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Stage fright and friendly fiddlers

Posted by jonno on Friday, February 5, 2010

For someone who has never sat in an orchestra before, it is pretty intense to sit on the stage of the beautiful Strathmore surrounded by BSO musicians, led by Marin Alsop, and play Tchaikovsky and Elgar... but what a blast!

I arrived tightly wound, more nervous than my wedding day (25 years ago)!  At the check-in, we received name tags and directions to the backstage entrance.  When I entered the labyrinth of backstage hallways and rooms I could hear from around the corners crisp 16th notes being fired from many different instruments - it was like walking into the middle of a ambush, only the machine guns were brass and strings.
Along a long hall, rusty and BSO musicians were mingling - some nervous chatter, some animated, some voices were totally cool and reassuring (I think these were mostly the BSO folks).  One wall had floor to ceiling cubbies in assorted sizes - wide, tall, deep, narrow, well-designed to hold various instrument cases.
After tuning up, I found a couple friends from, Smiley and Ann Marie, in one the dressing rooms just to the right of Marin Alsop's dressing room.  We were having a great time catching up and trying out Ann Marie's Luis and Clark viola when Madeline Adkins (associate concert master) walked in and joined us.  She tried out the viola and Smiley's violin, chatted, even posed for some pictures (I'll post a couple when I get them out of my camera), then went to grab a bite before the 8p performance.  Next the Maestra swept into our room greeting us warmly.  As she left we realized the appointed hour had arrived and belatedly joined the rest of the musicians on stage.
My bundle of nerves had loosened a bit thanks to the comradery with Smiley and Ann Marie, but everything tightened again when I walked from the wings onto the stage.  First thing I noticed was how easy it was to see the audience.  I mean, it's obvious now, but while the house lights are on even just a little, the performers can see the audience just as well as the audience sees the performers.   My family and friends were a group of nine in the box closest to the stage on the promenade level.   Next I had to find my seat... first violin seat 12.
I found it comfortably near the back of the first violin section.  It was great to have a sea of violinist in front of me so I could see the rise and fall of their bows -  like a huge visual metronome!  I had no stand partner to my right, but to my left was Chris Scroggins - one of the professionals playing the 2nd violin part.  It was great fun to exchange quick asides with her during the rehearsal.  She was very nice and even complimented my playing.
Then the Maestra entered, welcomed the audience and turned her attention to us.  She was all business, but with humor and wonderful warmth.  After five minutes I felt relaxed and in the groove.  Somehow the group effort made it easier to keep pace with the tempo - I was able to play most of the of the passages - many more than I thought possible (but, no not all of them).  It was exhilarating!
So thanks BSO for doing this.  I'll be there if they ever do it again.  Now, I'm looking forward to returning to my lessons that are little more my level - Vivaldi, Sitt, Mazas and, of course, the fiddling.
BSO put up a video of the Tuesday night performance on YouTube:

4 comments on “Stage fright and friendly fiddlers”

mudbug Says:
Sunday, February 7, 2010 @3:37:20 AM

Congrats, John! That must have been a wonderful experience.

mudbug Says:
Sunday, February 7, 2010 @5:11:07 AM

What a beautiful facility, by the way. I don't know if you were in that particular group, but everyone looked very professional.

jonno Says:
Sunday, February 7, 2010 @5:17:46 AM

Thanks Mudbug. Strathmore is a wonderful place - I've seen a number of concerts here (Bela Fleck and Abigal Washburn, Bruce Molsky & Martin Hayes & Alistair Fraser/Natalie Haas) and the acostics are amazing!

FiddlerJones Says:
Sunday, February 7, 2010 @6:20:32 PM

That is so cool! I wish they'd do something similar here in Chicago.

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