Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A month in the pit

We were told, in an email before the first rehearsal, that there would be a 'surprise!'. What will it be, I keep wondering as I gobble up luxurious crisp paper versions of the Saturday Guardian and Sunday Observer on the four hour train journey to Xville.

Entering a month long period in an opera pit can, if I'm not careful, be akin to an interminable visit to the late David Foster Wallace's supermarket (a piece I urge you to read). I can be so brimfull of judgements: Her bow-arm is so rigid; his feet are in the air; she wants to screw her way to the first desk; he wants his girlfriend to play; she accents every note; he looks terrible in that tie; she has no energy in her back; he never says hello; she kisses the conductor too keenly; he....and so they can rabbit on, the voices in my head. What DFW's article reminds me so acutely is that those voices are all about me. DFW calls this our 'default setting'. He describes it thus:

'Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.'

So in the last hour on the train, as Northern roofs and cows whizz by, I decide to think about what I am really saying when I walk into the pit with my default setting. It is not a comfortable hour:

'My bow-arm is so relaxed; I can't feel my feet on the ground; I wish I was in the first desk; I'm scared his girlfriend will replace me; I only make one accent per phrase; My arms are flabby in this sleeveless top; I did my yoga this-morning; He hates me; Should I have kissed the conductor?;I....I....I....'

DFW, a man who has just killed himself, insists we have a choice. And I believe him. I am going to make a different choice this month. At least I am going to try. I am going to surprise myself.

We gather in the rehearsal room and KL stands to make her announcements. 'What's the surprise?' some cry. She is dressed, as always and like so many French women, immaculately. A short skirt and matching jacket in tea-rose tweed. She kicks up her heels and we see it - the surprise. Purple Crocs! 'Croc Madame' shouts an oboe player. I look down at my feet, which have rarely been out of crocs or Birkies all summer. I kick off my grown up shoes and start to play barefoot. I watch the first judgement arise. I watch it pass like a cloud in the first light. For a moment the sky is clear. Then the next comes along....

6 Comments:

Blogger Jean said...

Oh, how I miss your writing, which has an immediacy, a movement and a melody like no one else's. Best wishes for your month in the pit.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Pica said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing, of searing honesty. Best wishes from me too. I love the thought of you playing the cello barefoot.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

Yes, I've been missing this too!

xoxo

12:49 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Hello, Ruth! Beautiful post. I regret to say I have just 'tagged' you because someone 'tagged' me...details here

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Jo G said...

I read that article too and was similarly touched. But of course promptly forgot it. Thank you for bringing it back to the front of my mind. How else to live if not like this?

8:25 PM  
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