Let me start by telling you I won’t have a blog post for day 8. Why this is so will become clear as you read on.
I know there’s meant to be a dinner later somewhere, so I decide to wear the best pair of formal trousers I’ve brought along. The psychic portion of my brain tries to deter me: You might get caught in the rain, dummy! The rational portion wins: You’ve never got caught so far, so no worries!
It’s a 9.30 am start for sectionals. Because Bangalore traffic is so erratic, I prefer to leave as soon as I’m ready, so I’m at the rehearsal venue a whole hour early. And the gate seems locked, so I pick up where I left off on the book ‘Discord’ that I’m reading, and look at my score. I’ve only been playing viola a few years, and in quick passages I tend to lapse into violin-treble mode, and get paralysed into inaction, so it’s always good to try and memorise and familiarise oneself the score as much as possible.
Turns out the ‘locked gate’ was just an optical illusion, and it’s really unlocked but kept shut, so we’re in.
Presently I meet John, the person in the CIYO to come to for trouble-shooting. One of the Canadians seems to still have symptoms that need sorting out, despite my advice and over-the-counter prescription the previous day. I think it might be a good idea to get a local doctor to come in to do a thorough exam.
We work on the Dvořák symphony and the encore. Neal lets us in on a few tips and secrets of ensemble, especially orchestral playing. There is a practical logic to everything: string-crossing, shifting position, where on the bow to play, how much bow in terms of length, how much bow hair (on the flat or on the tilt), where on the fingerboard. some decisions are made for sheer practicality, sometimes one needs a certain ‘colour’ or effect. With time, an orchestral player 9be s/he a student or professional) gets an instinct for this. And the important thing to do is to blend in with the rest. It makes orchestral playing so much easier, and the end result sounds so much better.
My desk partner Jonah works some more with Neal on the Pulcinella, and the rest of us adjourn to another room to work on more of the Dvořák bugaboos, and then at 11 am it’s tutti rehearsal again.
The strings are working too hard again, and the top notes are perhaps so sharp that they stick out (do they remind Trudel of the shower scene from ‘Psycho’?) “It’s a romantic movie, not Hitchcock!” he tells us. We slow down, and play under-tempo, section by section, and then together, listening to each other, until we sound less Hitchcock-like.
Trudel also tells us pretty much the essence of what Neal’s been telling us at sectionals: to blend in. He tells us that the back desks of the sections are the toughest locations in the orchestra to be in, but the back desk of the firsts should still be able to communicate with the back desk of the seconds, and so on.
“Listen with your eyes!”
After lunch, there’s a little more tutti and then work on the Pulcinella, and the Bach double concerto, with a reduced string ensemble.
We then adjourn, and are meant to board to large buses at 5.15 pm to take us to our concert-dinner venue. When I hear it’s at Whitefield, it seems vaguely familiar to me, but I can’t remember why.
Once on the bus, and very late in the journey, I remember in horror that it’s miles away from central Bangalore, which means it’s even further away from RT Nagar, where I’ll have to return after the event. I’ve only ever been in Bangalore a few times in my life, and very sporadically over the years, so I still have not got my bearings. But it’s noww too late to do anything about it.
We enter i-Gate, a software company with a sprawling campus, and are each asked to write in our names and given a visitor pass. we are then led to an open-air amphitheatre sort of space.
The local master-of-ceremonies is a right comedian, and keeps the audience in splits. He does tend to repeat himself especially when it comes to trumpeting the achievements of i-Gate, apparently the greenest company in India for several years running, and their in-house band made up of their own full-time employees, called Rubber Band (for their flexibility of styles).
Maestro Trudel and his band of trombonists are first up. He exchanges banter with the MC over playing the trombone, that it is played in seven positions (“Oh, we Indians are good at positions!” “Trombone Sutra!” we whispers conspiratorially as an aside to us). Trudel’s probably heard raunchier remarks with more innuendo, but his face does redden considerably. Perhaps it’s the heat.
To demonstrate what the trombone can do even within the limits of Trombone Sutra, he plays for us Rimksy-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Looks like there’s no escape from the birds and bees here!
The ensemble plays a couple of short works, which include a lovely polyphonic Renaissance work.
Then it’s the turn of Rubber Band to strut their stuff. The singers are really amazing, with a fair bit of experience on the professional music stage as well as the recording studio, despite their IT day-jobs. They sing a few ballads in the South Indian vernacular languages (Tamil and then Kannada), which are enthusiastically received. Call me old-fashioned, but I do find the decibel levels higher than necessary, and there is one particular member of the audience who emits deafening, ear-splitting cat-call whistles every so often, so I casually plug my left ear (which is bearing the brunt of said whistle) with my finger, and hope no-one notices. I notice that the lady to my right is doing so too.
