The sequel to LeGuido Does Grieg; not nearly as good, but still fun.
|Before I go into any of this, I just want it on the record that none of it is, directly, my fault.
Okay. So things have been a little crazy at Juilliard in the last month or two. We had this whole “Mafia” incident when we tried to do the Grieg piano concerto last month, but we figured that had kind of quieted down. Juilliard had no actual responsibility in any of this; the only consequences as far as we could tell were that the school had to buy a new concert Steinway and have some bullet holes repatched in the concert hall.
A month after this, it seemed like it would just become one of those weird stories that we’d all be able to tell our grandchildren, another legend of the hectic, competitive, and slightly crazed life Juilliard students lead. At the very least, we assumed it was the last time our concert hall would ever see gunfire. In the horn studio, we were focused entirely on one thing: the upcoming concert, which would feature Ravel’s Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte. This piece has an amazing horn solo at the beginning, high and floating and beautiful, one of those solos that we all become hornplayers for. For this concert, the honor was given to my friend Louis, whom I would accompany on second horn.
Now, let me be clear here, I had no designs on first part. Yeah, I would have liked to have played the solo, but I love Louis to death and I was glad he was getting the opportunity. I even told him as much. And the first rehearsal went very well, for the most part. After it, Louis, our friends Eddie and Steve, and I all went out for dinner. (Actually, Eddie was treating Steve to dinner, as Steve was sort of indirectly responsible for the fact that Eddie hadn’t been taken out by the Mafia).At some point the conversation came back to the Ravel.
“You know, I don’t like that piece,” Steve observed casually.
“Steve, you don’t like anything that isn’t loud and obnoxious,” I said.
“This is true,” he said, through a mouthful of potato chips. “But you know how people are always saying it’s so full of poignance and longing because it’s all about a dead princess or whatever?”
“It is,” Eddie insisted.
“No! That’s just the thing! You know why Ravel called it Pavane for a dead princess? Because in French, it rhymes. He didn’t have any grand plan for it, it was totally a play on words. He’s getting all this credit for something he didn’t really do.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Eddie said skeptically.
“I’m telling you, man. And when have I ever been wrong? Was I wrong about the mob shooting up our concert hall last month? No.”
“I knew he was going to be difficult to live with after the LeGuido thing,” I moaned.
“Well, whatever the case, it has a helluva good horn solo,” Louis said.
“Yeah. Horn solo might be its only redeeming quality,” Steve agreed. “Don’t screw it up, man.”
“I won’t,” Louis said. And he got this dark look in his eyes, the look that I should have recognized as what we’ve taken to calling The Juilliard Look. It’s a remarkably similar look no matter whose face it crosses; it is the embodiment of obsessive competition mobilized outwardly. We had all made a pact a long time ago not to let the competition overwhelm us to the point where we lost sight of our original goals. The look on Louis’s face was so un-Louislike that for a moment I was startled. I tried to catch my friends’ eyes, but Eddie was yawning and Steve was impatiently trying to stuff the lettuce back into his collapsing hamburger. It was Louis, I decided; he was so laid-back he was practically horizontal. Sure, he was really stressed about this big solo, but I knew Louis, and I knew he would never go nuts over such a little thing.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have assumed anything.
So we’re on to the second rehearsal. Everything’s going pretty well, everybody’s happy, we’re playing well on our other piece (La Valse; it was an all-Ravel concert), and we move on to the Ravel. As we’re getting into the section before the solo, Louis decides that it’s time to empty his water. So he turns the horn over – he’s got about three bars – and quickly pulls out his main tuning slide, and all of a sudden – I’m watching this with idle interest – his mouthpiece falls out and hits the floor with a little clink.
This would have been just a little inconvenience except that the floor must be slanted or something, because the mouthpiece starts to roll backwards. At this point Louis is down to a bar and a half. He reaches back frantically for the mouthpiece, but instead of grabbing it, he just whacks it and gives it enough momentum to roll even further back, to where there’s this hole in the wood floor. Which it promptly disappears into.
As Louis is staring in openmouthed disbelief into the hole where his mouthpiece used to be, the conductor is getting ready to prep the horn solo. And the principal horn, of course, is still leadpipe to the floor. So there I am, upright horn, intact mouthpiece, and the part in my line of vision – I did exactly what I’m supposed to do as second horn. I popped it up there with no time to even think about anything, and just played the solo.
I saw the conductor’s eyes widen, but I just assumed it was surprise at the fact that his first horn player had apparently turned into a woman (although he was actually crawling around desperately trying to pry his mouthpiece out of a hole in the floor). But when I finished the solo, the conductor abruptly stopped the orchestra and then said, “Horn…”
I braced myself. “That was absolutely beautiful,” he finished.
