I joined a music performance group years ago. We meet in each other’s houses and play whatever we’ve been working on. The benevolent founder of this salon shanghaied virtually every one of the original members. We were scraped right off the streets, some of us. He’s an insistent guy, and doesn’t know how to take “I’ll probably throw up” as an answer.
It’s been a fluid cast of members, and on any given night about a dozen of us show up. At first I was relatively comfortable. There were many people much more accomplished than I, but there were also a few rank beginners and one or two who could be counted on to (praise Jesus) play woodenly, which calms me down. I can play very musically. I can do this when I’m alone at night on my home piano and there’s no danger of anyone actually listening. I can play the hell out of that instrument in those conditions.
Usually I don’t do that well on performance night. And over the last few years, all the lesser lights seem to have moved on, and I find myself surrounded by lovely people with master’s degrees in music performance. Opera singers show up. Clarinetists. Competitive teams of string players. It’s all gorgeous and memorable, and than it’s my turn to walk up to the gibbet, I mean piano bench, and, well–plink away.
But even the accomplished musicians figure I at least have what it takes to be a page-turner. I’ve been drafted on a few occasions. “My four friends the string players over here are going to spank the hell out of some Dvorak and Beethoven,” my pianist friend Carole said recently, “and all you have to do is turn the pages for me.” All righty then!
I can read music, I thought. I can sit back and watch my friend flinging out a bazillion notes and get up in time to turn that page, I thought. No problem!
|The view from the page-turner’s seat|
Problem. Turning pages turns out to be just as terrifying as note-flinging. One false move at the switching yard and the whole quintet goes off the rails. And it’s ever so possible. Do I have the next page under my fingers, or did I accidentally grab two? I’ve got one and a half measures to make sure.
And then there’s Beethoven, a well-known bitch. He sticks in something he calls a “movement” just for fun, but that doesn’t mean the movement is always forward. He sails into it for a bit and then repeats. Lurches ahead and then backs up again. Two pages in I need to whip back a page. A little later I need to whip back two pages. Later yet he wants me to whip back to an unrelated page, probably in the Dvorak, and only then does he get up enough momentum to go forward and keep on going. It is utterly terrifying. The possibility looms that I will whip the entire score into the audience, where it will flap around like a spooked bat.
Even without the repeats, sometimes the musical pace is so torrid that my eyeballs can’t keep up. Here is a movement entitled Molto Vivian Vance which means, in Latin, that chocolate bon-bons are about to come down the conveyer belt faster than you can get them wrapped. And then there’s the other problem. Twenty minutes in, your friend and her friends, with no thought to your comfort, might start playing so damn beautifully that you’re caught up in the majesty of the moment, and suddenly you realize you have no idea where she is on the page. All you can do is scout ahead for a big stand-alone chord and hope she beaches herself on it long enough that you can get your bearings again.
It’s a horror. At some point, when you’re in too deep to bail out, you realize that you are the invisible person up in the rigging who is solely responsible for making sure everything on stage happens as it should. And if you let go of one crucial wire, Peter Pan might go sailing end-over-end into the audience and splat into the balcony.
Heh heh heh.
Good god! This was terrifying just to read about, Murr! Forget about Stephen King… this is the stuff of our nightmares! For the rest of the day, if someone starts a sentence with "can you help me…", I will shriek "NO!", my eyes wide with fear, and run away, shivering, to hide under my bed.
What an excellent life plan. All you need is someone to shove a TV dinner under the bed and you're set for life.
I love this: "The possibility looms that I will whip the entire score into the audience, where it will flap around like a spooked bat." Hee hee!
I'll be with mimimanderly, under the bed. I always thought my terror over the thought of page-turning was due to the fact I do not read music well. Apparently there is even more reason to fear.
Its getting crowded under that bed – but I am in good company.
Jenny o, not being able to read music well is a perfectly good reason to be afraid of page-turning. And look at all you human dust bunnies!
I know, all to well that of which you speak. In your very village, Portland, I was once asked to assist on a transplant surgery up at OHSU, in 94 I think. I had some expertise in oxygen diffusion, and the patient had some lung issues. Listening to these gods talking about the next cuts they would make, etc, I just wanted to be beamed back to the ship.
Um. Nobody will ever die if I don't get the page turned. Or the letter misdelivered. Or…or…I only take certain kinds of chances in life.
