Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rehearsal and Lunch (Ch.8 Pt.2)

J. Frederick Müller stood on the orchestra podium, arms outstretched like an exotic bird poised for flight. The baton trembled in his thick hand, for Mr. Müller was plagued by stage fright. He was more at ease as president of Scherl & Roth, as an orchestral arranger, and part-time journalist for Orchestra News. Beads of perspiration dotted his forehead. As nervous as Müller was, I bordered on frantic. The violin bow skipped along the strings in a flying staccato during the backstage tuning. My mother sat in the audience in rapt attention with the score to the "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" propped open in her lap. On stage, I closed my eyes to calm down and concentrate.

Mr. Müller tapped the music stand twice with his baton to start the Introduction.  The orchestra of high-schoolers began at an agonizingly slow pace. I lowered my violin, and tucked it under my arm.  
"Please, Mr. Müller. Can you move the tempo along?" I asked with trepidation.
Mr. Müller nodded and continued to beat time in four, though the opening was marked in two. He hadn't heard me.
 "Mr. Müller—" I repeated.
"What's that? You said something, Marjorie?" The orchestra sputtered to a near standstill.
"We seem to be apart—somehow," I whispered.
Mr. Müller shushed the orchestra. He scratched his large head, and peered over the score; his horn-rimmed glasses had slid midway to his nose.
"The introduction is too slow," I explained with added conviction. "It feels—"
I hesitated.
"Yes, Marjorie. Do speak up."
"Well, kind of static."
"Oh, why of course," Müller replied, taking a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and furiously wiping the sweat from his face.
"Boys and girls, listen carefully. Our young soloist, Marjorie, requests a faster tempo. Watch me, please. Always, always follow my stick."
A violist hiccuped loudly and all the children laughed. Mr. Müller tapped the music stand with fervor.
"Shhh, boys and girls. Let us begin from the top."

Plunk, plunk went the strings, in an unsteady cascade of pizzicato that sounded more like the clattering of skeletal bones.
Müller's tempo remained the same stultifying slow.
"Follow me, follow me," he shouted at the players while shaking his baton. "The stick, the stick. Watch."
I stomped to quicken the pace. Adrenalin caused my heart to pound, and my fingers to fly. The orchestra straggled to keep up. J. Frederick Müller looked faint, as if he needed a supply of oxygen. Perspiration soaked his shirt, and I could hear him wheeze during a Grand Pause, which led to a sequence of three note chords that I tossed off with abandon. Certainly, I had played the final section of the piece faster than all my peers at Meadowmount. Even Lynn Chang!
I finished a whole bar before the orchestra. The young players tapped their bows on the music stands, and cheered. Mr. Müller gulped air, and gestured to the orchestra that the rehearsal had ended.

"Bravo!" shouted my mother from the back of the hall. She had been listening for acoustical balance.
With the Saint-Saëns score in her hands, she walked briskly towards the lip of the stage. I stood and waited for her verdict.
My mother looked up and gave me a wink.
"You're a marvelous conductor, Fred."
He wiped his brow. "Aw, you're just being nice, Frances. I didn't really do anything at all. Just trying to keep up with your daughter and her fast tempi. Whew!"
"No, really," insisted my mother. "You have that certain—something. I've watched other conductors.
None of them have what you have—"
Mr. Müller grinned. The color had returned to his face. He tucked the score into his briefcase and snapped it shut.
"Shall we have ourselves some lunch at the hotel, ladies?"

♪ ♩ ♪

At the Ramada Inn lounge Fred Müller ordered a deluxe patty melt with steak fries and a Heinekin.  
"You deserve a hearty meal, Fred. Eat, enjoy. Conducting burns lots of calories, I'm sure."
"Why yes, Frances. Did you know orchestra conductors enjoy the longest life expectancy?"
"Really? Maybe I should learn to conduct—," my mother said, sipping Sanka.
Mr. Müller laughed. "Frannie, you're a charming woman. Why, that husband of yours, John. He's a lucky, lucky fellow."
My mother put down her cup, lowered her eyes, and fingered a blonde wig hair.
"Anyway, as I was saying. Arturo Toscanini lived to be around ninety years old. Pierre Monteux, Sir George Solti, Ernest Ansermet —all managed long, productive lives. We conductors have a way of fending off the grim reaper, I suppose." He laughed at his own wit.
"Marjorie, dear, you've been so—so quiet. Were you not satisfied with today's rehearsal?"
I looked at him cautiously, without saying a word.
"Did you feel the Rondo went smoothly? Do you have any musical concerns or issues you'd like to discuss?"  
"It was—fine." I picked at my tuna salad.
Translation: Müller, your beat is insufferably slow and erratic, and an accompanist you're not. Is there a God, because if so, I'm praying that we'll make it through this concert without a train wreck. 

"Why, you must be a finicky eater," said Mr. Müller, polishing off his glass of Heineken.
"She watches her diet," insisted my mother. "A young girl must look absolutely flawless for the camera and stage."
"Is that right Frances?"
"Then Marjorie takes after you. You're flawless, Fran."
 My mother crouched over her hot drink, and ripped open a package of Saltines.
"Tell me, Fred. Will there be many prominent individuals attending this Sunday's concert? You know, anyone who might have an impact on my Marjorie's future?"
Mr. Müller thought for a while. "I'm quite certain there'll be an audience of highly esteemed individuals. Instrumentalists from all over the country attend Enid's annual Tri-State Music Festival. Why, they typically host 14,000 students from schools across the nation. I understand that the American Brass Quintet will be featured at the Grand Concert, too, alongside Marjorie. They're terrific, Frances."
"Yes. The trumpeter from that group is New York Phil's youngest player— just a kid 24 or 25 years old.
I think his name is Gerald Schwarz. I'd love to introduce him to Marjorie. I've heard that he's an up and coming—" 
"You don't say," said my mother, biting into a Saltine.
photo of Mr. Müller, my mother and me 1973