My Son's Orchestra Performance Near-Disaster

Sometime last spring my then-fifth-grade son expressed a desire to join orchestra when he began middle school the following autumn. Up to that point he had shown the least interest in music of any of my four kids.

I checked with him to be sure that he knew that joining orchestra would entail studying music, and listening to music, and actually playing a musical instrument. This was not news to him. He’d even chosen an instrument, the viola. I didn’t even know he knew violas existed.

Since joining orchestra requires a financial commitment, we wanted to be sure this wasn’t just a passing fancy. So when I took him to the information session and sign ups in spring, I chose the pay-in-the-summer option.

A few months passed and he was still interested. We did the paperwork, sent in a check, and he went to orchestra camp the last week of summer. He was serious. I was impressed. Surprised, but impressed.

We’ve listened to him practice (almost) daily and attended two concerts. Today we woke up early and drove to a high school twenty-five minutes away so he could perform in the Solo and Ensemble event. The event is sponsored by the state’s school music association, which exists to “provide educationally evaluated music performance activities for students.”

We arrived an hour before his scheduled 9:10 performance time. After some initial confusion about where to go, he found the auditorium practice space, ran through his song a couple of times, asked his teacher to tune his instrument, and then it was show time.

His performance took place in a classroom, in front of a judge. Just him, the judge, and us. As he setup, he opened his folder, looked at me with a look of panic on his face, and said, “My music’s not in here.”

What? Hadn’t he checked before we left?

“No, I had it Thursday.”

That’s two days ago. Where is it? Shoulder shrug.

He had a copy of the music, but he had to give that to the judge. He was screwed. Defeated before he even got to play.

But then, because he’s younger and has a more technologically-oriented mind than me, he’s got a solution. “Take a picture of the judge’s music and I’ll look at your phone while I play.”

That won’t work. The picture will go away.

But still we try. I take the picture, he takes the phone, and puts it on the music stand. It looks impossibly small. I have visions of him getting halfway through the song and the picture going away. Of him having to stop the song and tap the screen to see the music again.

There’s no other option though. The judge says, “I’m ready. You may begin when you’re ready.”

When he’s ready? Who the hell cares when he’s ready? What about me! I’m not ready for this. I want him to have his damn music! Let’s postpone this for a few minutes so I can go find some sheet music for the poor kid.

But the judge didn’t ask me when I was ready.

He started to play. I aimed the video camera in his direction. The judge had asked my son to move his chair so he could have a better view of him when he played, so my video of the performance capture only his music stand, and the pitiful little phone sheet music. I thought about moving for a better angle, but decided that maybe it was more important for the judge to see than me.

I held my breath and waited for the phone to go dark. For him to stop playing. For the uncomfortable moment of silence.

But he played. And he played. And he played. The song sounded exactly like it had when he practiced in the auditorium. I’m no music expert, but it sounded like he hit every note. Like he’d done this before.

And then he stopped. But instead of tapping the phone, he put down his bow. He made it all the way through.

I’ll have to go back and watch the video, but I suspect my sigh of relief will be audible on the recording.

He made it through.

We exited to the hallway, and I told him it seemed good to me. I asked him why he didn’t have his music.

He said he could see the music the whole time. It wasn’t too small.

A few minutes later the judge handed my son’s card back to him.

“Gold!” my son shouted, lifting his arms into the air. Some of his classmates saw him and congratulated him. I hugged him.

Thirty people or so lingered in the hallway, waiting for their turn to perform. “I didn’t even have my music. I had to play off my dad’s phone!” I heard a few people chuckle. His friends were amazed.

So was I.

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