Musical Chairs, the story

I’m alone again.

I guess I should be used to this, but it’s hard nonetheless.

Why is this so very difficult for people?

I picked up the banjo the other day. It was dreadfully out of tune, so it didn’t hold pitch very long after I tuned it. I played a couple of songs, then had to retune it.  You know when something is just a bit out of kilter and it makes your teeth itch? That’s an out of tune banjo. Somebody walked by, looked at the room number, looked at me, checked their registration page, then looked at me. If I had a dollar for every time they did that, I wouldn’t have to teach. Finally, figuring out that rather than wander around looking for the right room, the guy knocked and poked his head in.

“Where is the opera teacher’s studio?”

“You’re in it.”


“Are you Brad?”

“Yes…but I was taking opera lessons. When does the teacher get here?”

I hung my head. I sighed.

“I’m the opera teacher.”


They all get that befuddled look.

“Don’t stand in the hall, come in. Where’s your audition music?”

“You’re really the opera teacher?”

“Remember you’re auditioning for me and not the other way around? Get your audition music out. Or do you have it memorized?”

“Where’s the accompaniest?”

“I’ll give you a starting note, and you’ll go from there. It’s how I can judge how well you can stay in tune.”


“Have you warmed up?”

“Um, yes?”

should have given him his starting note on the banjo, but I wanted to rid myself of him as soon as possible. He sang his audition piece passably, and only dropped a 1/4 step in his descending passages. He was a little thin on his upper notes and some of his Italian pronunciation was a little American.

“Ok, Brad, the results will be posted tomorrow noon.”

Then I grabbed my French Horn and whipped out a bit of the Strauss #3. He nearly dropped his folio. ‘Wait! You play French Horn too?’ he’d say then look askance. ‘No, I have a recording cleverly hidden in the bell.’ I had quit coming up with witty repartee because I abhorred explaining the jokes.

“Whoa!  You play the French Horn AND the banjo?”

“Why do you think I have all these instruments in here? Decoration?”

I was annoyed. I started scheming how I could bring in some bagpipes to annoy the other teachers in between lessons. I hadn’t found a good, reasonably priced set of pipes yet. But when I did…

My neighbor, Mrs. Fletcher, was especially critical. “Well, I specialized when I got my degree. Not a Jack-of-all-trades.”

I would whisper under my breath, “Ya, and not a master of any either.”

But if they needed a French Horn for the brass quintet or the woodwind quintet, it was me they asked. If they needed a timpanist for the Mahler who could tune the timpani in seconds instead of minutes, they called me. If they needed someone to sight-read the alto part for the Renaissance Faire quartet because Mildred got a frog in her throat, it was me they came to. The vocalists liked the fact that I could fit the music into their key. “You want it in Ab instead of C? Sure. No problem.” They never asked me to solo, that would be too embarrassing. No one ever asked Fletcher for help. She always begged off due to her relentless schedule. They didn’t ask Bosq or Williams or McGregor or Vidal. They made it a policy that they would only play or sing if they had at least one month’s notice. They were professionals after all. I was only an adjunct with 50 students to their 28. They were tenured, I was hired year to year. I was the teacher 2nd-year students requested. 1st years were always assigned to TAs and adjuncts, but by their second year, they knew who was the best teacher and they requested me. It was rumored that I didn’t work them as hard as the professionals. It was kind of funny that my students’ recitals were much more complex and more polished than the others’ students. Mine were nearly always the first to get professional jobs too.

This year, they needed an opera teacher, so that’s what I was doing. That put me in charge of the yearly performance and we were doing “La Traviata” this year. The lead tenor was a bear to cast! All so tentative, all so soulless.

Ben was my 4:00 and he was late. I got out the violin and played some of the music from Sherlock Holmes. Ben knocked on my door at about 4:05.


“Um, I’m Ben, and I have an audition?”

“Oh, alright. Come on in. Get out your music.”

“I don’t have my music.”

“Then what the hell are you doing here?”


“Without music?”


I sighed. OK, here we go. A prima donna. My voice is a gift from the gods. Bow and worship my wonderfulness.

“Which part?”


I plucked a string on the banjo and said, “There’s your first pitch for your…”

“Could I start with the recitative for the ‘Lunge da lei?'”

I blinked. This was unusual. They don’t usually start with Lunge, they love the Parigi o cara. I played the first pitch on the piano.

He closed his eyes and you could actually see him assume the character. Was this a real musician? His first notes transported me! He finished the aria, and I thought, “Why not find out what he knows about the opera?”

I asked him plot questions, I asked him character questions, and then I asked him if he could tell the story in a modern setting. He lit up! He lept into the descriptions and you could tell he was passionate about the opera.

“What year are you in school?”

“1st-year. Why? Am I ineligible?”

“Oh heck no!”

“Am I your last audition for the day?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I heard your violin before I got in…did you know there was a second part?”

There isn’t a second part. These pieces are solos that Sherlock plays when he’s thinking. But he had me curious now.

“I haven’t heard the second part.”

“I have my violin with me, could we play the duet?”

“I’m not using the sheet music.”

“There’s sheet music?”  I think I like this kid. We tuned up and played for over an hour.

Then he had this look of horror on his face.

“What’s up?”

“I just basically told you I play by ear! Oh-my-god what an idiot! Are you going to tell? I don’t want to be expelled.”

He was freaking out. I assured him I wouldn’t tell and explained that since he’d been accepted by the school, they couldn’t kick him out just because he sang or played by ear.

“That’s not what my teacher said. He said I could never make it as a teacher or professional because I played by ear and the best musicians didn’t.”

I laughed.

“Did he teach you how to get such a good sound and pronounce the Italian?”

“He taught me trombone. I listened to La Traviata on the radio when I was little. My parents were very musical, and my sister plays 4 or 5 instruments.”

“How many do you play?”

“I don’t know. Give me an instrument to practice on and a book or a tape and two weeks and I can have the basics down. Why? How many do you play?”

“All of them…”

“This is going to be a fun semester…”

“Yes indeed.”


2 thoughts on “Musical Chairs, the story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.