Hidden World of the Viola d'Amore

Dec 28, 2018

My Thanksgiving List, 2018

“The best part of any voyage, by plane, by ship, or train, is when the trip is over and you are home again.”

Category: General
Posted by: tgeorgi


My Thanksgiving List, 2018



“The best part of any voyage, by plane, by ship, or train, is when the trip is over and you are home again.”


This quote is from Ludwig Bemelsman’s 1959 picture story Madeline and the Gypsies. Not for the first time, I was thinking about Madeline as I sat in my seat in the plane on the tarmac of the Island Airport, with the Tafelmusik Orchestra, headed for Chicago for 3 performances of Actéon, Inception, and Pygmalion in the Harris Theatre.


Anxiety is my main experience in life. Usually once my violin slides into the overhead compartment I can begin to relax. On this occasion, however, although space for the bass instruments had been carefully negotiated in advance with the airline, the crew on this particular plane hadn’t been told, and the closet the bass players were to use was already partly full. So there were a few more anxious moments before the 3rd bass was finally accommodated.


And I was thinking, if the best part of a trip is being home, why am I going?


Which is ungrateful of me, because I also realize I am endlessly grateful for the experiences I have had on tour as a professional musician the last 38 years and 7 weeks (and counting).


Here is a partial thank you, for the memories I treasure:


From October 1980 to about June 1989 I was a violinist in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Every June the QSO did a tour, by train, 1600 kms up to Cairns and back. We had the train to ourselves, so we could cook in the griddle car. Cooking in a galley kitchen with 60 other people is a challenge; I found myself eating at 4:30 pm. Every night after the concert the train left at 12:01 am for the next city. At 30 kmh, with manual switching, that trip could take all night.


We could take our push bikes on the train!  If it isn’t a motor bike you have to push it yourself, so, pushbike. It became an annual thing for me to finish the 2nd of the afternoon schools concerts in Townsville, and head out on my bike to climb Castle Hill. I just looked it up; Castle Hill is over 900 feet high. I must have been quite fit when I was young. I regret I never had the nerve to let go of the brakes on the way down.




Once I joined the Tafelmusik Orchestra (my first program was the Messiah in 1988, so I am just coming up to 30 years,) there were many amazing tours. But the one that comes to mind this afternoon is the DC3 charter we took from Whitehorse to Inuvik, and then on to Red Deer, in March of 1993.


It was fine spring day in Inuvik when we got there. - 35 C fine. When we were about to board the DC 3 to head south again, the engines were covered with tarps. There were 55 gallon drums with fires under the tarps, to warm the engines, before the oil was put back in. The oil had been taken out of the engines to be kept warm in the terminal during our visit.




It was 8 hours flying time back to Red Deer. At 140 knots a DC3 takes a while to get places. The first four hours the toilet was frozen.


I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But I admit I find these kinds of experiences benefit from 10 years or so of seasoning.


And I haven’t gotten to Chicago yet.


Many times on tour I have been involved, in various ways, with my advocacy for the viola d’amore. In an Archive in the Basilica in Zaragoza, Spain, I visited a curious manuscript of 7 solos for viola d’amore and basso, which I was able to assure curator was good, historically interesting, and unknown to the musical world. In Göttweig, Austria, likewise, there was a very important manuscript of 25 of the earliest solos for the viola d’amore, including 3 that I believe are by Biber. And I have given lectures on the viola d’amore in various places.


I did one of these viola d’amore lecture demos in New Orleans. The Music Department chair asked me to do a 10:30 presentation, he called me at 8:30 am the same morning! I got the kind of last minute call in my motel room 20 miles away on the east side of the river.


It was pouring. The motel called me a cab. After we drove across the river into to the downtown, the driver asked me for directions. I had no idea where I was going, other than the music department at the university.


“Ask the dispatcher?” I suggested to the driver. “You’re on your own, hon,” said the dispatcher to the driver. (Exactly what she said. I am not making this up.)


“Why not ask the guard at that gated community,” I asked the driver.


He pulled up alongside the gate house and rolled down his window. His window fell out of his door. He was soaked instantly.


He didn’t drive me where I need to go, he insisted I get out, somewhere, I didn’t know where, some sort of university building. I went in and called the music department, who sent a secretary to me up.


My morning improved after that. Although the department chair who invited me fell asleep during my talk, (well, he had just given a lecture on Brahms Symphony 2, so he had been working hard,) there were about 40 people at my lecture, and some asked very good questions. I like good questions. Even or maybe especially when I can’t answer them. Afterwards, one of the attendees, an amateur gamba player, kindly took me to lunch, and then very kindly drove me all the way back across the river to my motel.


Looking back, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.


Chicago, yes, Chicago. Just last week. Well, there was anxiety for me, but nothing like New Orleans. In Chicago I asked the front desk for directions to Waukegan, where I had an appointment to measure up an especially rare, exceptionally well preserved, Gagliano viola d’amore. And the front desk said to take a cab to the OTC! Where I was to catch a train to Waukegan.


But I like to have a look at things when I go places, and as it turned out, I could walk from my hotel to OTC just by staying on the south side of the Chicago river, and then the south fork of the river, and until I arrived at Madison just a couple blocks from OTC. What an excellent walk, about a half hour! (With a number of members of the orchestra I covered the same route the next day on the Architecture tour by river boat, which is an even better way to see that area.)

I caught the train to Waukegan and spent 3 intense happy hours measuring up an outstanding viola d’amore with a number of unique features I had not seen before.


The performances were fine. One of the pleasures I treasure about touring is hearing how different a familiar performance sounds in a new Hall. Always a surprise, in this case a very pleasant surprise. What I will remember, though, is the Harris Centre’s No Shushing rule for family concerts. The kids were really very well behaved. Lovely.


And we got home again.




And just as true as Bemelman’s line that begins this blog, is the next line in his story…..


“Here is a freshly laundered shirtty. It is better to be clean than dirty.”


You are home again when your laundry is in the machine, I say.


And I also say, this American Thanksgiving, thanks a million, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and Tafelmusik! Thanks for all the good times I had on your tours. I had a blast.


And my laundry is done! I’m ready to leave again. Versailles, Munich, and Madrid, here I come.



Gratefully, Tom Georgi