Then we have a real surprise. My desk partner Jonah ambles onto the stage carrying his viola, and accompanies himself as he sings the Beatles classic ‘Blackbird.’ He does it so well, with no hint of stage fright. It’s such an unlikely instrument for such a song, and all of us violas feel so good about it. In fact, Jonah actually remarks how good it feels to have a viola being described by the MC as entertainment! Usually our instrument is the disproportionate butt of good-humoured but often-undeserved jokes. I think it’s because the viola is seen as a half-way house, an illegitimate love-child of violin and cello, and not quite either of them. But that’s the whole point! It may attract ridicule, but its sound and personality are in a class by themselves. Jonah is such a talent; there are so many avenues he can take. I’ve heard him do some spoken word on the bus, and he’s awesome in this genre too!
At this point my camera battery dies out. We have some more Rubber Band ballads, and a new crooner belts out a few English hits like George Michael’s Faith. They’re really good, comparable with the cream of the band scene in India at any rate.
The evening ends with another singer whose name I do not catch, but who sings a Bollywood ‘duet’, singing both male and female protagonists. You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it.
And then we go off for dinner.
I decide to eat and run, as I know it’s a long way back for me, and I can see clouds appear in the sky, and had felt a drop or two during the performance.
Almost on cue, I’m hardly out of the main gate after having returned my visitor pass, when it starts to rain in earnest. So sorry for taunting you, Ms. Rain. Friends?
Like Kevin Arnold’s jilted girl-friend from the Wonder Years, Ms. Rain seems to retort angrily “FRIENDS? I’ll give you FRIENDS!” The shower intensifies, and I have to pause to open my back-pack to retrieve my brolly.
So far so good. I’m near the bus-stop, where apparently I can get a bus to RT Nagar. I’m thinking, (but not saying) Nah-nah-Nahnah-Na. But today the odds are stacked heavily against me. The bus stop has no shelter, and it’s really coming down by now.
I stop a passing bus. It’s not going to RT Nagar. “You’ll never get a direct one from here. Hop in and get off at Majestic”. I do as I’m told.
Now these buses are something we could do with back in Goa. Comfortable, air-conditioned buses. They are not cheap (my ride upto Majestic costs Rs. 75) but it’s worth it right now to be out of the rain, and to be going in the right homeward direction.
The rush hour has still not abated, even though it’s close to 10 pm. The roads are jammed with office-goers returning home, and the rains are slowing things down even further.
Somewhere near 11 pm, the bus halts at Majestic (Shivaji Nagar), and then all hell breaks loose. I get told to go to three different platforms for my bus to RT Nagar, and at the same time, the rain intensifies to torrential. I decide to duck into a rick. He agrees to take me, but it’s the double the rate. Take it or leave it. Beats waiting for another bus in this storm, I think to myself.
But the going is really tough. Even in the rickshaw, I’m am drenched to the skin. I try valiantly to shield my viola with my body and my rucksack, and I’m glad to report success at least here. The roads have by now turned into rivers. I’m really not exaggerating. There is now water in the rick, and we are below the water level. I have no idea how the exhaust doesn’t flood and give out.
In fact at one point, the driver pauses and seems to deliberate whether to continue. “You’re not leaving me here in the middle of nowhere, in the rain!” I half-shout, half-plead. He assures me he’s not that inhuman. Whew!
It’s well past 12.30 am when we get to my area of RT Nagar, but the whole area is plunged in darkness. There’s been a black-out due to the storm. No streetlights, no lights on in homes, nothing. I’m unable to recognise anything, and the rain and my wet spectacles are making it worse. I finally decide to let the rick go, and take my chances on foot with my umbrella. The meter reads 190, so he expects 380. I offer him 500, and he hands me back a 100. What about the remaining 20? I look at him. He’s just as drenched as me, and he’s got to now go home. Perhaps he’s overcharged me, but under the circumstances right now we’re both in the same rick-boat!
Gradually familiar landmarks become obvious. I am hugely relieved to see the front door, and it’s now a huge feat to open the four sets of locks for four consecutive doors on the ground and first floor, in pitch-black darkness. The flashes of lightning help. I’m reminded of a scene like this in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’.
Then I remember my phone, and use its light to help things along. Both the things I was looking forward too, a hot shower and a hot coffee, are not possible due to the black-out (we call them power cuts here).
I get out of my wet clothes and prepare for bed, and then black out as well.
At about 3 am, I’ve got a mild fever, and am coughing and sneezing like there’s no tomorrow, and my throat hurts. I make a judgment call, and decide to give myself a day to recover. If I don’t get better, I might miss the concert, now just three days away.
And this is why I do not have a post for Day 8.