Today I had one of the more unexpected gigs I can recall playing, but in a good way. I was hired by a conductor I work with to play as part of a string quartet with one of his conducting students. Playing orchestral music this way is a fairly common teaching method for your conductors, but it's sure a pain in the ass. Normally, if an orchestra part is difficult you can at least console yourself with the fact that probably, somebody in your section is playing worse than you are. But alone? Eep. I've been slightly nervous about this since I accepted it, because I wanted to acquit myself well and I was worried that I wouldn't.
This turned out to not be an issue. I think that perhaps my hire email was a little misleading; instead of playing with one of the teacher's regular students, we were playing with a professor of Baroque music who had requested instruction. He's also terminally ill. Terminally ill, yet still pushing himself to learn new skills (or, as it turned out, a skill he already had some fundamentals in). A good friend of mine is currently undergoing testing to determine whether she has a degenerative illness, so this hit even closer to the heart for me than it would have otherwise. I am always awed when I rediscover how fucking strong people are.
We were playing a piece by Bach, which was only fitting for a scholar and teacher of Baroque music. I love Bach with all my heart, and I so rarely play his music anymore, so that in and of itself was a treat. The teacher/student gave us a set of rough guidelines for playing (no vibrato, hold our bows in a different place to more accurately mimic actual period bows) and we were off. He was surprisingly good; we had been warned that he might not have any actual conducting knowledge, but this turned out to not be the case.
The actual rehearsal was almost besides the point (at least, in terms of what i took away with me). It's always a bit fascinating for musicians to hear conducting lessons, I think, because it's like a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes on up on the podium, and this time was no exception. But this was my moment: In the piece we were playing, out of nowhere there is an amazing viola line that seems like nothing else in the movement. It's gorgeous and fantastical in that pre-romantic sort of way. When we got there, he and I locked eyes. His conducting improved dramatically as we thought together. I played, he smiled. We had a moment. I was so touched to see him taking so much joy in this thing that he had spent his life with. Nothing else mattered then.