Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This is completely non-music related

This has to do with what's been going on in my house for the past few days. None of it involves the viola, which I haven't touched except for a rehearsal on Monday evening.

My husband and I decided a while back (like when we first moved in) to have proper ceramic tiles laid in the bathrooms and the kitchen. Finally, we got our act together, got measurements done, picked tile, etc. We booked the tilers to come on Monday. And they did, and they got right to work.

They crack me up; it's a total good cop, bad cop scenario. The first of the two men is very polite, quiet, respectful. The second has the mouth of a sailor and talks to me like I'm severely mentally handicapped, explaining the most basic things about plumbing and carpentry to me ("water comes through these pipes and out through the tap"). Not that it's relevant, but I'm not sure that he realizes that I installed several of our light fixtures and (along with a good deal of assistance) installed taps in two bathrooms, have fixed our toilets on more than one occasion, not to mention a good deal of other reno work. Somehow, in this man's mind, these are impossibilities. It could be that the tiny feminist in me is getting my back up and seeing sexism where there is none; I'm perfectly aware that there's a reason for the term "handyMAN" and I have no problem with that. I just pride myself on basic comprehension that gravity + water + leaky whatever = wet floor.

He also said something the other day about my husband going off to "make money," which cracked me up. I think that my being home during the day serves as evidence that I am a pampered, non-working, bonbon-eating lazy person who is spoiled by her hard-working husband. Adorable. If only it were so.

He has real anger issues---my husband came home the other day and saw the guy throw one of the tiles with such energy that he managed to break one of the tiles that he'd just laid, which then meant of course that he had to tear it up and replace it. His outbursts (generally a result of something he's done) are along the lines of "Mother******* sonofabitch Jesus ****ing what the ****," well, you get the idea....and they occur about once every five minutes.

Naturally, being a tiler, he knows everything about plumbing. So he pointed out to me on day one that there were leaks, one in a shut-off valve on our pedestal sink (yes, I realized that when I turned it off, disconnected it and it leaked, which is why I then reconnected it, but thanks for the enlightenment) and one on a toilet valve. Somehow the two guys managed to work around it. I shut off the water source so that the drips could be kept to a minimum and we kept various receptacles under the leaks so they wouldn't ruin everyone's lives.

The next day, they came in again and unfortunately for me, the poet laureate shut off the water himself, even after I'd asked them to let me know if they needed anything. He didn't ask me where the correct valve was. I think you can see where this is going. And at the end of the day, half our laundry room was flooded. He'd somehow shut off a different valve from the one I'd used, which then spewed water all over the corner of the room. And when I'd dealt with the aftermath and corrected the valve, I realized that our hot water is now...not. so. hot. In fact, it comes out hot for a few seconds then returns to a very tepid state. I have no idea why this would be the case; all I know is that, until that happy little man laid his hands on my water heater, it worked just great.

Today someone will come and grout the final bathroom. It may or may not be the same men. I'm really hoping it's not so that I can just call their boss directly and explain the issue.

Ah, the joys of home ownership.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Orchestra viola-ing

I've been rehearsing for a few upcoming performances in a section of 8 violas, which is a lot of fun. It's nice to be a ringer sometimes and sit at the back.

A few things hit me whenever I play in a section or with a symphony orchestra. I'm well aware that job satisfaction has long since been low for orchestral players, and much higher for chamber players, and I see evidence of it everywhere. I don't even know where to begin. All the people I've met in this particular gig are perfectly nice, but I don't see a lot of laugh lines. There are certain tendencies among orchestral musicians, and while I hate to generalize, I think that it's valid to say that there's a certain amount of artistic freedom/control that one loses in that setting, particularly for section string players. We become filler, somehow. So we seek to express ourselves in other ways, and when various aspects of the our musical realm become compromised, we rebel.

