Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guiltworks, plus an embarrassing story

Seems like an old friend (called here by the name "Oldfriend") has made a return to reading NAY. My my my, and all it took was throwing around a metric buttload of guilt in the not-a-meme post.

Because she was good enough to respond, and to comment (profusely!), I shall dedicate this post to her.

In a wayback post she asked me to tell stories of the time when she DIDN'T know me. This would be kind of hard, and also kind of easy. Kind of hard, because so many of my best stories come from when we were "real life" friends, inhabiting the same space. College and grad school will do that for you, as will living together for a year, during which time any number of significant others were entertained and shooed away, any numbers of jobs were taken and left, any number of days of yore floated by on a shoestring budget and a ton of imagination. We lived a lot during those years, let me tell you, and some of those moments stand out as some of my best stories ever.

But, finding a story to tell is also kind of easy, because, let's face it, a LOT of years have gone by since we last occupied approximately the same space, and I'm SURE things happened during that time that would cause me to spin a yarn or 12 about them. It's just that, well, things calmed down quite a bit not too long after we parted ways, being as how I got a real job and then got married and became kind of middle class within a couple of years.

However, I'm wracking the memory database for something story-ish to tell, because this is the post that's dedicated to to Oldfriend, and it needs to be worthy of the attribution.

There's only one thing to do then, and that's to tell a music story.


The first job I had after leaving grad school (but before finishing my thesis, which is a story of procrastination that could make your hair curl) was at the University of Virginia, doing "bench science" for a new PI (principal investigator) who was starting up his lab. I believe I've told the story of HOW I got that job before, so won't go into it now.

Working at UVa necessitated, or so I thought, that I move from my comfortable home and environs in the college town in which I'd been living for several years. (Funny now that I commute daily a distance of nearly that which prompted me to MOVE all those years ago. I just thought it was much too far to drive every day). With the moving came a sudden alienation, the swift removal from everything I'd become accustomed to was shocking....no more friends, no more restaurant job, no more school, no more teaching.

It was weird, and isolating. If didn't help that I had rented a small house next to a dry-cleaning factory (p.o.s.h., for sure), thinking that I wanted peace and quiet and most certainly did NOT want to share an apartment building with a bunch of college kids. There were a couple of houses of renters right in front of and next to my house, and so I thought I'd have plenty of company if I wanted it.

Funny thing though....between having to work all day and having to keep up with house stuff most of the rest of the time, I didn't get out much to meet these people. They kept grad school schedules, which is to say, they were erratic in their behavior, even though they were not in grad school, not a one of them, which I found out much later and is a story for another day.

So, between the "no friends" thing and the "everybody I work with is hooked up with someone so finding a boyfriend is out" thing and the "they don't pay me for shit" thing, my social life was pretty thin at first. Therefore, I did the only thing that made sense at the time: I auditioned for the school symphony.

"But you weren't IN school there, Tiff!" I hear you say, and you would be right. However, because UVa, while a fine school, isn't necessarily a MUSIC school, the folks in the music department were good enough to allow local talent in to fill the ranks. I auditioned, and got second chair. Not bad! A ringer was brought in to fill the first position, at least for a while, until for some reason or another she couldn't do the second concert of the season, when I was asked to play first chair to fill in temporarily.

Let me say this right now, because it cannot be said often enough: I am not a first horn player. Believe me when I say this. High notes are a persistent bother to me, and first chair parts are all about the high notes. And the solos. Which also are a bother to me. I prefer to be less, um, exposed.

Despite my hesitation and unease, I accepted the opportunity, thinking "how hard can it be? I've played a LOT of classical repertoire in my day, and with enough practice can at least be comfortable with the parts, if not wholly proficient" therefore buoying my self-esteem with a foolhardy bravado. I was confident, eager to meet the challenge.

Until Shostakovitch was plopped onto my stand.

Well, butter my behind and call me a biscuit.......if it ain't modern music! And if it ain't a piece I've never heard. And if it ain't completely atonal. And if it ain't utterly incomprehensible to the rest of the orchestra too.

Let me put it this way - if I'm ever in Hell's orchestra (likely a "when" statement, not an "if"), I expect to have to play this piece, over and over and over. This piece, and the Macarena. Though eternity.

WEEKS of practice went by, and at least I was able to keep with the conductor as to PLACE in the music. Interestingly, by so doing I was head and shoulders above of at least half the orchestra's capabilities. I had no indication, though, that I was playing anywhere near the right notes. I simply pressed the keys that were to have MADE the proper notes, and blew into the horn, hoping against all hope that what was coming out was the right thing. I sounded abysmal, at least to my way of thinking, and despite repeated practices never sounded any better. I remained lost in a sea of clattering, honking, bleating instruments, trying to keep my little boat on course and praying for safe harbor.

To this day I can't remember if we actually PLAYED that piece in a concert, or if I left Charlottesville before the concert was to take place; the experience was that horrible. I just know that I'm positive that I never, ever played that piece correctly, not even once.

At least I think so. Who can tell with modern "classical" music? Certainly not me.


There you go, Oldfriend - a piece of my past that you didn't know about. A dirty little secret of my failure.

You're welcome.

Now, y'all - feel free to tell me about a time with you "faked it" through some performance or another (and leave sex out of it, because we've all been there, done that), and not had anyone but YOU know that you were faking. Tell a tale of subterfuge so panic-infused that it's possible that you actually did the thing right, even when you thought you were doing it wrong.....

You have my deepest thanks for so doing.

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