RTOOT, the Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle, established on the model of the RTO, the Really Terrible Orchestra (of Edinburgh, Scotland), launched its fifth season (May God bless us and bind us and tie our shirttails behind us…) at Durham's Hayti Center. The quasi prayer is perhaps appropriate for this quasi performance, for which the specific venue was the former sanctuary, now deconsecrated, of the lovely St. Joseph's AME Church, built in 1891, to the immediate south of which the Center was constructed precisely 100 years later. The audience perhaps hoped that the setting would have inspired superior playing from what Saint-Saëns could well have described as a "scurvy band," but alas the performance was on a par with many of the ensemble's previous efforts, which is to say it was generally sub-par - which, our esteemed My Strow W. Sands Hobgood reminded us, in relatively somber and serious opening remarks - taking all these things somewhat loosely - is basically the point of the undertaking.
The program is a 20-page piece of work that demonstrates the organization's disdain for radicals of the save-the-rainforests ilk. It's laden with puzzles, pages to color, and a program note or three. Crayon boys made the rounds, offering fresh coloring sticks to the crowd. (They were not an improvement on the crayon girls of previous concerts.) Careful readers will have noticed that CVNC has an ad in this publication - surely there can be no better example of cultural degeneration than this.* To what has the world come?
RTOOT appeared for the third time in Durham. It was the group's first appearance at the Hayti Center. Presumably it will have been the last, for it is clear that, aside from a single venue in Chapel Hill, no hall has yet seen fit to permit a re-engagement. (Chapel Hillians tend to be somewhat slower to catch on than Bull City folk, so RTOOT's several gigs in Hill Hall may be taken with a grain of salt.)
There are about 40 musicians, if one may use that noun to describe them. Some of these people are well-known and widely respected citizens. We will refrain from naming them, to preserve their reputations. Some of them hold and attempt to manipulate instruments for which they were not trained. Others are simply beyond hope. The amazing thing about all this is that from time to time they don't sound half bad. Sometimes they are completely bad. In keeping with the setting of this particular concert, the spirit was more or less willing although the flesh was generally weak.
Also if you put a fairly small orchestra on a fairly small stage the result looks fairly large.
(Note to Editor: Do I have to talk about the program?)
"The Moldau," an arrangement of the Smetana favorite by Richard Meyer, depicts the famous river in the Czech Republic that, as given here, overflows its banks and carries away turkeys, ducks, and chickens, all of whom were heard complaining in the woodwind section. Beethoven's "Turkish March" (from The Ruins of Athens) served two useful purposes - profoundly offending our easternmost NATO ally (Turkey) and allowing the brasses to warm up; it was accompanied, if that's the operative word, by a chorus line of seven pom-pom bearing people from the string section. Five parts of Grieg's Holberg Suite ("in Olden Style") found the strings alive in the hills even if they didn't all wake up at the same time. A short medley of video game tunes, conducted by Michael Lyle, seemed longer than it was. (Lyle is the RTOOT's Assistant Conductor. RTOOT needs all the assistance it can get.)
Rarely has a geezerly critic so welcomed an intermission.
It was too good to last.
Part two consisted of a medley from The Lord of the Rings' 2003 segment Return of the King. The music has a composer, and it would appear unlikely that the reason for including those "King" snippets reflected any delusion of grandeur on the My Strow's part. In its wake a Christmas sing-along was a relief, for the lusty vocalism of the near-capacity crowd came close to drowning out the instrumentalists. (The sing-along was augmented by RTOOT Diva Florence Peacock and the aforementioned Assistant Conductor, who may have found his true calling as a singer. Or perhaps not.) There was more of the same in the encore-proof "Hallelujah Chorus," from Handel's Messiah. Some of us fervently prayed as this began and then humbly besought forgiveness as it ended. On the way out I looked for the reception but found myself caught up in a torrent of racing audience members desperately seeking the exit door. The cool night air brought a small measure of comfort and hope for the future. too.
RTOOT is, in a word, amazing, and its members invariably have a good time. It must be seen, heard, felt, and savored. If you don't believe me, go the next time. Maybe by then they will offer a money-back guarantee of complete customer satisfaction.
Rooty Toot Toot? Not quite. And readers should be pleased to know that a PETA volunteer has confided that no animals (or people) were hurt in the production of this event because, she avows, all the strings were nylon or steel. (For the real Rooty Toot Toot, click here.)
*They swapped us an ad for a preview. Maybe we should convene an emergency meeting to discuss the future of this program....
By The Really Terrible Critic of the Triangle