Sunday, October 10, 2004

The rich life of a free-lance viola player...

The life of a free-lance violist in this city is unpredictable and occasionally exciting. Certainly the money or security of the work is nowhere close to that enjoyed by a full-time violist in a major symphony orchestra. The major Orchestra in this town (which is considered to be "second tier") , for example, pays its section string players around sixty thousand dollars a year. And that is the starting salary. When I play a free-lance job , I am lucky to come away with 200 dollars. That is on a good day. And this only happens once or twice a month. But the lack of financial reward suffered by the free-lance musician is more than made up for by the quirky experiences that often often come about in our insecure and ill-paid occupation.

The past two weeks offer three good examples of this. I played three jobs. And
all three were, for different reasons, a bit quirky.

Job #1: played in a "pick-up" orchestra that backed up a group of prominant pop musicians from Mexico. The concert was devoted to the music of Augistin Lara.

Job #2: played in the viola section of a suburban Symphony orchestra. The concert was devoted to 19th century Russian music.

Job #3 : played fiddle tunes during the cocktail hour that preceded a square dance sponsered by a local Episcopalian Church with my friend "Joe Fingers"...a splendid guitarist. We played a set of English Country Dances in a "country and western style" (to more fit in with the "square dance theme" of the evening.) I'm glad the English County Dance Society wasn't there to hear the performance. They would have taken care of us in short order; charging us with high crimes against musical style and, after the execution, lodging our sorry bones under the back porch of the venerable church in which we had lately commited our musical and stylistic crimes.

I'll reflect on these three jobs in the next few blogs.


Saturday, October 02, 2004

Mr. Perlman's half-sized violin...

Recently a friend sent me an interesting article about Chicago's Fine Arts Building. I have visited this venerable pile on Michigan Avenue many times; on the 11th floor is a music store that specializes in early music editions. Many happy hours have been spent in that shop browsing through shelf upon shelf of music from obscure Dutch, German and English publishers of 16th and 17th century music (always followed by a wonderful Thai meal at a place just around the corner.)

One anecdote from the article recounted the remarkable story of George Perlman, a noted (and long-lived) violin teacher who had, for seventy -four years, rented studio space in the Fine Arts Building. When he was 99, he applied to the building's owner for another five-year lease. The owner, perhaps as optimistic as Mr. Perlman, agreed to the request. And the violin teacher almost made it. He died four years later at the age of 103...teaching his last lesson two months before his death.

A wonderful story. But that is not the end of it.

Yesterday I talked to the mother of one of my public school students. I suggested to her that her daughter not bring her violin to school for lessons because it was an unusually fine instrument. It would be much safer for me to provide a school instrument. The mother told me that it was indeed a fine instrument. She herself had used it as a child in Chicago. The violin she told me, had been given to her "by her uncle George...a well-known Chicago Violin teacher.

"Uncle George" and "Chicago" jostled my grey cells a little:

"That wouldn't be George Perlman by any chance?" I asked.

"Yes. Uncle George. He died just a few years ago. He was 103."

So in my class this year is George Perlman's grand-niece. And, serendipitously, she is almost ready to start the Vivaldi A minor concerto. Why serendipitous? Because there is a well-known student concerto that teachers often assign to violin students before they start working on the Vivaldi to help them prepare for that famous concerto. Next week we will start working on this piece together.

The name of this music: Concertino In The Style Of Vivaldi

The composer: George Perlman.