Friday, May 22, 2009

Symphonic Thoughts

They used to rehearse in a Senior Citizen center in downtown Van Nuys, and in the summer of 1986 I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment on the same street that the orchestra rehearsed! I was extremely poor back then and so I decided not to get phone service. I used to have to walk to a payphone when I needed to make calls! (Anyone remember payphones? This was in the days of horses and buggies, of course, when I was young). One Tuesday night in the Fall of 1986 I was walking down the street to use a payphone when I heard an orchestra playing in the senior center. I knew it was the West Valley Symphony, and knew that they rehearsed there. I decided to walk into the room and listen for a few minutes, and as soon as I walked in, the principal oboe player began to jump up and down, pointing at me and excitedly talking to the other players. The wind manager at that time motioned for me to come over to him, and asked if I was available to play their upcoming concert! They were very unhappy with the bassoon player who they had subbing for their regular principal bassoonist. The regular, Sam Mood, it seemed, was actually very, very sick with a fairly new and deadly disease that had begun to ravage the homosexual population. Sam was gay. Sam was dying of AIDS.
This part of the story is very serious and tragic, of course. Sam never recovered and within months he passed away from the disease. And so it was that I became the principal bassoonist of the West Valley Symphony; I have remained in this position ever since.

Some random musings on my years with this orchestra, now called the San Fernando Valley Symphony, on the eve before our season finale for the 2008-2009 season , (a concert which will be attended by ten people I know from the Gay Christian Network):

I lived in a crazy, fun, music-filled house for 8 years with the long time principal clarinetist of the orchestra, my good friend Geoff Nudell, as my roommate! Geoff and I met on Freshman Orientation day in college, and were music majors at CSUN together. We called that house, "The Overture House", because Geoff's brother told him that is where the music was happening. Over-at-your house, you see. We lived there with some ghosts as well as with a succession of roommates in the downstairs room.

I lost my virginity with a violinist in the orchestra when I was 23, in the weeks following a romantic trip the orchestra made to Catalina Island where we played in the Avalon Ballroom. I basically met Marilyn while I was drunk, on the boat cruise home, when I spilled a drink on someone and she saw it and laughed! During the course of our little fling, she became convinced that I was gay. Hmm. Now, I’ve often wondered, due to the way things happened circumstantially, if I might have a child from her. That is all I’m going to say on the subject of Marilyn the violinist.

Members of the orchestra have included some of my very best friends, some of whom have moved on and no longer play with us. I lent emotional and psychological support to a good friend in the orchestra during a very difficult time in his life, way too much and way too personal to go into. Unfortunately he kind of never really recovered to be the person he used to be, and none of his old friends really see him anymore. I haven't seen him in years.

Drugs and alcohol abuse are simply part of my story. So the "war stories" about such things always come up. For several years, our principal horn player was the man who introduced me to the Grateful Dead. One time we took off immediately after a rare Thursday night orchestra concert and drove all night long to see the Dead in Oregon that weekend! Another time, on my 27th birthday, we saw the Dead play in the afternoon and played an orchestra concert that same night. Jon, my friend the horn player, took LSD at the Dead show and was tripping on it while he played our concert. He sounded better than ever, actually, so go figure. We were young! Oh, so young.

Which brings me to another time. I was 24 maybe, when I stayed up all night long on Crystal Meth, and then played a concert without ever having slept that night. I’ll never forget how hard it was to eat a Chicken Club from Carl’s Jr right before our pre-concert rehearsal! My jaw hurt so bad from all the clenching that drug makes one do. In the concert, there was this big bassoon solo that I played, and actually I saved Jim’s posterior because he tried to cue me in too early. But I’d spent that night before, high on speed, poring over the part and knew exactly where to come in and waited! So he went on and on about how I saved us from disaster by not coming in when he cued me! And here I was completely strung out.

We went to Big Bear to play a concert one time, and ate a huge dinner at the “all you can eat buffet” at the local Sizzler! My friend Jacques ate SO much, and got SO full that he could barely play! And he had a huge trombone solo in the Mozart Requiem!

Some members of the orchestra were among the first I came out to as being gay, when I finally accepted that fact.

I’ve been a featured soloist with the orchestra 4 times, two times as a singular soloist, once as part of a quartet of soloists, and once in a duet concerto with Geoff, my friend the principal clarinetist.

The last concert of each season usually is very close in proximity to my birthday. Sometimes it’s been on it, or right after, or right before. My 40th birthday was spent in a Tuesday evening orchestra rehearsal right before our season finale concert that year! That fact was part of what got in the way and kind of ruined the plans of a couple of friends who wanted to give me a big surprise party. (I’m still waiting for a surprise party some day. hehe).

The orchestra saw me go through the huge change in my life when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ in 2000, and then through more growth as I entered recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction through the program of AA. Which takes me back to the beginning, because my Gramma Audrey’s AA home group used to meet in that same senior center where the orchestra used to rehearse in the early days!

In closing, I guess I am struck as I recount all these memories, by the fact that this orchestra has been such a constant in my life! Through all these years and all these changes, it has remained a consistent part of my life. Five or more concerts a year. Year after year. Three Tuesday evenings of rehearsals before each concert. Sometimes concerts in the park in the Summer, sometimes providing the pit orchestra for musical theatre productions, sometimes accompanying the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas-time. This orchestra, this avenue of making music has been in my life for most of my adult life, from the time I was 22 until now at almost 45 years old! I still often take a moment during a rehearsal or concert to just look around, reflect, be grateful and appreciate the fact that God has allowed me to be a part of this, and to have the opportunity to get to have a place to consistently make music with an orchestra that really is excited about doing what we do! Our concerts always are such a satisfying and wonderful experience. May I never take that for granted.