A Violin Teacher and Her Fiddle Student Share An Orchestral Experience
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
Led Zeppelin was blaring on the stereo and our violins trembled in the back seat. We devoured our fast food suppers as we zoomed along the dark winter highway to "the big city" two hours away from our small, rural Canadian town.
Anticipating the evening with mixed anxiety and excitement, our insides danced a quick nervous jig. We were travelling to the first of seven practices this month with a symphony orchestra and were already sick of the drive.
Ari, a 17-year-old fiddle student of mine, had never played in an orchestra but had won plenty of hardware at fiddle contests. Seeing the opportunity as great career experience, he reluctantly agreed to spend four Wednesdays and an entire weekend away from his friends in rehearsals. He was a proficient player and incredibly confident, which I hoped would keep him from bailing out before any music was played.
We were not at all prepared to play our parts since the music was held up by another orchestra until the day before. Thus the entire orchestra would have to "sight-read" (musician for "fake it or die a terrible death") the music with the rest of the orchestra.
Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have been nervous in the least. I played first violin for a year with the symphony, but had spent a couple years pregnant then raising my son. My mind had turned into a mish-mash of strained carrots and Barney and I was worrying about everything all at once.
Did I still have what it took to play with an orchestra? Was the cat fed today? Would I be able to stay awake at the rehearsal after only 4 hours sleep the night previous? Did I leave the stove on? Would my child survive at home with my unobservant husband? What if the conductor asked me to play in front of everyone else and I spontaneously forgot how to play the violin?
Leaving behind a toddler screaming for mommy was difficult, but no where near as frightening as the impending embarrassment that could have struck if I have "lost my touch." My nervous tension grew as we approached the city lights.
After getting lost and being locked out of the building we were late, but thankfully, so was our "boss," the section leader. We finally settled into our seats, clutching our violins with cold, shaking hands, and were met with intimidating folders crammed full of what a non-musician would think to be inkblot exams for testing the insane. On second thought, they very well could be tonight. The conductor raised his baton and we began.
Playing with a symphony is always wonderfully intense and the enormous volume within the orchestra is fantastic. Our conductor waved his hands with enthusiasm and the complete concentration everyone was immersed in was wonderfully intense. During an overture I was busy avoiding blasting unwanted notes when there was supposed to be silence and looking out for my young pupil beside me that he was on the same track.
For me the tension melted away when we pulled "Beethoven Symphony No. 4" out of our folders.
Playing Beethoven was what inspired me to leave my warm cozy home and family to subject myself to potential humiliation. Playing Beethoven was enough incentive to keep all of us coming to rehearsals, though most of us were volunteers and weren't paid to rehearse or perform in the concert. Playing Beethoven was what made the 4-hour drive in winter weather and midnight bedtime worthwhile.
Surprisingly, Ari was the one slumped over a kettledrum napping during the break, and not me. My maternal instinct took over and I helped him into a chair. "He's new to all this," I said to another player and she smirked and let him rest in peace, with full understanding of how the late rehearsals can drain a player. Players exchanged baby pictures, ate cake, then played "Happy Birthday" for a flautist.
Bruce, not "The Maestro," but Bruce, was a great leader who told jokes and "hung" with the rest of us. His friendliness and encouragement always made orchestra rehearsals fun for me and I'm sure all the musicians played better as a result.
At one point he asked the rookie, Ari, how he was holding up with the music. "Fine," Ari replied. "How's she doing," Bruce teased, looking at me, the teacher. "Oh, I don't know about her!" Ari said with an impish grin. We all laughed and again I felt my tension evaporate until I was just having fun again.
After playing remarkably well and avoiding the wrath of the sectionleader we drove home and reflected on the events behind us. Ari was having the time of his life and became delirious and giddy with fatigue. At one point he took his violin out of the case and started playing hyper-fast jigs in the car, his bow bumping the soft ceiling. We laughed and sang and talked.
Inside I was cherishing the feeling of being back in my element: "I'm playing Beethoven again" I kept reminding myself as the words' euphoric effect had not yet worn off. Ari thought playing with a symphony was pretty "cool" and was glad he was giving it a try.
I thought of all the other musicians around the world who were on their way home from rehearsals and concerts, dog-tired and hopelessly broke, but content because they were feeding their souls. In the weeks to come our duo would run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, my son would nearly drive my husband batty with frustration and Ari would expose my car stereo to so-called music featuring indecent bodily noises, but it was all part of the musicians' experience.
It allowed me to play Beethoven again.
We cranked up the Zeppelin and air-guitared all the way back home through a light blizzard, enjoying every minute of the drive together.