May 2012

The Day I Played as Concertmaster for Regis Philbin!

May 10, 2012 19:18

When last we left our hero, blog-wise, it was 1999, and he/I had served as Concertmaster for Ray Charles. I'd lost touch with the contractor who had hired me for that gig, and hadn't thought in detail about that adventure until I recently wrote about it. Suddenly – and 13 years later – he called me again just a couple of weeks ago to hire me again as Concertmaster – this time for the famous television personality, Regis Philbin and his wife, Joy. The venue was to be the same. Formally known as the Harms Center for the Arts, it has since been renamed, Bergen PAC, and is a major performance venue in Northern New Jersey. The date was May 6, 2012.

From my previous experience I knew better than to ask if I could get hold of the music ahead of time. I showed up quite early but as with the Ray Charles gig, the people with the music arrived at the last minute. In the ensuing 13 years I had done many recitals, some solos with orchestra, made two CD's and had done hundreds of gigs of all kinds, both classical and popular – so I was rather more confident in my sight-reading skills. Nevertheless, in the position of Concertmaster, simultaneously sight-reading and leading your section is not the best position for either you or your section to be in. Then the contractor, who would be playing sax on this gig, told me that he didn't know exactly what the program would be, but that he had once worked with Regis Philbin before and that the overture that they used was not at all easy. “Great” I thought to myself.

Slowly, my colleagues trickled in. It was a small string section – 3 1sts, 3 2nds, 1 viola, 1 cello and 1 bass. As is often the case in such gigs, we were way under-balanced against a large reed and brass section. It was not until mid-way in the rehearsal that the strings got just one area mike. As it turned out, I knew the violist, cellist and bassist, but none of my fellow fiddlers. But though small, it was a strong string section. I learned that my stand-partner is a regular on Broadway, and the last seat in the 2nds was occupied by someone who had played a Mozart concerto with orchestra in Carnegie Hall.

As it turned out, that overture was not much of a problem, and neither were most of the songs. Most. Midway in the program there was a song with extensive violin solos. Nothing like sight-reading solos in a high-profile gig with a celebrity to get that adrenaline pumping! My solos were not quite like Ein Heldenleben but they weren't exactly “Twinkle” either. Some of it went pretty high, and some of it was awkward. (Don't even ask me the name of the song. I already don't remember.) But even the solos intrinsically were not the main problem. The main problem was that we didn't have an independent conductor, but rather the music arranger and pianist, who conducted from the piano, which was kind of far from me, and his back was to me. He kept saying that he couldn't hear the violin and that this song was all violin. But the real problem was actually the previous song, which had some unclear cuts and an immediate segue to the song with the solos. We didn't know where one song ended and the next began. So of course I wasn't sure where my solos started. Did I mention adrenaline pumping? It was more like “filler up – and with premium”! Regis and Joy came in for the 2nd half of the rehearsal to do just a few of the songs. I'd only heard them speak on his show – but they actually sang pretty well! And they seemed very nice. The last thing he focused on was – you guessed it – the one with my solos. The first time through we were lost for the reasons I mentioned. And the conductor let me have it. I kept my cool and explained the problem to him. He seemed to accept it, but was very vague about explaining the cuts and ending of the previous song. Fortunately a couple of my colleagues figured it out and I asked if we could try it again, and we did – and finally, it worked. Regis' producer asked for the spelling of my name. (I wasn't sure at that point whether they were finally pleased with my work, or wanted to make sure to remember whom never to call again!) I gave him my card, and we broke for supper.

That is, everyone else broke for supper. Even though I'd eaten little that day so far, I wasn't about to start now. I marched up to a dressing room, grabbed a complimentary can of coke, took out my violin and practiced that solo. I erased almost every previous fingering and bowing, and re-worked it to insure my own security and solidity as well as to support the interpretation I was already forming. And to maximize projection. I thought to myself as if I was talking to the conductor “oh, you're gonna hear me all right!” Having done all I thought I could do under the circumstances, I took a break, approached the Philbin's dressing room and offered Regis copies of my 2 CD's, which he accepted graciously.

Back downstairs in the wings I chatted with some colleagues and we prepared to go on stage. As is customary, as Concertmaster, I waited till everyone else was seated before going out to supervise the tuning of the orchestra. At that point, Regis, also in the wings, made a characteristic crack “There goes Klayman – Big Shot!” I took it as the really good-natured Don Rickles style barb that it clearly was, and chuckled. In fact it made me feel that however temporarily, he had somewhat accepted me into his group.

The show started well and continued well. Then came the song with the solos. I was nervous but confident. The conductor even gave a couple of cues – which by that point, I didn't need, but it was nice that he remembered. Then suddenly something odd happened. Something seemed strange with the lights. I realized that they were shining a spotlight on me! “Oh my God!” I thought to myself. There wasn't enough pressure till now! It takes longer in the telling, but this all happened in about a second or so. I immediately re-focused myself – and I can honesty say that I nailed those solos from top to bottom. And I did it with style, if I say so, myself. As to projection, I think they could hear me over in the next township! As I ended on a high B-flat, I noticed that Regis, who had already finished his part was looking at me in a nice way. He then announced to the audience “Ladies and gentleman, that was Raphael Klayman” - and I took a bow. I must say, that was a very nice moment for me! There was a shorter solo in another song as well, but that one was never a problem, and it went fine.

I must say that close up, I came to appreciate how good Regis Philbin is at what he does. It's the type of banter that makes people think they could do it just as well – but it's not as easy as it looks.

So all's well that ends well, I suppose. Perhaps in another 13 years I'll get a call from the same contractor to serve as Concertmaster for another celebrity. And if I can still play...

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