Friday, May 15, 2009

Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends

So I found myself in a big pickle several months ago when I innocently attended a Salvation Army function.

It was a terrific event, a fund-raising luncheon to kick off the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Drive before Christmas. Altruistic people poured money into big pots and folks were buying auction items at prices that far exceeded the values of the items. It was the auction that got me in trouble.

I had been somewhat interested in several of the auction items, but sat back quietly when bidding started on what was termed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct a symphony orchestra. The "opportunity" at hand was the honor of serving as guest conductor for the Monterey Bay Symphony during the annual Memorial Day Concert at the Naval Postgraduate School.

When the bidding started, I couldn't imagine who on God's earth would bid on such an item. And I was surprised when the bidding moved apace quite briskly.

But I was even more surprised when a gentleman at my table, Ron Weitzman, a fellow I once thought of as a friend, jumped to his feet to announce he would bid an unmentionable amount of money if Joe Livernois agreed to conduct the symphony.

Every eye in the room turned to me, of course. And the look behind all those eyes seemed to indicate that it is so so wonderful that I would assent to such a thing. All that smiling. All that nodding. Put on the spot, I really had no choice. I agreed to lead the freakin' symphony.

But the thing is this: I don't know a damn thing about conducting a symphony, other than what I learned while watching Bugs Bunny cartoons about 40 years ago.

But I am a gamer. Dr. Carl Christensen, the symphony musical director, told me I'd be leading the symphony through "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which seems like a spirited selection (without, thankfully, any potentially embarrassing time changes).

And I've been practicing a lot lately, to the bemusement of my family. I've pulled down a YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein, yanked a couple of versions of the song from iTunes, and rented the appropriate tails. And I believe I've done a credible job during my personal rehearsals in the living room, even if I'm using a chopstick in place of the conductor's baton.

Aside from witnessing my own public humiliation, the rest of the concert should be terrific. Joe Meyers, a tenor who bills himself as the "West Coast King of the High 'C's'" will be there. Caitlin McSherry, a violinist with the Monterey Symphony, will perform traditional American fiddle music. And Rep. Sam Farr will narrate the "East of Eden Symphony."

Gates open at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, May 25, and the concert starts at 2 p.m. It's free -- and I guarantee you'll get your money's worth from me.

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