May 15: "Adult amateur musicians are invited to apply for the BPO Fantasy Camp - a day at Kleinhans Music Hall, rehearsing and performing alongside the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra."
It took over two weeks to reply: I am a 73-year-old grandmother who hasn't played the double bass in 15 or 20 years. Would there be any chance I could just sit in for the day? To be surrounded by all that gorgeous music would be fantasy enough.
As I replied I was already having second thoughts: They might convene very early. I think I was relieved somewhat by remembering that, when we attended, rehearsals start no sooner than ten. They are musicians after all!
Robin Parkinson sent the application which I immediately filled out, adding what had to be the craziest idea: I have the bass parts for all the pieces and some look quite simple. Were I to get really brave, would there be a chance of performing?
Five minutes with my bass proved too much. Both hands hurt and, worse, I couldn't see a note of the music. My old "bass-playing" glasses had gotten impossible.
Robin: "Bring the bass and play as comfortable."
I'd met Brett Shurtliffe, Buffalo's associate principal bassist, so asked him about the distance from eye to music stand. It seemed unreasonably far last concert I'd attended. "Four feet perhaps? I hear you are joining us in July!" News certainly traveled fast. I did not promise I'd bring an instrument.
It took only an hour to be fitted with glasses good at four feet. Euphoric myself I suspected I had made three young women happy by my excitement.
Go-to guy for bass help was Jim Mohney, long-time friend and earlier teacher. He came quickly, bringing a bass easier to play, his best bow and good resin. Where to begin? Hands and arms. Once that was settled, we adjourned for a lovely slow dinner out.
An interview on WNED with Matt Kraemer ("my" conductor) explained that the BPO was accustomed to doing one-on-ones with school kids. Then having me there shouldn't be too traumatic for them.
First practice: everything squeaks - or hurts. I tried three times, working from 8 minutes up to 16.
Driving to New Jersey, I took my electric bass, determined to learn fingerings for all those runs besides hardening the calluses I'd need for pizzicato.
"I realize F and B-flat scales are in the same position one string apart. Have I never heard of a B-flat scale?" I wake - it's not yet 6 a.m.
Once home, daily practices continued as the hours slowly increased. But must everything be so fast? Would tone ever improve? And then: "It can be quite beautiful."
For reasons not understood, practice became a compulsion. "I do not feel the fatigue until I'm climbing the stairs after my practice." Yet I always hurried back for more.
Well, most of the time. "A HUGE black snake on the floor in the basement. How did it get there? Does it have friends? family? Can I put it out of my mind?"
June 29: It is totally incomprehensible to me that I picked up bow and bass for the first time just two weeks ago today. I have three weeks left before the performance."
Jim returned frequently, pointing out errors, pushing me to go faster and always offering reassurance. Dinners for us three were my reward.
Another good friend got CDs of all the pieces so I could approximate what the tempos should be. Pushing those little metronome markers up as much as I could, I watched all my study on accurate fingerings in the fast passages fall. My fingers were not up to that task. Then Jim said it was time to start playing with the CDs themselves. Ouch.
"Simple" passages now looked foreign and required relearning: "Why am I asking NOW if that note is a sharp or a natural?"
Robin: "Bring the bass to the stage door and the stagehands will carry it to the stage for you. We are alerting them to your arrival now."
Neat! One less thing to worry about.
Practices had passed the three-hour mark. I knew I knew the music. But how would I do with an orchestra?
Jim assuaged my worries: I'd have a stand partner plus conductor so shouldn't have concerns about getting lost. Besides the stage would be better lighted and the music larger.
Friday: "Haven't I practiced enough?" The car was loaded long before dinner - bass, stool, resin, music, pencil, glasses, and concert dress.
I was as ready as I was going to be.
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to email@example.com