Things often appear to bother orchestral musicians with tenure that wouldn't bother a freelancer, who might resist rocking the boat, quite so much. Like missing 10 seconds of one's break to continue a musical phrase to its completion. And that sort of thing. The forest disappears for the trees and tiny issues can become Himalayan in dimension.

People in the middle of the section will turn around, insistent that they make sure that the stand behind them received the message that there should be a line over the quarter note G in measure 57. Or that there be a natural marked over the 14th 16th note in measure 32, even if no one played it incorrectly to begin with. And so on. It's almost like micromanagement becomes a way of life because how else do we get to speak out? Musicians naturally perform; we long to prove ourselves and to show the world what we can do, or something along those lines. At any rate, we perform; we are trained to perform. It's hard to feel that you're doing that that when there are 7 or more people sitting around you, playing the same notes at the same dynamic as you.

The beautiful thing about being in a quartet is that you can pretty well always voice your opinions. And you get to control pretty much all of what you're doing; obviously the rest of the group has input but your musical lines, your sound, your instrument are ultimately your own.

I'm trying to be diplomatic here. When I was younger it seemed to me that the ultimate would be to win a job in an orchestra and stay there forever, and now that idea's entirely lost its appeal. But that has nothing to do with music or the hierarchy of musicians, if there is such a thing; it's simply personal preference. I have a high regard for orchestral musicians and I don't want to come off in any sort of snotty way, or to fail to convey how much enjoyment I derive from playing orchestral works. All I know is that I hope that I never cease to enjoy what I'm doing or get caught up in the trivial details, and that seems common among orchestral players. As I've mentioned before, there's a lot of complaining about the gig, the conductor, the pay, the concert hall, the other musicians, etc.

Just to provide examples of the strange and high-strung manifestations of not-quite-happiness that I've witnessed over the years in orchestral settings:

I've been barked at in orchestras for the following: my case was too big and it bothered the extremely ornery oboist, who made me put it backstage (this was during a rehearsal). She was afraid that it might eventually touch something belonging to her. She told me that I should buy a smaller case. Funnily enough, I eventually did. Not sure if she had anything to do with it. I'm now back to a monster case.

A stand partner once slapped my hand because she felt that I was going to turn the page prematurely.

Another stand partner, in a section which I was leading, erased all my bowings in front of my eyes in the Marriage of Figaro Overture, and said, "I've been playing it my way for forty years and that's how I'm going to play it now."

I've had my section ask me to move more, to cue every note, to stop moving, to not be so tall, you name it. I've been lectured by stand partners on my playing volume, articulation, aforementioned page turning skills. I was once told by a woman in an amateur orchestra that I would never be able to make a living as a musician, since, as she put it, she couldn't.

I was told, after playing an audition and "tying" for the job (meaning that only one of the two of us would ultimately get it but we both still had to sit through a month-long trial first, just to make sure our ulcers were well-developed), that the only issue with the audition was that my sound wasn't big enough and they wanted someone who could "cover up" the lesser players in the section. That was disheartening a) because I never thought I'd have a job that consisted of playing so loudly that I would entirely swallow up some poor soul's sound, and b) because that wasn't what I thought I was auditioning for.

And I'm not entirely sure why all these things have happened or why I find them so amusing still. And maybe they're not typical occurences, but I rather think they are. And I think that musicians forget why they're musicians with far too much frequency.

To quote a cute little 90-pound model on television the other day, "Find a job you love doing and you'll never work a day in your life." I think that's always been my mantra---I just didn't know it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


is here for sure. I drove downtown (Toronto) today to play a gig. Had I not had to leave the house, I would've happily stayed in and avoided the amazing wealth of slipperiness out there. It was really something; I pride myself on being a true Canadian; I drive like a fiend and refuse to get stuck but my little car was simply unwilling to tackle the uphill skating rink road conditions. And yet, I survived. I'll check on the viola soon and see if it's in one piece; its strings have been flying out of tune in shock and horror at the weather. I think it must be its youthful naiveté that makes it so vulnerable to this cold.

