Can You Hear Us Now?
29 Jun 2011
Inside the Classics

Over the years, Sarah and I have made a habit of sharing some of the Minnesota Orchestra’s more, shall we say, peculiar traditions and inside jokes. Whether it’s yanking all our instruments skyward when someone in the brass section drops a mute, or cheering the viola section for having successfully stood up all at the same time, we are most definitely an orchestra that likes to amuse ourselves while we work.

And then, there are the more private inside jokes, the ones between just a few musicians that the rest of the orchestra may be completely unaware of. Basil Reeve and Adam Kuenzel have had an Abbott-and-Costello-worthy routine going on for their private amusement in rehearsals for years now; several members of the string section have been competing in a secret (and silent) cross-stage game during post-performance bows for over a year; and Richard Marshall rarely fails to crack up whoever’s sitting behind him as he wheels around and twirls an imaginary Snidely Whiplash mustache whenever the music turns suddenly sinister.

But one of my favorite inside jokes is one that fellow violist Megan Tam concocted during one of her first summers in the orchestra. Megan was all of 22 when she joined up, and in those early years, one of her obsessions was the opening music of Sousa’s ubiquitous march, The Stars and Stripes Forever, which she claimed was forever getting stuck in her head. Many of her pre-Minnesota friends were aware of this obsession, so they can’t have been too surprised when Megan began calling them on her cell phone from the middle of the viola section in the moments before we began playing the Sousa at outdoor summer concerts.

I’m going to repeat that, just in case you weren’t paying attention during that last sentence. Megan’s friends in other cities from Toronto to Portland would be minding their own business on a summer evening when their phones would ring and, upon answering, they would be treated to an insanely loud barrage of The Stars and Stripes Forever, live from the middle of the viola section. I’m not sure whether they could also hear Megan cackling maniacally in between the endless offbeats that constitute the viola part.

Megan in 2004, clearly up to no good.

I even got treated to this experience myself one summer, when I had taken the Independence Day weekend off, and was visiting family in upstate New York. I was sitting with my uncle and cousins around an outdoor table at a drive-in outside Schenectady, eating a hot dog. I was about to answer my uncle’s question as to what the rest of my orchestra was doing that night when my phone rang. I saw Megan’s name in the display, guessed correctly what was about to happen, said “They’re doing this,” and put the phone on speaker. Couldn’t have gone better if we’d planned it.

Megan and I just happen to be sitting together for this week’s outdoor concerts, and she hasn’t called anyone during the Sousa yet. Maybe she’s too mature for such shenanigans now that she’s been in the orchestra for 8 years. But I’m not, so here’s the deal: next Monday is July 4th, and we’ll be playing on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior, as we do every Independence Day. You should totally come out and join us, but if you can’t, and you know you won’t be doing anything important around, oh, let’s say 9:40pm Central Time, I’d be happy to give you a call and treat you to some massively distorted and unnaturally viola-heavy Sousa.

Our version won’t be this cool.

I’m serious about this. If you want to be the one who gets the call, e-mail your name and phone number to (American numbers only, please) and I’ll pick someone to call on Monday night. There won’t be any talking, since I’ll be, you know, playing a concert, but you can listen to as much or as little of Stars and Stripes as you like before hanging up. Festive, no?

<October 2019>

Become a Fan

Become a fan of Sarah Hicks to hear about new music, videos, event info & special offers.