I blinked. Louis’s head popped up like a harbor seal’s.
“Are you the one that normally plays it?” the conductor continued.
“No, sir,” I managed to choke out.
“I want you to play it on the concert,” he said. “You’re on first.” And that was that; he moved on to the next thing.
I turned to look at Louis, still on his hands and knees, and still without a mouthpiece. I couldn’t read the look on his face.
“You sure you’re not mad?” I asked him for the twelfth time.
“I’m not,” Louis said, completely unconvincingly. The four of us were at Starbucks, hanging out in the early evening.
“Louis, you just seem pissed,” I said.
“Well, what do you expect?” he snapped. “That was supposed to be my glorious moment, and here you took it from me.”
“I wasn’t TRYING to!” I said.
“It doesn’t matter! You still took it from me!”
“How did she take it from you?” Eddie asked. “She covered for you, and he liked the way she played it.”
“You didn’t have to play it,” Louis muttered. He looked like he was pouting.
“What was I supposed to do? Leave a big hole? I was doing my job as second horn player!”
“You could have given me your mouthpiece!”
“Oh, what, and you could have played it from the floor? Louis you were on your hands and knees.”
“So what! It’s the principal of the thing, and you took it from me!”
“Dude, you’re getting The Juilliard Look,” Steve spoke up. “You’d better be careful.”
“Screw that! What would you know, when do you ever get a solo like the one in Pavane?” Louis snapped. He turned to me. “I know you wanted that solo. Just admit it.”
“Louis, I did not have designs on first part,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this.
“You had to have.”
“What are you suggesting I loosened your mouthpiece or something so that it would fall out?” I said sarcastically.
“You brought it up, not me.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this!” I said. “Louis, it’s me! Since when have I ever not been your friend?”
“Friendship doesn’t count in competition!”
“What did you just say?” Eddie said.
“Let me get this straight,” Steve said. “Louis, you’re accusing your best friend of loosening your mouthpiece because she’d knew you’d empty your spit before the solo, and she KNEW it was going to roll away into that little hole and you would make a fool of yourself? Heck, maybe she snuck into the hall last night and drilled that little hole into the floor, too! And look! There’s somebody on the grassy knoll! LBJ is ducking BEFORE the gunshot goes off! Dude, are you hearing yourself? You’re just embarrassed cause Maestro didn’t like the way you played the solo. Don’t blame it on her.”
“Oh, shut up!” Louis shouted, red in the face. People in Bucks were turning heads.
“What are you gonna do, pull a LeGuido?” Steve answered sarcastically.
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Louis stormed out of Starbucks, slamming the door so hard that even the little jingling bell sounded slightly ominous.
Eddie, Steve, and I stared in disbelief as Louis charged down the street angrily.
“Freakin’ crazy school,” Steve sighed, downing a triple shot of espresso in one gulp.
The next rehearsal was a nightmare. Louis stared straight ahead the whole time. The worst moment came when the conductor complimented me once again on the solo; by the look in his eyes, Louis should have been foaming at the mouth. He left without talking to any of us.
“I can’t believe Louis succumbed to the Juilliard Effect,” Eddie said as we left rehearsal. “I mean, you could be happy for him when he got the solo; and it’s not like you stole it from him. He’s just being a jerk.”
“He might yet be salvageable,” Steve observed. “If I beat some sense into him.”
“Violence isn’t the answer, Steve,” I said.
“Tell that to Vinnie LeGuido,” Steve cracked. We had no idea how close this was to the truth.
The night of the concert, Louis was no better. I wasn’t willing to apologize for something I didn’t do, and Louis wasn’t willing to budge an inch from his absurd position. So, even though we were sitting next to each other, we were miles apart.
As usual, the first half of the concert passed without noticeable violence. Nobody saw Pavane coming. Least of all me.
The conductor started the piece. I raised the horn to my lips, took a deep breath, prepared to start the solo, when I heard Louis gasp, “Oh, no…” I had just barely hit the first note when I was tackled from the side (which resulted in a strangled sort of sound from my horn) and thrown to the floor. There was a mass of noise which I, now a seasoned veteran, immediately recognized as a volley of gunfire, accompanied by the usual screaming and general panic.
I turned my head to discover that it was Louis who had thrown me to the ground, probably saving my life. “Sorry,” he mouthed at me through all the noise.
Amazingly enough, most of the gunfire that rocketed around the concert hall this time was not from the Mafia (although they were certainly giving it their best), but from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had been watching the LeGuido family and had had some idea of what might be going on that evening. It ended with Vito LeGuido and Pino LeGuido arrested for a whole mess of charges.
