OCEANSIDE — String players are a versatile bunch--malleable minstrels with dancing fingers and bouncing bows. The sort of folks you would expect could handle natural disasters or man-made messes without missing a beat.
Slithering up a string, shifting keys mid-measure, straddling a cello, commandeering a bow, even turning a page while playing an arpeggio. That's versatility.
It's not so surprising. After all, string players have survived childhood and music lessons--screeching away for hours in musty practice rooms, being dragged out to play before company, and, worse yet, enduring the taunts of ever-vigilant classmates.
Solving such problems builds versatility, too. Take playing in a community orchestra. You have to be ready to meet any challenge.
Not long ago, I faced such a challenge. During a performance of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" by MiraCosta Community College's North Coast Symphony, nature intervened in the form of one humongous, hairy, buzzing fly.
This intruder chose a particularly intricate passage to make his unwelcome entrance. Zooming across the stagelight glare, he landed squarely on my nose, and tap-danced his way across my cheek, as if knowing that both my hands were too busy with fingerboard and bow to swat him.
Realizing I'd have to take action, I began my attack. Trying to be inconspicuous, I whooshed a great gust of breath upward in the fly's direction. Undaunted, he skated across one eyeglass lens to the other, a black blur amid the parade of notes marching past on the page. Conscious of the sea of faces in the audience, I steeled myself against this annoying distraction, concentrated on the conductor's baton, and kept my fingers and arms moving at breakneck speed.
During a quarter-note rest, I stabbed at the fly with my bow, which fazed the determined insect not at all. It merely leaped from the bridge of my glasses to the body of my violin. At least it was off my face. I flipped to the next page as the fly continued its spirited investigation of my instrument.
The fly paused, as if mesmerized by the music, then hopped inside my instrument through the open F-hole scroll. As we whizzed into Copland's next passage with its dreaded five changes of key and seven different time signatures, I could hear sounds of the fly boomeranging off the inner walls of my violin. Zzzz-zz-thwunk!
Meanwhile, across the way, a cellist observed my plight as she counted her 20 measures of rest. Eyeing the space between us, she crossed her eyes in sympathy and shrugged helplessly.
Struggling to keep my first-stand composure, I fiddled away, trying to ignore the fly's frantic dive-bomb buzzing inside my instrument. In long years of playing the violin, I'd encountered some sticky wickets, but this was ridiculous. There I was, in full view of a room full of people, with pages and pages of notes to plow through and a hairy creature inside my violin.
Sweat began to pour down my nose and cheeks as I considered my options. I could sway eloquently with the music in hopes of making the fly seasick. I could shake the violin vigorously, dislodging the imprisoned fly. Or more boldly, I could roll up my music and swat away in earnest, thereby distressing my stand partner and everyone else on stage.
Just then, unable to bear the reverberations within, the dauntless critter staggered out of my violin. The fly crawled onto the tailpiece and prepared to soar upward to resume skittering across my eyebrows. Knowing that my next rest was three pages away, I daringly took a four-count break and brought my left hand down with a discreet whack. Bull's-eye! I regained my place and finished the piece, heart pounding, but fly-free.
When orchestra rehearsals resume this fall, I will return with renewed confidence, vigor and versatility. If I can survive a fly in my "Appalachian Spring," I can do anything.
I have to hand it to the fly. Ignoring concert protocol and appropriate decorum took guts. He gave his life for artistic inquiry.