Behind the Scenes, or, When Nobody's Looking
By Chris Van Hof ~ Posted Thu, 11/20/2008 - 6:27pm
Ah the joys and perils of combining solitary evenings, a dumb sense of humor, and working in sound-proof rooms.
I teach low brass lessons at Nazareth College, and recently I shared with one of my trombone students that not five minutes goes by in my house where either my wife Andrea or I sings some made-up song to our cat, Guinness (she's all black), or our dog, Elsa (she dreams of being an operatic soprano). It became habit when we got the cat two years ago, and now that the dog has recently entered the picture, she too hears her name in song quite frequently. The lyrics are usually along the lines of "Guinness is a kitty cat/she eats too much and gets kinda fat" or "Elsa Elsa Elsa/you're so awesome/Elsa Elsa Elsa/you're probably one of the coolest dogs in the world, even when you chew your leash in half." Poetic, I know, but Andrea and I refuse to publish. It's our gift to our pets. One important thing to note: "cat" appears easier to rhyme with other words off-the-cuff than "dog." More research into that phenomenon is forthcoming.
I think I freaked out my student a little bit by sharing that bit of information (teachers don't do things outside of school, remember? Think about running into your gym teacher at the grocery store with your parents while you were in middle school...). But I like to share my weirdness with people. After all, I'm a trombonist: it's what we do.
So here's what I do while you're listening to music on WXXI on weekdays between 2 and 7. Oh sure, I put on the straight face to tell you who's performing Boismoitier's Bassoon Sonata Op. 50 No. 2. But as soon as the mic goes off and it's just me and that sound-proof radio studio, all bets are off. Usually, I sing along obnoxiously, commonly using the word "blah." If a piece is particularly beautiful, it's likely that I'll switch into my "lounge voice" to "swankify" a lovely middle movement of a Mozart concerto. The final ten seconds of a big, bombastic orchestral finale are usually the most interesting for me, since I'm generally waving my arms in fake conducting and heartily galumphing the tune (probably the trombone part). And then, like Two-Face in Batman, I'm the image of cool and collected to tell you that the Detroit Symphony just finished Carmina Burana.
It's probably classical music sacrilege, but what do you expect me to do when I work in a sound-proof room with top-of-the-line speakers where none of my colleagues can hear me, and when most of my coworkers have left for home by 5 o'clock, while I still have two hours on air? There's also the fact that a secret goal of mine is to make Rachel Ward laugh while she reads the evening news on AM 1370 (we can see each other through a series of windows across the studios). And don't forget that I play trombone. We sit in the back of the orchestra, out of earshot of the maestro, and with a good view of the flute section (how do you think I met Andrea?). In the end, though, my blasphemous classical music sing-along is really just me enjoying this music in a way that I would hope lots more people could enjoy it. Clearly, this kind of participation doesn't fly with music that really does demand more silent listening (see Arvo Part), but for a bassoon sonata? Fair game.
And besides, we all do it, don't we? How do you take part in your music when nobody's listening or looking? Do you get caught playing air viola at stoplights by fellow motorists? Do you make up words to Vaughan Williams' Folk Song Suite ("folk song suite/solk song suite/folk soooong/sweeeeet/sooooong")? Do you ever really just feel like joining along at an RPO concert when they play a tune you know? Do you sing to your plants?
Guinness and Elsa want to know.