The pre-dress for Les Boreades arrives and the cello section has a bonding session ('partielle') in preparation which leaves me feeling very fragile.

We play slowly through the scales passages trying to agree on the placement of E, F sharp and A flat and, even after thirty-five years on the job, the buggers are still escaping my fingers like guilty convicts. Obviously baroque F sharps are different (being essentially harmonic notes which maintain the structure rather than melodic ones which pull on it) and I'm relatively new to them but nevertheless, slapping my digits down any old where simply won't do. We are fine-tuning and the trouble is - everyone seems to be tuned to a different inner lute.

Next comes the discussion about vibrato. There are six people, six cellos and six schools in the room: Two conflicting French schools of baroque practice, the English and Swedish schools of the same, the 'This-is-a-laugh-should-have-done-this-years-ago-I-can-wing-it-I-think' school, and the School of Wobble. All but one school respects the old adage:

'When six or more are gathered together in My name, thou shalt not wobble'

In other words, with everyone inspired to wobble at different moments (corrr, this is a tasty bit; I fancy a wobble; wobble wobble etc)it is best not to wobble at all. The prime wobbler disagrees and, grinning charmigly it has to be said, carries on wobbling.

We take our seats and our conductress greets us, sporting a pretty orange linen frock with a white towel around her neck like a prize fighter. Her assistant crouches just outside the ring with the post-it notes.

We're off, and she might aswell have been wearing a pretty orange bathing suit as, within bars of pumping the intro, she is drenched. Our Japanese section leader has been conserving his energy for he is spinning like a whirling dervish. Across the harpsichord he catches the eye of another of his countrymen who is rockin' even harder and I chuckle remembering something he had said in the bar the night before. Sitting over a pint of 'pression' in his studded jeans, torn AC/DC t-shirt and tell tale white worms coming out of his ears - the ultimate in ipod ad - he told me that he only listens to baroque music and hard rock. However, to send himself to sleep he always listens to hard rock because baroque music gets him too wired. I understand when I see the whites of his eyes glint as he rips at his runs.

I'm just about getting out of my post-sectional funk and entering into the music. One of the bowings we decided on in the sectional flies by and none of us do it. I turn to my desk partner and laugh. I too begin to fly.

My desk partner and I clicked right from the start, establishing our passionate commitment to reaching beyond our selves in performance. Tonight, however, she is tired and probably scared. Her tendonitis is creeping up on her with all its usual threats. She has shut off and after the first act she snaps at me:

"I'd rather you didn't look at me when I do a wrong bowing"

From a laughing dancing woman serving her muse I start falling....falling...and suddenly I am the eighteen month old baby who, shortly after the birth of her brother, chose to leave this world and go into a coma for two weeks, believing there was no space for her. I am stuck there for the duration and I can't get out, no matter how many whirling dervishes and hard rockers tug at me. I am as good as dead for acts two, three, four and five. I can see the look of concern on the faces around the iron crib I have erected around me but I simply do not have the strength to reach out and touch life.

Walking back to the hotel afterwards I know there is no way for me to get out of this hell other than talk to my desk partner and explain what is happening. Luckily we are both honest enough to swiftly establish that she too, due to her own fear, had slipped into a destructive childhood pattern, lashing out at the closest person to her. Her 'Destroyer' and my 'Annihilated' are, of course, a perfect match for one-another. We share a beer, a hug, and relocate ourselves in the world of musicians, of women, but there is nothing that can take away the sadness of having missed the performance.

I fall asleep thinking that the strong beast that is the orchestra is, in fact, composed of individual souls sitting naked in front of the great score, desperately trying to locate the universal F sharp whilst exposing the full range of their passions and sensitivities for all to see. Each is centimetres away from the well-worked armpit of another soul with another set of vulnerabilities and strengths. It is wonder we do not collide more often. I weep in my deep sleep. I'm not sure why, but in the morning I haver forgiven myself. And I have forgiven my desk partner. Today is a new day and we have the dress rehearsal to look forwrd to.



Ruth, this is stunning, you're writing better and better, words of the unsycophantic variety fail me, I'll just shut up and admire and be moved quietly...

Wow, lovely.And did the coma really happen?

do you think I'd make it up clare?! (yes and how. spent most of my life in rebirthing pools trying to figure it out) thanks both.x

Oh my, Ruth. Stunning, indeed. I love seeing the orchestra through your eyes, heart and bow.

Beautiful words...

This is even better than your life in france; rarer - where else do we get orchestral life from the inside? (In every sense.)

Fascinating insights; tremendous writing. Thank you, again.

Thanks, Ruth.

for what, mig? profoundly inspiring blog or supper invitation? are you coming on the 7th?

White worms? I LOVE it!!! Thanks, Ruth, for such an elegantly written post about the inner workings of a professional orchestra.

Profoundly inspiring post.Invite too, of course. 7th ought to be fine.

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