I have a confession to make. I really hate classical music. It’s like nails on a chalkboard for me, doesn’t matter the composer or the piece. There are a few reasons I feel like this about it, but mostly it’s because I was forced to be in the orchestra when I was school-aged, and I really wanted to be in the band. We were very poor, and buying a new instrument was not an option, so it was the viola, which my older sister played so we already had one, or nothing. I remember having the conversation with my parents back in elementary school when we had to decide on an instrument. “How about the drums?” “No way,” said my Dad. “How about the flute?” “How about the viola,” said my Mom. “How about the trumpet? Dad played the trumpet.” “How about the viola,” said my Mom. And that was that.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved being in the orchestra. Some of the best times I had in school were in or around orchestra and related concerts, contests and events. I mean, I didn’t love lugging that big, stupid plastic case to and from school for years and years, banging against my knee no matter how I carried it, but the group experience was great. I learned an incredible amount about music of all kinds, particularly as a result of the tutelage of Mr. C., who I’ve mentioned before on this blog, who died in March and was the beloved music teacher and conductor to many generations of Mansfield’s youth. Sleigh Ride was one of those pieces we had to drag out every year for the Christmas concert; one of those pieces you end up playing thousands and thousands of times and could play your part in your sleep. I am 100% confident I could pick up a viola today and play that part perfectly. Like Pomp & Circumstance, which was trotted out every graduation season, and Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which was the go-to piece for every chamber music thing we had to go do, like play at Kingwood Center or at some town event. Or Pachebel’s Canon, which Mr. C. mercifully re-scored so that the violas would have a more interesting part, more like the 2nd violin part than the standard part, which is basically the same eight notes over and over until you’re ready to stab someone with your bow (sorry, cellos).
The time would come every year where he’d hand out the worn sheet music to Sleigh Ride and we’d shove it in the stack, not even needing to look at it after awhile. “Get up Sleigh Ride” he’d shout out, which was how he told us what we were rehearsing next, and he’d start in, his jacket flying as he waved us through it again and again and again. In some holiday concerts, he’d play the horse whinny trumpet part at the end, which was always cool.
I’ve never, ever heard that song without hearing the viola part in my head. I’ve never heard that song without thinking of Mr. C., so I always think of him at Christmas time.
While I loved the experience of being in the orchestra, it was never what I really wanted. I joined the flag corps as soon as I was old enough, determined to be in the marching band despite my mother’s horror at the prospect of me “out there marching in the rain.” The three years I was in band, as captain of the flags, were some of the best times I had during what was a really tough period in my life. Even that time I was screwing around and our conductor (not Mr. C.) pulled the entire bus caravan off the road and made me get off the bus so he could yell at me and send me to the equipment bus. With a guy I was goofing off with. You lose, Conductor. That’s not punishment.
As soon as I was done with high school, I never wanted to play again. I couldn’t even stand listening to the shit, it was so BORING and I was full throttle into the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. No time for you and your fucking alto clef, which made it impossible for me to read music for any other purpose, ever, thanks, viola.
In college, I lived with an older guy who had a subscription to the Cleveland Orchestra. We took a lot of road trips and he’d make me listen to NPR and classical music the entire time. We’d dress up and go to Severance and I would promptly fall asleep. We had to pack these uber-precious picnics and go sit on the fucking lawn at Blossom, drinking white wine and eating brie. All I knew was my ass hurt and I was bored as shit. It got so I just wanted to start throwing axes at anyone who turned on classical music. It’s pretty much never changed. I guess at this point, I could probably stand to go see someone doing Mussorgsky’s “Pictures,” or I might go see someone doing the Messiah because I used to play that every year as a side gig and it would be cool to see again, maybe. But other than that, you can keep it.