been in a pretty good mood lately and I am happily filling my days with crocheting, blogging (of the hockey variety), and cooking.  What I have not been doing is practicing.  Oddly, in spite of this long stretch of non-practicing, I feel like I am playing better than I have in a long time.  This has created a weird psychological situation.  I am currently convinced (CONVINCED) that by not practicing I am getting better at the viola.   

This new technique for improvement fits very well into my leisurely lifestyle and I plan on implementing it in many areas of my life.  In the next few months I intend to lose weight without dieting, fall in love without dating, and increase my site stats without blogging.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

I’m pretty sure it’s going to work. 

Rough Day at the Office

Today, I was supposed to play an outdoor concert downtown over the lunch hour.  It’s really windy today in Buffalo, and when I arrived at the gig, everyone was in a tizzy because the music stands were blowing over.  So, because of excessive wind, the concert was canceled and my workday (which was scheduled to last all of 55 minutes) was over at 11:45am. 

My life is very, very difficult.  I mean, I had to get up at 9:30 AM to get to that concert.  Plus, I had to find a clean white top and two matching black socks.  Couldn’t someone have called me before I drove an entire mile to the concert?  That seems like the least management could have done.  Someone really screwed the pooch on this one.  I couldn’t even get back to sleep when I got back home at noon.

I’m calling my union rep.