I haven't been practicing as much as I should but I have forced myself to pull out the ol' excerpts. I haven't played an orchestral audition in years and don't know if I ever will again, but I do find that excerpts are a quick and efficient way of getting myself into shape. A combo Brahms Haydn Variations/Don Juan/Marriage of Figaro/Beethoven 5 sort of set seems to cover my trouble areas. Kind of like wearing a muumuu, I guess.

I find it terrifically difficult to meet goals if I don't set them so I've decided that some solo work and the excerpts will be my target for the near future. The Quartet's functioning but we're sort of moving in slow motion as we're tackling more admin work than playing at the it's to each his own in terms of personal playing maintenance.

off to play some orchestra concerts this week; Enigma Variations and Saint-Saens Violin Concerto, among other'll be nice being in a section. Maybe I'll re-learn how to be a stand partner...

Thursday, November 15, 2007


a whole lot of good getting in touch with radio people does. Same thing yesterday; I pull into Loblaws, sit and wait for the end of mvt. 3 of the Sinfonia Concertante (they always seem to recycle the same recordings and I was quite sure that this was Vengerov again) and sure enough, as I shook my fist in haughty rage, "That was Maxim Vengerov leading the pack in Mozart's yadda yadda yadda."

I give up.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Just a quickie then I'm off to watch Hot Fuzz.

So the other day I finally snapped and sent a snarky email off to a local radio station which shall remain nameless, but rhymes with Shlassical Shlinety Shix Shoint Shree. They keep labelling themselves "The NEW Classical blahblahblah" but in actual fact, they're recycling all the same old tunes and habits as ever. They were recently acquired by a local tv and radio mogul and, I suppose that with the reduction in Classical programming on CBC radio's part, I had high hopes for a shift in programming and general thinking. Silly, stupid me.

What finally cheesed me off irreparably was that, in the car a few days back, I heard part of the Sinfonia Concertante (the Mozart, the one with violin and viola soloists---this is relevant) and sat there, waiting to hear who was playing, when I could've been in the grocery store. The movement ended and lo, "That was Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, performed by Maxim Vengerov." BEAUTIFUL.

That was it; I'd had it. I was sick of tuning in and hearing Strauss waltzes, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the bloody first movement of the bloody Moonlight Sonata repeatedly, but to add insult to injury, the implication that there was only a violin soloist in the Mozart? And the failure to mention the violist?


I think I got particularly uppity because it was most likely an acquaintance of mine playing, the significant other of a good friend living in England. Also, I play the viola and to imply that there is no viola solo part...well, crap.

So I finally wrote in.

It is completely contrary to my nature to write letters of complaint, but man, did that chap my ass.

The end.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I dunno about this National Blog Posting Month thing, seeing as I'm not entirely sure how committed I am to the upkeep of this puppy in the first place. But at the very least I'll think about it. If everyone's posting daily blogs for a month, who the hell will read them?

I changed the background colour today, having realized that funky white font on black causes me hallucinogenic episodes.

Had a meeting today with the bulk of the quartet and a couple of very helpful women who have a lot of experience with fundraising and organizations that are not-for-profit. I'm adverse to the idea of going that route (not the fundraising; the profit thing) because of all the extraneous work involved. Of course, if one wants to raise funds, trying to convince someone to give you money without hope of a tax receipt is a Sisyphian task, I'm sure. But I'm not certain that any quartets are non-profit and I have a real feeling that there's a reason for that.

I read an article a few years back on the difference between funding of arts organizations in Canada and in the U.S., and until recently, if not still, a big difference was that donations in the States were tax-deductible if made to an arts organization. Okay, I just looked it up. You can donate to the National Endowment for the Arts, and there's a group called "Fractured Atlas" to whom one can donate. They spread their funds to artists to keep them working. Both are, naturally, U.S. organizations, and there are many more with similar mission statements.

