Monday, 21 July 2008

Ages of Man : VII

"So, what's the plan for today?" said George, as they pulled off the motorway.
"We're going straight to a rehearsal now, then we'll check into the hotel later. First concert is this evening."
"Fair enough. Which pieces are we doing?"
"Carmina Burana is the main piece, we're doing Tannhauser Overture in the first half along with a song cycle by some German composer no-one's heard of."
"Sounds very good. I've got Tannhauser on LP."
"LP? Don't they allows CDs in your dormitory?"
George didn't answer. He was considered among his friends as something of a technophile, and was as adept with cutting-edge technology as anyone, so it generally came as a surprise when people found out that he had a vast arsenal of 12" vinyl records. His love of modern technology had somehow become intertwined with his calculatedly old-fashioned streak, and the result was a fascinating clash of cultures. He had spent a week of his previous holiday creating a beautifully-designed website containing artistic photographs of his collection of rotary-dial telephones; he took the photos with his high-end DSLR camera.
"Do you know which desk I will be playing in?"
"Didn't I tell you? You're principal viola."
"Principal? Gosh, I didn't realise that. Can't a someone from the orchestra do it?"
"Not really, the only other violas who are coming are Mrs Atkinson, who hasn't been up to much playing since her arthritis set in, and Helen and David, but they both said they didn't want the job."
"But I've never played as principal. I thought I'd just be making up the numbers."
"Oh don't worry about it. The music's quite easy." Edward was not the type to embarrass easily. It wasn't that he didn't care about making a fool of himself, rather it never occurred to him that anyone could make a fool of themselves. To do so would require a sense of dignity, which he utterly lacked. He therefore assumed that everyone else was the same, and hadn't the faintest sense of when other people were embarrassed, especially when it was he who was embarrassing them. It hadn't occurred to him that George might have preferred a less prominent part in the orchestra - he didn't care what people thought of his playing, why should anyone else? Sadly, not caring how you sound is not conducive to musical excellence - he was a dreadful musician, but he neither realised this nor cared.
George, on the other hand, was mortified at the thought of leading the section, small though it was. Some orchestral players didn't care a jot about which part they played, would happily play anything that was put in front of them egolessly. Some sections would think nothing of rotating parts for different pieces. String players, on the other hand, defended their desk position with the same enraged defiance as certain middle-aged women defend their right to be called 'Ms'. The orchestra's few good players percolated to the front desks, and stayed there. Shy players, and those who knew their own limitations, stayed at the back. The middle desks were occupied by mediocre players who were either inadvisably trying to work their way forwards, or fighting to avoid the ignominy of being moved back; sometimes both at once. To be in a middle desk was to wear a symbol of status, however microscopic, and it meant having someone to look down on in order to feel better.
George was one of nature's back-deskers, though he was afflicted with the unfortunate ability to play very well indeed. He would far rather sit behind row upon row of inferior violists, secure in his anonymity and, though he'd never admit it to himself, a buried sensation of smugness at being better than those in front of him. Being principal terrified him, even though the music would be essentially identical. He would far rather be surprisingly good (or, in his unswervingly-modest words, 'not disastrous') than disappointingly bad, and the thought of being compared unfavourably to the other players turned his stomach into knots. George had, however, made one error of judgement: he had grossly over-estimated the skill of the other players.

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