Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet and Symphony #4

Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra
Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Romeo & Juliet
Symphony #4 in F minor
Telarc, 1993

Today's post brings back memories. Terrible memories.

Romeo and Juliet was a piece our high school symphonic band played, and in the arrangement for concert band, inexplicably, the trumpets had to play a lot of the technically demanding runs that would have been assigned to the strings in the orchestral/original version.

Now, anybody who knows high school music programs knows that high school trumpet players, mostly boys, don't practice like the predominantly flute- or clarinet-playing girls.

So our band director, Mr. I, growing increasingly frustrated with our muddy sound, went "down the line." Meaning, he made each individual trumpet player play the run by himself. In front of the rest of the band. Which included all the girls in the clarinet and flute section in front of us who turned around to look and watch us screw up.

I was a freshman in high school at this point and was in over my head musically at this stage of my music career. I was a 14 year old kid who wasn't even sure he belonged in the "good band" in high school. This was the most terrifying moment in my music career up to that point.

And of course I screwed up the run when it was my turn. I wanted to crawl under my chair and die right there.

Funny though, that was a catalyst for me. I vowed never to embarrass myself again like that. And I'm not sure if it was because of this specific event or not, but I had improved enough by the following year that very little of the music we played in high school after that point challenged me.

Amateur listeners like me will of course recognize the famous melody in Romeo and Juliet that's parodied by Hollywood love scenes in zillions of movies. But the piece has some fascinating fugue-like sections, a surprising amount of complexity, and it is quite emotionally stirring to listen to all the way through.

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