Here's the thing: in Canada, we can apply for grants. And those are terrifically limited, particularly if one is NOT a not-for-profit. So forget about operating funds and the like; basically if you're in a string quartet, you have to find other ways to make ends meet. There's a reason that most successful quartets function through residences and teaching situations, or name themselves after major corporations. I'm still hoping that we'll end up being the Tampax Quartet.

I don't begrudge anyone the lack of funding; I understand that being in a quartet's much like saying "I'm gonna be a pop star;" it's rare that one can make a go of it. Most string players, at some point or other, want to play chamber music. Many would kill for an opportunity to get paid JUST to play chamber music. I mean that literally; I'm pretty sure I know some violinists who have killed people. So I'm never surprised at the lack of work and funds and the concert series, particularly the high-profile ones, who offer very little in the way of remuneration, knowing that any half-witted musician will happily jump at the chance to perform in a great festival or venue. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I typically lose income every time I play a concert. However I'm bloody lucky; as I've mentioned I play and play and that's all I do for a living, and somehow it works.

I do wish that things worked a little differently here; I wish that donations to independent arts organizations, particularly ones that would love to be able to put on educational concerts, were tax-deductible. I think it would seriously help out the somewhat dwindling Classical music scene in this land.

Maybe tomorrow I'll write about the email I recently sent to a local radio station, speaking of the music scene...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


is today. Not that that means anything, other than bracing myself for the onslaught of resistance to 1/2 price candy in the days to come. Our doorbell doesn't work and you have to pound pretty hard on the entrance to our fortress of solitude (we live on the 2nd to 4th floors of a stacked townhouse) in order that we actually hear you so it's unlikely that we'll be terribly hospitable tonight.

My cat just leapt up onto my lap, only he didn't really---he ended up ricocheting with a sickening thud back to the floor as his little furry noggin collided with my rather bony elbow. It took a while but I got him to accept that these things happen and now he's learned to embrace the pain and lie like a warm puddle of goo on my lap. Sometimes the hardness of animals' skulls thrills and amazes me.

But back to the land of music---newest developments: I had a call to go out and play Brahms in Nova Scotia. Alas, it will not happen for various reasons. Also, my quartet's been asked to go to New Delhi, India in January to play what amounts to a very odd gig but I will say that, if they give in to our outrageous demands, we'll be on the plane. Details will follow either way.

It's been 3 days since I was last at work and I'm already officially bored. Which means that the proper routine of practice and working out (which I do religiously anyhow...the latter, that is) must begin post haste.

I'm not at all good at sitting around, but I'm trying hard not to accept gigs that will take me out of town, at least not for a while. For 6 months of the year I spend very little time at home and it's nice to get back to a point where we can eat real food and I can catch up on things that have long been delayed, such as taxes, bills and cleaning. Oh, the cleaning. I need little yet I have everything. I'm a musician so I'm not sure how it is that I have, literally, every material object that I could want. In fact, more than I want. If anyone wants to come rummage through my belongings and take many, many things away, they're most welcome.

I've been listening to a couple of recent recordings of our quartet; I tend to record a lot, whether it be my practicing, rehearsals, concerts, whatever, particularly since I bought a new viola a year ago and am still working out its kinks---or rather, my kinks. I had my first viola from age 16 til last year, when I turned 34. That's a long relationship. I loved it and it got me through a lot; it did well in audition land and blended great in quartetville. But the general complaint was that it didn't provide enough dynamic range (read: I didn't provide enough dynamic range), so when a friend of mine started turning out monster violas, I jumped on one. It really blows my mind; it actually hurts my left ear sometimes with the volume that can be extracted from this beast, but in a good way.

So I've been listening, trying to work out what I need to improve. I have to say that a different instrument can really shift one's perspective and change one's priorities---but it can also change one's life. I am now a better player, and I now sympathize all the more with students. When I sit and say, "Here, try doing x and y and getting sound xy," and they try and I realize that the hardware they're dealing with is inadequate, I understand so well why so many of us struggle to win jobs out of school.