Ed. Note: Another chapter from Frantic: the Memoir, violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi's remarkable continuing chronicle of her childhood. The previous chapter on Interlocken is here.
I lost first chair. There had been the usual Friday round of orchestra challenges known as compete-for-your-seat. The instructor, a petite woman with black hair stacked in a tight bun, led the first violins through a maze of selected passages in the Brahms Tragic Overture. She asked if anyone wanted to try and move up. My stand partner for that week, a Puerto Rican violinist with an afro raised his hand to challenge my spot.
"Wonderful," said the instructor. She fixed her beady eyes on the score. "Here at Interlochen, we embrace a healthy competitive spirit."
A few players groaned. My pulse quickened.
"OK, first violins. Remember the rules for challenges. Number one, no peeking while the contenders perform their selections. Number two, listen with your ears and remain attentive throughout the entire selection. After each of the violinists have completed their excerpts, you'll vote by raising your hands. There'll be no talking or whispering. Understood?"
She tapped a pencil against the music stand. "All right. Let's begin. Top of Tragic."
The instructor paused to wait while the students covered their eyes, then pointed for me to play. The overture was the one piece in all the repertoire that I hadn't bothered to crack open and practice. At first glance, in orchestra rehearsals, it looked simple; too easy for a musician of my caliber, and besides, I preferred to practice Scott Woolweaver. But during the challenge, the notes seemed unfamiliar with daunting leaps and complex rhythms. I took a deep breath, plunged my bow into the strings, and missed the opening octave shifts. Half steps grew wide; triplets limped, and dotted rhythms dragged. My sound petered out. The instructor drew a line in the air with her hand, palm side down, which meant for me to stop. She then pointed to my challenger for his turn. He arched his back and inclined his violin to such height that it might as well have been Heifetz. Every shift was spotless; each triplet steady; dynamics and articulations were executed with sharp contrasts. Notes shone as polished pearls. Behind me, arms thrashed to signal a unanimous vote. After the vote was taken and results announced, I heard gasps from those behind me.
"That was—Margie?" A student queried.
"No way," replied another.
I refused to turn around to the players and face their humiliating stares.
"She lost her chair? Really, after all these weeks as concertmistress?"
"Shut up, idiot. She'll hear you—"
I scooted the violin case across the floor with my foot to second chair. "Congratulations," I whispered to the new concertmaster half-heartedly.
He shot up from his chair to switch places. "Thanks," he mumbled.♭♩ ♬♮♬ ♯♪♮♩ ♯♬ ♮♩ ♫ ♯♪♭♩
Scott and I planned to meet at Melody Freeze, the Interlochen hang-out, that afternoon. It turned out that he, too, lost his principal viola chair that fatal Friday. Over swirly chocolate and vanilla ice-cream, we comforted ourselves in knowing there'd be challenges again the following week to hopefully regain our posts. And I'd be performing the Paganini Violin Concerto as soloist with World Youth Symphony Orchestra in no time at all. If I played really well, I thought, it might appease my parents. We lapped up our ice-cream cones. Our bodies vibrated with excitement as we schemed to attend University of Michigan together. I slid my hand against Scott's pant leg, feeling the stiff ribbed corduroy of his camp uniform, and he held it there.
"Aren't you warm in these?" I asked.
The sun bathed one side of Scott's face and I saw that his eyes were closed. Reaching to nuzzle against his neck, I heard a familiar man's voice in the background.
"There she is Frances," my father shouted. "Over there on that bench. See? I told you we'd catch her with that boy. You're fooling yourself if you think she wants to become a concert violinist—"
I spun around. My parents? It was only Friday. They weren't supposed to arrive at Interlochen till Saturday for a dress rehearsal. Aimed in my direction, they walked in lockstep, my mother in her Bette Davis wig, and my father with his fedora and summer trench coat. He held a cigar in his hand and pointed it straight at me. I leaped off the bench and smoothed my blue knickers.
Scott blinked and looked up in dismay.
"What's wrong, Luv?"
"You better go."
"My parents—they're here!"
"But Margie. Don't I get to meet your folks?"
"Scott, look, if you know what's good for you—"
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