I also play better when I'm home alone, no one listening. I play even better in my dreams where I suddenly see an entire score, exactly as written, and ease through it with grace and panache. I do the same with foreign languages- in slumber I speak fluently and read great French literature. In real life I struggle with "la salle de bain, rapidement"- the waiter just brings me salt. I'm high functioning in my dreams. Your musical group actually looks like great fun.
Well, I for one would like to know what it is you play when you're home alone, no one listening. Because I'll be able to hear it from here and it will be wonderful. Sometimes in my dreams I play big huge pieces that I've never played before, and they'll be perfect. It seems so possible. SALT! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
"sel de bain" would be epsom salts. I too am a splendid musician and linguist in my sleep. Can't read a note in the awake position.
And yet when we're playing in our dreams, it seems we are physically playing every note. I wonder if we are.
I hope Mimi's bed is of sufficient, say, Henry VIII size…
I cannot read music, but I am trying to understand more of those funny squiggles. I used to bang away on the keys, sometimes getting close to what was intended…but I am now so out of practice I can't even claim my gaffs are a jazz impromptu.Move over, Mimi!
Jeez, did H have a big bed, too? And does anyone know if it was as big as a standard modern King? Hey. You're never too old to get better at music. Sometimes I think you're too old to learn new languages well, unless you're unusually gifted, but music? Adults can learn, baby.
Right then! Page-turning is crossed off my to-do list. Permanently.
And any sheet music with the name Beethoven will be buried so deep it will take archaeologists from the year 5535 to dig it up again.
I do want someone to play that Beethoven. He was not overrated. Although a lot of the time he doesn't seem to know how to end a piece. I keep thinking it's because he went deaf. BLAM! blam blam blam buh bah-da-da BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM! Buh duh blam blam blam blam! BLAMMMMMMMM.
*pause* *more pause* BLAM!
see (hear): PDQ Bach
I think it was Sid Caesar who mimed the percussionist waiting for his one, supremely important hit near the end of the long piece, at first dignified, alert, patient, interested, but subtly and increasingly distracted, dreamy – and his moment comes and goes, he misses it, comes to life, realizes, and his face morphs through a series of reactions from surprise and denial to realization and suicidal shame.
OH! I remember that!
Interesting how we can terrify ourselves when the action is on the line. How about a rubber finger tip…or is that too weird?
Naw, the gription ain't the problem.
Okay, I'll bite. What is, then?
The getting lost. The gripping too many pages. The realization that you have no idea where anyone is on the page. The going forward when you're supposed to be going back'ards. It's not a matter of slippage, unless you mean brainular slippage.
Is that Elizabeth O'Connor on the cello? She's in my music group!
It's Elizabeth Somebody…
I so admire anyone who has any musical ability. It is a great cosmic joke that I love to sing, but am tone deaf. I've tried to play both the clarinet and the guitar in my time, and have been a dismal failure at both. I often wonder if it's too late to take up piano. I know I'm good on a keyboard. 😉
P.S. Have you read "H is for Hawk" yet? I think you'll love it.
Yes you are. OK two things: YES you can play piano. Adults learn faster than kids. Their hands are full-size and they don't WANT to go outside and play. I've heard adults with only two years in playing really well. So it's not like learning a language late. Two: I have read that. I hated it! Don't be upset!
I didn't realize, until I reached the end of your story, that I wasn't breathing! In my old age I've learned to be aware of the people in a room so that I can quickly volunteer someone else…"can you help…" "you know, I'd love to, but I think Mary has been looking forward to helping you." However, if that doesn't work…is there room under that bed?
My goodness! I had no idea this piece would resonate so widely. We are a fearful as well as fearsome species!
Glad I am not alone in keeping up. I play guitar in a band that has varied from four to fifteen members over the years, many of whom are really good musicians. I hope they bring me up to their level more than I bring them down to mine. It's not so bad if I have to stop and get my bearings when it's a large band, but when it's small and I do that it is really noticeable. If we are playing for a dance the audience is distracted so they don't notice unless the beat stops.
My ideal audience never notices anything. I suppose there is a downside to that as well, though.
Very Victor Borge-esque! Especially the retreating into the previous Dvorak part. It made me LOL out loud several times.
Ah…PDQ. I raised my kids on that insanity. Can't listen to Beethoven's 5th without chuckling (nor can I hear a Nordic name without immediately saying "Heilegedankesan").
The dreams others mentioned are so true for singers too. I can always tell when I need more singing for my soul, because I'll be doing it (perfectly) in my dreams.
And finally, I'm tucking Suz's little nugget away for a later date: "you know, I'd love to…."
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