I complain about my job a lot. If you've spent any amount of time around me, it's a dead certainty that you've heard me rant about it at some point. It's not that I don't like it-- in fact, exactly the opposite is true. I may not like working with them sometimes, but I love the people I work with (people from the South know that ever so subtle distinction we make in not liking someone but loving them anyway). I love my boss-- she's brassy and talented and a generally fabulous bird. And most of the time I love the music and the shows.
However, sometimes the place has the capacity to drive me completely bat-shit. There's drama of course (no, not just that kind... I know, it's a theater... of course there's that kind of drama-- I mean the high school who-did-what-to-whom variety), but that's not new. That's been going on the whole time I've been there.
The newest issue, over the course of the last year or so, has been the never-ending parade of new conductors. Now, for most musicians this isn't a new or overly troubling phenomenon. We're used to having to cater to and insta-learn all the foibles and idiosyncracies of whatever person happens to be sitting in the driver's seat. There's always something about each conductor you deal with-- strange beat patterns, weird cues, odd grooming habits, and the ever-present God complex. All that, we can handle, provided the musical experience is largely intact. Usually that means we can just laugh off the other stuff.
Lately though, we seem to have had a crop of some of the biggest misfits I've ever worked with parading through the pit. We still laugh at them, but some of the edge has come off of the fun.
Titty, the first of the true freaks to show up, was a case in screwball comedy. He afforded us some of the biggest laughs while also inspiring the loudest howls of indignation. His first show, the performance almost crashed and burned eighteen times from his sheer incompetence. Fifty people demanded their money back. I thought the cast was going to have a full-out mutiny. Even with that, we had a lot of memorable laughs at his expense. His cues looked, according to hubby, exactly like when the monkeys at the zoo hurl turds at the people outside their cages. He was so utterly uncoordinated that one night he was cuing us so hard in the colla voce sections that his head snapped forward and hit his stand light (*crack!*-- think Elaine from Seinfled, and no that's not an exaggeration). I thought our trumpet player that night, Zinger, was going to shit himself laughing.
The next clown to troop in was His Honor. He's not super old, but he doesn't hear so well. This creates problems for the cast in that he can't follow them, so shit goes South real quick when it goes. For us it's a bit of a different problem-- his amp kind of generally increased in volume until some point at which a sounds effect occurred or it got so loud that it would scare the shit out of the drummer, and there would be stuff flying all over the place. One night it scared him so bad that he knocked the gong off its hook and it rolled down the stairs. You can imagine.
The Head Bobber was next. Her cuing was ambiguous at best and she bobbed her head when she played. Now, normally we would just make a Stevie Wonder comment and move on, but the problem with the head bobbing was that it had absolutely nothing to do with the beat of the music or cuing. This becomes even more important because in our pit, conductors do so from the piano, playing while directing the orchestra. You get the idea. Thoroughly Modern Millie all of the sudden started becoming Post-Modern Serial Millie. The Bobber is a little nervy, so it wasn't hard for her to have moments just like His Honor gave the drummer, so she'd get lost and have to catch up with us. Every time she'd jump either Jesus (another trumpeter) or Zinger would completely break out and lose his shit laughing.
Now we have a lady I'll affectionately call OCD Chick. (Not just her condition, but her call sign.) This woman micromanages more than any human being I have EVER. MET. She's constantly reminding us of everys single little thing in all the books. With little yellow post-it notes. Written in red pen. Hubby has started calling his part "Franken-book". Unfortunately there's nothing funny about this one. She's like a mother robot dictating to her little automatons. The only problem is that's not what we are. We're to be quiet through the entire show, no talking, no laughing, no monkeyshines-- after all we're five years old. Apparently we have no artistic integrity or we're suffering from a severe and dyslexic version of STiML, because we can't be trusted to remember anything. But she's very nice. Nice like taht old Southern lady that lives down the street who never really says anything bad about anyone, but you can hear it in every word she says. The worst part about OCDC is the way the show suffers under her care. It's dead. It's boring. It's engineered, and it never works.
That was never more evident than tonight when our old conductor and our supervisor came in to play. It's funny how when great skill is right in front of you it's often so hard to notice-- why? Because Cool D makes it so easy. All of the sudden the songs came alive the way we've never heard in this show. No complainingafter he started... it became something we could reconcile ourselves to, if not fall in love with. All of us had been moaning about how much we HATE this music, but tonight for once we finally could relax into the music and follow its flow.
Flow. It's an organic word, and rightly so. Truly good conductors understand innately the concept of flow. It's not something that can be forced or created-- it springs into existence from the delicate weave of all the strands of musical and theatrical creation coming together in exactly the right way. Like a cat's cradle, if you pull it the wrong way or too strongly, it collapses. It's about nuance, not necessarily about structure. Cool D knows just when to finesse something here, change a keyboard patch there, and all of the sudden the music becomes a living thing that draws all of us out of our shells and makes us do more than we otherwise would. After one particular number, we all exhaled audibly in sighs and the trombone player laughed, "I could get used to this,"
I never realized how much I missed it until I didn't have it. We used to have a cast of conductors that were all like that. How spoiled and blessed we were, how immersed in our happy toodling and oblivious to the luck we had. Even after he and the other guys basically left, we really didn't get it. Then he came back tonight, and I found tears welling up in my eyes after the best number.
I miss it. The flow. I want it back, but right now there's no chance. Hope springs eternal though, and if I get nights like tonight as a reprieve I think I can survive until that happens.