The orchestra is a microcosm of society; different constituencies attempting to work together towards a prescribed goal while still attempting to chisel out some individual
value. The overbearing brass section, led by the pompous French horns and the shrieking woodwinds, led by the schizophrenic violins always seem to subjugate the others with their demand for attention and
leadership. Both groups will insist that they alone carry the sound to the starving ears of both the enlightened and the ignorant and without their rare and need-to-be-fawned over gifts, the orchestra would
implode into a mass of audio goulash, rudderless and without merit.
The societies within the orchestra have similar attitudes as each group, excluding the violas; claim their necessary role in the overall entity. Percussionists will pride themselves in skittering from
one surface to another, while the back rows of the woodwinds insist there are the one and only foundational structure of all things. These groups travel together and socialize together, content in their own
ego-based dissection of the orchestra that was long established from grade school of “our section rocks and your section sucks.” As these children grew older and more talented, their opinions evolved grammatically but remained fundamentally the same when the select few of them were chosen as players in symphony and regional orchestras.
The one group that stands alone from this in-fighting and self-aggrandizing attitude is the small group of viola players. The ugly sister of the violins and cellos, the viola players have long suffered from a sibling rivalry in the light of Jan and Marcia Brady. While the violin (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia) stands in front and soars (some folks would use the word "screech") over the solid walls of sound created by the rest of the bunch, the viola (Jan, in sensible shoes) blends into the mix with a combination of fear of recognition and a deep and abiding hate of her far more attention-getting sister. It is common knowledge that if any police department ever investigates a murder of a violinist, the first place to go is the home of the neighboring viola player.
As a result of the caste system that surrounds viola players; all potential and current suitors are warned with the same piece of advice: never fall in love with a viola player. They seem to have a
sense of entitlement but with no real factual connection between their wants and needs. If their day job is to provide a slight but non-descript fullness to the string section while surrounded by their
more glamorous siblings, their night job once be seen as going from one disappointment to another. However, while knowing the brutal truth about violas, Willis Davino still walked right into the mess with his
eyes wide open. The only problem was he should have covered his ears before his heart.
Willis Davino was a forty-five year old widower who had spent his entire life managing a wide variety of large concert venues. Originally a HVAC tradesman, Willis worked his way up through the facilities
business and enjoying the never-ending responsibility of managing the largest concert venue in St. Louis. The name of the building had changed every time the owner sensed an opportunity to up-sell his
naming rights so Willis never really hung any loyalty on the name because it was clear the only way it would be like Madison Square Garden would be if the owner sold it to them. However, the name wasn't
as important as the feeling he had when he would walk alone through the cavernous building, through its nooks and crannies and sit in one of the seats and let the quiet wash over him. The building was his
unofficial home; both of his kids were in college and his dog, due to his title, came to work with him. When in doubt, he would be at the venue because that is where is felt most at home. In fact, his
Weimaraner was a legend inside the music community: Willis had distributed her puppies to some of the most famous performers in the music business and the pooch had proudly sported an "all access" pass ever since it was house trained. Willis received Christmas cards from a wide variety of rock stars all proclaiming their constant thanks
for their pup. The dog knew everyone in the building from the standard roadies to the maintenance team; originally brought in because of a mid-morning veterinarian appointment, the presence of the dog so calmed the building community that Willis just started bringing her in daily and it was just a short time before most people knew Willis but everyone knew his dog. The rules were limited but strict: no food or drink of any kind because Willis feared the dog would never come back to the office for something to eat. It napped everywhere and it was a common sight to see the dog snoring on the main stage while that night's band was running through the sound check. After a particularly successful show, bands would beg to bring the dog on the road for good luck but Willis always said no. If he had to travel, there was dozens of eager volunteers within the building to keep an eye on her.
On Monday morning while his dog was playing his usual games with the security guards, Willis grabbed his copy of the week's activity list and quickly scanned it to see what event was arriving
that morning. As he was drinking his first cup of coffee of the day, he noticed that the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra was to arrive that morning for a three week gig. There would be three days of set-up and
practice and then the Orchestra would be doing a series of events there. Willis liked when groups would be in for a few weeks; not dealing with frantic roadies and daily chaos that comes with a revolving door of rock acts. Orchestras were a stable but large bunch of professionals and he felt that this would be an easy week and Willis put his feet on his desk and relaxed and took another sip of coffee. There would be a few calls about humidity concerns and security questions but all in all, orchestras were fairly low maintenance and the groupies were far more interesting and pleasant.
