...although it's hardly an act. Here's what happened.
I was sitting here minding my own business and waiting for the music to arrive for an upcoming orchestra concert. We begin the season with a pops concert in the park on the Sunday before Labor Day. It's always a lovely event with the seats and the hillside filled with people. The conductor wears a summery white tuxedo jacket, and we play light music people can hum to. This music is never so difficult that you loose sleep and fingernails in preparation for it, so it can be fun.
The first chair player of every section is called the "principal," which could mean he or she is the top player, and it could also mean he or she is like the disciplinarian principal of your school days. I remember learning the difference between "principle" and "principal," and my teacher said to remember that your school "principal" is your pal. I am digressing, but the principal of our horn section is both the top player and a pal.
Anyway...he can't play this concert and never does because he takes the weekend to spend with his family before the school year kicks into gear—he and his wife both work for schools. The player next in line for the seat can't play either because he'll be out of town the day of the concert. I knew that and wondered who would be chosen for the first part. In the past, the personnel coordinator has called down players from a university to fill in empty chairs, and I assumed she'd do the same this year.
Did she? Well, back to the beginning of my story, I pulled the mail out of my mailbox and was happy to see the big, brown envelope. I ripped into it to see what pieces we would be playing, and I was shocked to see the personnel coordinator had chosen me as "acting" principal for the event. What the hell?
The woman playing second teaches in a local school and has a music degree. The woman on third has been playing as long as I have been alive and never misses a pitch. I know nothing about the fourth horn player, but it doesn't matter. I have been playing a mere eight years, so what could they possibly be thinking?
Well, I have no choice but to show up for rehearsals and on concert day, so I have no choice but to prepare, heavily. I have been listening to Brahms' Hungarian dances like it's my job, and I have been figuring out efficient alternative fingerings for the faster parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
A trick I like to play on my trembling psyche is to remind myself of the pieces I have played in the past when I didn't humiliate myself, when I didn't crumble into a heap of insecurity at being cued for an important solo part. This has led to a new mantra that goes like this:
I don't suck...I don't suck...I don't suck..I'm scared...I don't suck...acting principal my hind end...I don't suck
I'll let you know if it works on game day or if I am hauled off stage with a big shepherd's hook like those old vaudevillian comics when their jokes laid an egg.