One could say they've gone nine rounds, each a battle between music and musicians basically bereft of technical ability, and with the outcome always predictably in favor of the players, as opposed to the compositions they seek to execute – a perhaps operative verb. And actually the horns weren't half bad – although I am reluctant to say which half. This means there are big probs in River City, and never mind that our local river is the infamous Neuse – not to be confused with "noose," which may at some point become the necktie of choice for My Strow Sandy Hobgood, if ever we can muster enough critics at one of these things to constitute a quorum. (Why are critics always in the minority?)
Those nine rounds they've gone equate to three concerts each in Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh. The outfit is the Really Terrible Orchestra Of the Triangle. They have RTOOT emblazoned in gold on the sides of the conductor's rostrum, in case there's any question.
The Stick-Waver (Hobgood) reminded us that this is one of four community orchestras here. That may be little consolation for the folks who braved the construction zone surrounding Stewart Theatre for what was billed as "The Folly in Raleigh… – [a] One Hour Musical Slugfest! Match-up of the Century," pitting RTOOT against Beethoven – dead lo those many years and incapable of defending himself against this onslaught. From here to there it's many thousands of miles but one could nonetheless hear those bones rattling in that grave. OMG.
NCSU's alma mater, played at a funereal pace, was hardly recognizable; a few fans in the hall claimed they knew it, but none stood. (Aren't you supposed to rise when the body is rolled into the chapel?) At its conclusion, the winds and brass and percussion players escaped, permitting the crowd (such as it was) to heave a sigh of collective relief. But wait! The strings were still there – the gents (if we may call them that) somewhat uniformly attired, the ladies (ditto?) considerably less so. They launched into the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. We thought it would never end. And the winds and brass and percussion thought so too, for they kept coming back onto the stage during those monstrous Luftpausen – you know, those long gaps in the music that allow string beginners to shift to the correct position to continue with the following phrase. Poor Tchaikovsky. If the contaminated water hadn't killed him….
Johann Strauss II's "Roses from the South" didn't suggest those flowers so much as vetch, a weed that covers outhouses almost as well as kudzu, if not quite so quickly. Here the My Strow led the RTOOTers in every single repeat, the net result of which was to elicit waves of applause of gratitude when the interminable piece finally lurched to its conclusion.
A summer sing-along brought to the fore Assistant Conductor Michael Lyle (who masquerades as a bassist most of the time). Hobgood then demonstrated his vocal chops, leading "Summertime," "A Summer Place," and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It's no compliment to suggest that he needs to stick to conducting, but this segment actually seemed to pump up the crowd – or maybe that was just because it was followed by an intermission.
Part two was RTOOT's first complete symphony – a good thing, one might argue, since it may be seen as progress down the path to musical perdition. (How long can this last?) 'Twas Beethoven's Second, one of the Master's more sublime creations. It pleases me to report that I was able to drift off during most of this, coming to only when the young lady in the slinky dress paraded in front of the band to hold up signs announcing the changes of movements. Drifting was facilitated because with each program patrons received a set of earplugs, marked "in case of Really Terrible Music USE AS NEEDED."
There were more sighs of relief when the Beethoven ended – in part because it brought to a close the antics of two female cellists who attracted much attention to themselves. The crowd arose as if to leave but the My Strow misread the collective body language and played an encore – Sousa's "Invincible Eagle" March – before the people could escape. Next time, be warned: this one-hour program overstayed its welcome by nearly 45 minutes. Arrgghhhh!
At the outset the My Strow had reminded us of RTOOT's kinship to the Really Terrible Orchestra of Edinburgh, Scotland – which has actually played New York's Town Hall. Hobgood told us several ways in which the regions that gave birth to these two groups are similar. He neglected to say that both areas produce whiskey of considerably potency – Scotch, of course, and moonshine. After an RTOOT concert, healthy swigs – of either – are the best way to dull the pain.
Stay tuned for the next event in this series, sometime late next fall or early next winter. One can hardly wait…