A to Z Theme 2016
For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Leo Reisman Orchestra "Jalousie" (1925)
When I was in elementary school in San Diego, California all students in the third grade classes were offered an opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument and join the school orchestra. This appealed to me and I told my parents that I wanted to learn to play the violin. My father encouraged the idea since I did not take dance lessons like my younger sister did and he was anxious for me to learn an entertainment art.
My parents sent in the permission slip and then took me to the music store to purchase a brand new 3/4 size violin and the music book that was required by the school. I proudly carried that violin to school on days when we would have orchestra practice. I liked to open the case and breathe in the smells of the varnished wood of the new instrument and the rosin for the bow. To be part of an orchestra gave me a special feeling.
With a half hour allotted to violin practice each evening I caught on fairly quickly to playing the simple tunes we would play in orchestra. A concert was scheduled in Spring to show off what we had learned during the course of the year. Our little tunes were a hit with the parents of the orchestra members in that first concert. I felt like a real musician.
Throughout elementary school I continued to play in the orchestra. Mr. Simpson, the orchestra teacher, recommended that we take private lessons during off school hours in order to gain greater mastery of our instruments. My parents found an elderly lady who gave violin lessons in her house, a stately older home not far from the Old Town district. Mrs. Harris was a kindly lady, but strict in her teaching.
Practice became less fun for me as the music grew more serious. Summers were especially difficult for me because I would rather be outside having fun than inside practicing my violin. However I would dutifully fulfill my half hour obligation to practice my violin each day, watching the clock carefully that my time was exactly one half hour--no more, no less.
The practice, the lessons, and my diligence paid off for orchestra class. I became first chair violin. Occasionally other violinists would challenge me to take the first chair from me, but always I would outplay them and Mr. Simpson would let me keep my seat. I remained as first violinist throughout elementary school.
One of the songs my father always wanted me to learn how to play was "Jalousie". He never bought me the sheet music for the song, but he would often say that he wanted me to learn to play it. Since I had a pretty good ear for picking up songs without having music in front of me I did learn to play a simplified version of "Jalousie". He was pleased when I played it for him. Every once in a while my father would say, "Play 'Jalousie' for me" and I would oblige and he'd be content.
After I had left elementary school my family moved to Crown Point, Indiana. There was no orchestra at the new school I started attending. For a while I took violin lessons from a dwarf who played gypsy style violin in a popular smorgasbord restaurant near where we lived. He was a stern teacher. Violin didn't seem like the in thing for guys my age so I decided to quit playing.
A number of years went by before I picked up my violin again when I was in college. Many of my friends were musicians and they would get together to have musical jams. During one of those jams when we were gathered in the basement at my parents' house, I broke out my violin to join in the music. I could still play, though not particularly well, and thereafter I would jam with my friends on many occasions.
When I got the offer to travel with the Ken Griffin Magic Show in the summer of 1975 I had to put together some sort of juggling routine to perform as my specialty in the production. Since I was no highly skilled juggler I borrowed part of the comedy juggling act that my father did and billed myself as "The Juggling Violinist". My shtick was that I would be introduced as a classical violinist. I would start playing seriously and then go off into a comic musical bit after which I would go into my comedy juggling routine. It was not great, but it was a passable act that I performed for a few years.
My pinnacle achievement as a violinist was in the latter part of 1977 in Richmond, Virginia when I took a hiatus from the road life for the birth of my son. My wife's sister was an actress who was involved in many productions in the Richmond area. She'd gotten wind that a production of the Broadway musical The Robber Bridegroom was going to be staged at the nearby Swift Creek Mill Theater and they needed a fiddle player. She'd told them about me and they were interested.
I didn't feel very confident in my abilities as a musician, but I needed more money than I'd been making in my day job so I went to play for them. They hired me on the spot. I don't know why they weren't able to find a more accomplished violinist, but maybe it was the nature of the role. The fiddle player was to appear onstage throughout the show as part of a bluegrass style back-up band for the actors. So in essence I was not only a member of the band, but I was also a character in the musical. That didn't bother me since I was used to being on stage.
The best part of the deal is that I had to join the musician's union which meant I got union pay not only for the performances but also for rehearsal time, something which the actors did not receive. The money helped with the household expenses and I had a good time doing something that I liked.
After that I never had much occasion to play my violin other than a few jam sessions with friends. I went back to touring with stage shows for the next decade. I always had my fiddle with me, but I rarely broke it out of its case. My violin sits in my closet even now. Maybe I'd take it out to play if my father were still around to say, "Play 'Jalousie' for me." I'd try at least.
Did you play an instrument when you were a child? Do you still play? Are you familiar with the musical "The Robber Bridegroom"?