When things got stale, Willis would wander down to the dock to watch the trucks arrive and begin unloading their cargo. An orchestra is a bit different than most acts; all the important stuff would be
handled by the artists and other than risers, music stands, wardrobe cases and administrative miscellanea. The players would rather leave their children unattended than their instruments and other than
enhanced security lockups and related hand-holding, their needs were pretty straightforward. If asked, a player would prattle on and on about their instruments and its lineage but Willis knew better than
that. He would add an one or two extra guards in the holding bay and provide twenty-hour insturment babysitting, complete with portable electronic beepers, which the entire Orchestra loved and as such,
allowed the musicians to relax on their road at meals knowing their precious babies were locked away in hermetically sealed vaults.
The orchestra would move around in little packs and Willis could see them coming and going to the rehearsal halls. His attention suddenly focused on a raven-haired little beauty as she glided by his
window. He assumed she was a woodwind by the nature of her demeanor but her style seemed to be slightly less dramatic then most of the woodwind group; but he couldn't put his finger on it. He made a mental note to drop in on the orchestra once he saw a rehearsal time on the schedule and this time, he was going to play attention to the first few rows. Willis noticed his dog was snoring quietly on the couch in the corner of his office and felt this would be a good time to sneak out and check out the Orchestra. He was a proponent of hearing music, any music live, as the sensations generating from a group of talented musicians transcended the standard time and space usually found on a compact disc. It was fairly early in their arrival so he knew no music was likely but since he hated sitting in his office and loved working the room, he decided to check it all out. He wouldn't see his dog until quitting time so if he wanted to experience both momentary music and a potential second sighting of the woman, it was time to move.
Willis took the back stairs down to the stage balcony and as he came upon the mezzanine and started looking around for the bright but dark hair of the mystery woman. The first few rows were full of
blonde hair but he finally saw the back of her head and began to zero in on her manner and try to figure out what she was doing. Tucked behind the phalanx of violins and stuck in a corner next to the cellos,
she and a few other musicians were quietly sawing away on the movement but with more detachment than most. Similar to a cycle racing tucked in behind the leader's slipstream, not fighting wind resistance, she and the rest of little squad seemed content to stay in the shadows. There was not a formal rehearsal underway; most of the players were just getting familiar with the new room and checking their instruments for any issues.
"Quite a sight," said a voice nearby. Willis looked around and saw a friendly face. The man was an assistant concertmaster with the Orchestra and they had met several times before. He knew he was with
some other Orchestras and was an old hand about putting these kinds of shows on the road so he knew they had something in common: they were both pros and knew where to pick and choose what they cared about. Watching from a distance is a shared tool: the perspective needed for both of their jobs required them to get close enough to differentiate details but far enough away to keep everything correctly aligned.
"It certainly is, I forget how big an Orchestra can be."
The man nodded and leaned up against the rail. He was watching where Willis was staring and also noticed the cute player tucked in the corner of the group.
"And how pretty some of the players can be," said Willis. They were both from the same generation that could covertly make a few comments about the general attractiveness of women and Willis knew his
comment was safe. Just like two sailors wolf whistling at a pretty dame walking down the street, they could drop a few old-fashioned but clean comments without the fear of retribution or running afoul of some
politically correct evangelist.
"They sure are: not only are they are smart and focused, they are determined."
"Really? All of them?"
"Well, the viola players are kind of wildcards," said the man as he waved his hand right at the mysterious beauty, "but everyone else are wound so tight and without a lot of room for ambiguity."
"That's interesting," said Willis. "I never heard that about viola players."
"Trust me," said the man. "Never, and I mean never fall in love with a viola player."
"Now that is a bold statement," said Willis. "Never is a word I seldom use."
