It is at this time of the year that I veer between moments of oh-no-I-just-want-to-run-away-and-join-the-circus-or-something-more-peaceful-like-that and moments when I am very grateful to lead the life I do. Twenty-five years ago, I was convinced that I would not be happy unless I was playing with one of the world's great orchestras or chamber groups, but now I'm not sure that it would have been such a great thing after all.
Last week I had a gig playing for a 70th birthday party with my string quartet. When I was younger, it was very easy to be cynical about these gigs, but now I am older and, of course, infinitely wiser, it can be a joy to know that we are contributing to an occasion such as this. The birthday girl was blind and a lover of the Merry Widow so I had made a bit of an effort, in the knowledge, that, unlike most background gigs, there was a good chance that someone would actually be listening. I'd managed to source an arrangement of waltzes from the Merry Widow for the occasion, which we sight-read in the half dark, whilst desperately trying to hear each other over the chat, but it can't have been too bad, as we had people waltzing along with the music, or grabbing the microphone to join in with their own rendition of “Vilia.” That sort of thing definitely gives one a warm fuzzy feeling. And what better way to finish a gig then down the local fish and chip shop with a bottle of red?
Then on Saturday, I had a Christmas concert for the community orchestra for which I am concertmaster. The St Lucia Orchestra is a lovely orchestra with a huge variety of people - ex-professional musicians, students, teachers, lawyers, mothers, optometrists, doctors, scientists, even our own High Court judge! We tend to play lighter music - popular classics and film music, stuff like that. I had been hoping that Lydia, my ten year old, would grace us with her presence at the concert, but at the last moment, she decided to go to a soccer match with her older siblings and father.
"Are you sure, Lydia?" I asked in astonishment. "Remember that you hate soccer and the last time we went to watch the Roar, you spent the first half reading and the second half trying to get me to play I Spy when I was trying to watch?"
"I know Mummy, but I have decided that I need to expand my range of knowledge and experience," she replied. Okay then.
The occasion was a Christmas concert to raise funds for the church whose hall we use to rehearse in - a church which has no air con and proved to have no air at all, in fact - walking into it was like walking into a sauna. But in spite of the heat, the bass players and the flautists still wore furry Santa hats and our conductor wore full jacket and tie. It was one of those concerts where you have to employ the “snake” move - a sinuous movement required when one is asked by the conductor to stand for applause and one has to get to one's feet as gracefully as possible, whilst peeling one's skirt from one's sweat soaked legs as discreetly as one can. The audience sat on the hard wooden pews, gamely fanning themselves throughout, but they seemed to enjoy it, joining in with the carols with slow gusto. From my point of view, I was quite pleased as I realised, as I walked on stage, that I had forgotten my performance enhancing drugs – beta blockers - but I still managed to get through the Thais Meditation without falling in a heap, in spite of the fact that I had one of my pupils sitting right in front of me, making me even more nervous! Even better than that, I scored a bottle of pink champagne at the party afterwards, via the incomparable violist, Anna Jack.
The following evening was a concert playing for the Brisbane Concert Choir. The orchestra wasn't required for the first half, so we actually got to listen, which made a nice change, especially as it was Britten's Ceremony of Carols. Now, I realise that this is probably a hanging offense, if not a hanging, drawing and quartering offence, but I'm afraid I don't particularly get Britten's music on the whole. HOWEVER, the ceremony of carols is one of my all time favourite pieces of music and if you don't know it, than your life is but a pale shadow of what it could be. Unless you are Steve Kershaw.
I had never heard this piece sung by an adult choir with the addition of basses and tenors - it was originally written for a boys choir of trebles and altos - and though there were bits of it that didn't work brilliantly in this format, the choir still did a wonderful job and it was glorious to sit and listen for a change. As for the second half of the concert - the part where I was involved - well, I was leading the second violins for a change and it put me in mind of my all time favourite Facebook Meme - "I know, I will write a nice melody for the second violins," said no composer ever. The surreal highlight of the concert was the penultimate piece, Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. It was performed with much glee and joie de vivre with children doing the conga up and down the aisles of the church, the choir, their faces glistening with sweat, singing at full throttle: “Outside it's snowing and friends are calling...it's lovely weather, for a sleigh ride together...”
Next week, I have a performance with Beatlemania at the Concert Hall in the Southbank, with Queensland Pops Orchestra, (where we get to play all the original Beatles arrangements, woohoo!) and then the week after that, there will be a couple of performances of the Messiah at the Baptist Tabernacle, otherwise known as The Hottest Place on Earth. This brings an end to a year of performing with a huge variety of people, amongst others - The King's Singers, Michael Bolton, Burt Baccharach (of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head fame - I didn't even know he was still alive until we were booked to do the gig) and Troy Caser Daly ( HUGE country and Western star for ignorant non Aussies - and a very nice bloke with a weird taste in shirts).
And though I am currently feeling jealous of all my friends who teach at private schools and have therefore finished for the year, I am still enjoying my pupils who I will be teaching for another two weeks. Though it can get frustrating sometimes when kids come for lessons who are too tired and haven't practiced for heaven knows how long, nothing can beat moments like last week, when a little girl, who has been very unconfident to date, gave a twirl of excitement at having mastered Perpetual Motion and an eleven year old boy gave me my Christmas present two weeks early, just because he wanted to. I will miss them all over the holidays.
And of course I still get to take my kids to school and pick them up and even homeschool them if the occasion requires. So really, all in all, when I'm not having a nervous breakdown, I'm grateful for my profession.
I earn diddly squat, of course, but never mind...
I earn diddly squat, of course, but never mind...
Ps And apparently Whittards is still up and running after all! I don't know who spread that evil rumour!