The War

1 03 2009

Yesterday, The Orchestra had its last weekend rehearsal before our 5th anniversary concert, which we’ve called Songs of Fire, Songs of Light. Oh, before I continue, the concert is this Saturday, March 7, 6PM at the Philam Life Theatre in Ermita, Manila. Tickets go for 150 each, no reserved seating.

People started arriving at rehearsal at the shocking time of 830AM – the only person who’s done that with any regularity these past 10 months is…uh…me. My theory is that the musicians are getting nervous.

We’ve never played through the entire program before, and believe me, it is exhausting work. After going through three or four pieces straight, the musicians started to accompany their “in-between pieces” slouch with “I’m getting tired” sighs. We have to play 14 pieces in total (16, if you count the movements of the Violin Concerto as separate pieces). You could literally hear the quality of the sound start to drop as the hours wore on.

We had made it to the 6th piece in the first half of the program when we hit a major snag – the first violins were not playing an important melody correctly. It took us almost an hour of work to get it right – during which I steadily grew more and more impatient and frustrated with them.

You see, the first violins are the crown of The Orchestra – they’re the best we have to offer, having studied the longest and therefore are capable (theoretically) of playing the most difficult parts (the ones that usually leave the novice musician in a state of utter bewilderment). As a result, they are very often entrusted with the melody – something every section craves to play – and are expected to play the melody in such a way that they leave people swooning in the aisles. Well, nobody was swooning.

I confess that after the 25th or so vain repetition, I lost it and lashed out at their lack of unity, their lack of concern for their section, for their family, so to speak. I told them that they didn’t even know the favorite color of their stand partners – so little was their concern for one another. I called out (none-too-gently) Sharie and Ashley and Danielle – ladies who’s in-school personalities are the stuff of legend, yet who for some reason could not find the conviction to correct the section they belonged to.

Eventually, I realized that repetition was useless: I had to pick up a violin and go through the process of teaching them the simplest bowing at the slowest comprehensible tempo and slowly working our way to performance speed. The Concertmaster was in tears by the time I dismissed them for lunch and she promptly left in a huff. Those that stayed, I treated to a modest lunch where I tried to give them a crash course on what it means to be family – part of which was being unafraid to tell each other what we felt about them while trusting that none of it was being done out of malice. Sharie had to face comments about how everyone perceived her to be an expensive china doll; Ashley had to deal with her somewhat tactless way with words. In the end, I hope everyone learned that nobody gets to choose who’s family they belong to – but families still look out for one another, even if they don’t feel like doing so.

Later that evening, The Orchestra performed at The Pergola, a small mall in a nearby subdivision – one of our sponsors for next Saturday’s concert.

The same thing happened: we were pretty good at the start, but by the time we got to the percussion-heavy pieces, things started to go downhill. Turns out nobody could hear anybody while we played – the percussionists thought they were really pounding out the notes, but they hardly made a bump on the sonic radar from where I was conducting (and I was only five meters away!). The violins sounded as if they had all forgotten to take-off their mutes, but they were all complaining how nobody else seemed to be playing. Tempos were ignored, cues were missed (the flutes kept coming in a beat late)…in general, it was a very sober, somewhat depressed orchestra that sat down to its sponsored dinner afterwards.  Su A, one of our keyboardists, commented rightly that we sounded better during rehearsal. Ashley spoke of wanting to go home and kill herself.

Of course, the disappointment didn’t last long among the younger members – they hit the arcade so fast and hard, they were (foolishly) leaving cellphones and wallets on their chairs and leaving us adults to mind them (of all the cheek!).

A few parents came by though – it’s always nice to see the way they smile after watching their children perform.

As for me, well…I had a hard time sleeping later that night – I would shut my eyes and immediately, I’d be back on the podium, cringing as I hear one of the violins play slightly out of tune. And yet, I’ve never felt so close, so with The Orchestra before – it was as if we had indeed become family overnight.

Onstage, whether in rehearsal or in performance, we are family – we’ve been through too much for too long to be anything else. We watch out for one another, we care for one another, we love on another; Everything else – pride, ego, accomplishments in other fields – they all get left behind.

The stage is our battlefield – the performance is our war.




2 responses

1 03 2009

They just might be a little anxious since the big day is coming.. but what do I know. Good luck with the upcoming concert. Break a leg or two… and don’t forget the documentation! =p

1 03 2009

on my way home i was humming the “funeral march” (-_-)sigh…

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