"Proceed with caution," said the man as he began to walk away. "You certainly are a wise man but viola players will do it to you every time. Take it from one who knows..." His voice trailed off as he moved backstage and Willis waved a hand of thanks but knew he didn't see it. He continued to stand there, looking down peacefully at the entire orchestra as they professionally got adjusted to their surroundings. Willis was almost ready to return to his office when she looked up at him and instinctively smiled: her dark eyes zoned in on him through the activity and while their eyes locked, it became quiet and as the din faded in his ears, all he could hear was the advice and he really didn't care. Willis's life was almost perfect: a good job that he liked, a great dog that accompanied him to work, a great city but he was fairly lonely. The lack of complications caused his days to move very quickly and that speed caused him to fear that his life moving too fast, too efficiently and without anguish. Perhaps a relationship with a viola player could add the necessary friction and drama which would extend his days enough to dull his own mortality.
He returned to his office, pre-occupied with his latest adventure. He certainly did not need any special set-ups or charity work, his dating and social life were full and rewarding. He hadn't had a formal, full-time relationship in many years but that was due, in his opinion, to circumstances outside his control. He traveled a fair amount and his role had many obligations, some glamorous and some not as much. One minute he is sitting next to a rock and roll megastart and then the next dinner, it is the Regional Vice-President for Consumer Affairs for Carrier Air Conditioning. Over the years, he realized that a certain amount of randomness would follow him around so it was better to keep the expectations low to manage the day to day details. Since the loss of his wife, Willis had fallen into a comfortable pattern: the two kids were in college, his dog was well-behaved and of low maintenance and his job was great. When he saw a beautiful woman, he appreciated the upside of romance and love but he also considered the likely possibility of infinite degrees of general complications. Once Willis understood all the moving parts, he wasn't surprised that he had only been on a few dates in the last several years.
As he faced the potential complication of being drawn to a much younger, more motivated and far more attractive touring musician, Willis actually entertained undergoing an internally, self-narrated
discussion while attempting to weigh the pros and cons of going forward. Realistically, she would not be in the market for some formal relationship as the touring orchestra represented the fittest of the fit. In the prime of their playing life, the talent that hit the road are in the prime of their career: not afraid of the road and before the standard aches and pains force them to stay home. Touring orchestras are similar to rock bands: they become a tight club brought on by a galvanizing wisdom born of pain thanks to poor reviews, road camaraderie and the closeness that only comes from a well-rehearsed team of like-minded individuals. It is tough to crack that wall; especially by a non-player from a different hometown.
Willis spend the morning looking at the orchestra program and finally determined the name and playing statistics of the beautiful viola player. He did a few internet searches and got a general idea of her playing background, her general details and a few press clippings that called her out individually for a particularly fine performance. The background was solid and her skills legitimate but it appeared there was something missing as most of the other players had longer resumes, more varied experience with other orchestras and recording credits. Her experience was either limited to the Philly Orchestra or he was looking in the wrong place: maiden names can cause havoc with simple internet searches so he decided it was time to bump into her for the first time.
Orchestras don't need mixing or light boards as they view any type of amplification or artificial assist to be some degree of bastardization of their product. However, there are several times the conductor needs to address the crowd so a minimal combination mixing board is always off the stage ready to pot up a microphone or toss a few simple spots on key players on the start and end of a particular piece. This kind of equipment is so simple and so straightforward that it is barely tested before the show but today, Willis decided to visit the union worker who was stationed at the board for a full shift. There were no more than six effects plus the microphone power toggles, all managed by simple throw switches.
The union representative looked up at Willis and smiled, "You have to be kidding me."
"Don't start. I am looking for someone."
"Well, it has to be one of six candidates."
"No comment. Is that mic potted down?"
"Dead as a doornail. Where is she?"
"Third row, middle, stage right."
"Want to see it thrown up on this monitor?"
"Can you do it without causing me any embarrassment?"
"It will be quiet as a mouse. In fact, the red light was taped over a few months ago so not to freak out the performers."
The rep tossed a switch and the blank of monitors came to life: with a few twists of a toggle level, he finally got a close up of the woman and was disappointed.
"Yes but she doesn't seem to like what she is doing."
It was apparent that the woman wasn't listening to the conductor and she had a close-up scowl on her face that wouldn't be noticable with either distance or motion. They both watched for awhile and Willis found his preoccupation fade.
Willis finally got up and patted the union rep on the back. He didn't know what he saw and whether or not it was unfair: he had likely placed her on such a high pedestal that she had no way to achieve his lofty, internal goals. He walked away and disappeared behind the curtain and walked up to his office.