The FBI was so good with their guns that they got most of the Mafia down with no civilian casualties. A few people in the audience suffered minor injuries, and these were uniformly from “hostile” fire. One stray bullet whacked an orchestra member, someone sitting in the middle of the first violin section. As things were calming down, I watched a couple of FBI people examining him, to his protests. “I’m fine!”
“You took a bullet square in the chest, son,” somebody said, and then they ripped his tuxedo shirt open.
One of the FBI men whistled. “That’s some nice Kevlar, son.”
“Wait a minute, did we put a plant in the orchestra?” the other guy asked, confused. “How come I didn’t know about this?”
“No, no, you didn’t put a plant in the orchestra,” Eddie said sheepishly. “I’ve just been paranoid since the last concert, that’s all.”
“So you got a bulletproof vest?” one of them asked in disbelief.
“A nice one,” the other guy said. “That’s a nicer vest than I’m wearing.”
“Gentleman,” someone spoke up. It was Steve, who had been watching this whole thing with me. Steve opened his own tuxedo shirt to reveal another bulletproof vest. “It’s not that uncommon. In the classical music world, you simply cannot be too careful.”
The FBI men stared at us for a minute, then threw up their hands and walked away.
One week later, I was holed up in my apartment when I received a phone call from Steve. “We’re coming over. Louis, too.”
“He is not stepping foot in this apartment,” I said firmly.
“You need to hear his side of the story,” Steve insisted. “This has gone on long enough. We’ll be there in five.”
When they arrived, I let them in grudgingly. “What’s the deal?”
Louis looked almost ill. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m –“
“You hired the Mafia to KILL me!” I shrieked. “Now maybe that would be loosely excusable if I had murdered your grandmother or something, but this was over the Pavane solo! Louis, you hired the Mafia to kill me over the Pavane solo! This is the kind of thing that ruins friendships!”
“But I didn’t!” Louis shouted. “That’s the thing! I was bitter, I’ll freely admit it, but I didn’t mean to get the LeGuido family involved!”
“Just tell her what you told us,” Eddie suggested.
“Look, last week, a couple days before the concert, I was eating lunch by myself and Vinnie came up to me, asked me what was up, why I looked so miserable lately, and the next thing I knew, the story’s just pouring out and I guess I must have made it sound like you pulled something like Terry Woodworth did last month. When I saw the grim look on Vinnie’s face and he patted me on the back, I should’ve put two and two together, but I didn’t get it till the concert – when you put your horn up, I saw about a quarter of the concert hall rise. And then I kind of realized it ,so I had to take you down so that you didn’t get shot. Listen, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, all of this made me realize what a jerk I was being and how stupid this whole situation is, will you please forgive me?”
“See, actually, he saved your life,” Eddie said.
“I’m not taking you out to dinner once a week!” I said.
“No one’s saying he deserves that,” Steve said. “We are all willing to agree, Louis included, that Louis has been behaving like a complete idiot lately over this whole situation, and probably he should be buying you dinner. But he also realizes that he has succumbed to the Juilliard Effect, and he promises not to do it again. And you guys are best friends. So please, forget this and move on so Eddie and I can stop playing go-between.”
“Please forgive me,” Louis said pleadingly. He looked like a puppy.
I sighed. “Fine. Fine. But promise me you’ll never be this stupid again.”
“I won’t,” he said immediately.
“And you’re not mad about the Pavane solo anymore?”
He sighed. “No. It was just embarrassing to lose it for such a stupid thing. And you did sound better on it than I do.”
“Yeah, but you shoot out the short call like nobody’s business,” I said. “So we’re even.”
“Friends?” he extended a hand.
“Friends,” I shook it.
Steve clapped his hands. “Thank you! Now we can all get back to normal life.”
“As normal as it gets here,” Eddie grumbled. “So normal that we all have to wear freakin’ bulletproof vests to our concerts. I knew I should have gone to Oberlin.”
“Yeah, Steve, I’ve been meaning to ask you, how is it that a bass trombonist has better Kevlar than the FBI?” I said.
Steve just grinned. “I am a man of many secrets.”
Anyway, life seems to have gotten back to normal here at Juilliard. Security’s been upped a bit (after two shootouts in a row, the Juilliard security is kind of looking a little less than par), and everybody’s slightly relieved that Vinnie LeGuido will be graduating in a couple of weeks.
We’ve renewed our pact to never let one another fall prey to The Juilliard Effect. I guess we’ll just have to see what the future holds on that one.
But we’ve made another pact, too. We’ve all agreed that before each concert, we’ll all call each other and remind ourselves to put on the Kevlar before we hit the concert hall.