A Play in One Act
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 1992
Raymond: 40's, plays violin
Alicia: 30's, plays violin
Sandy: 20's, plays clarinet (and tin whistle)
Time/Place: They are in residence at a summer Music Festival
in New England. The set is one of the practice rooms.
Scene: Alicia is practicing with Raymond the violin parts
of Haydn's string quartet Opus 64 #5 in D major. They come to
the end of a passage.
Yes, yes! That is much better. Don't you agree?
ALICIA (points with bow to place)
Except for right in here. Maybe if we--
(SANDY enters, in a rush.)
Alicia? (runs back out and calls off) Eliot? She's in here. Practicing.
We'll be right with you. (to ALICIA) Come on, babes, we're ready
to go out and get those fogies steppin. (does a step) It's hoedown
(plays a phrase of Turkey In the Straw on her tin whistle)
Excuse me, but we are practicing.
ALICIA (pulls away)
I've got the Haydn tonight and the new Piston tomorrow, Sandy.
I'm not sure if I should take the time --
The Haydn? You could play it in your sleep.
And perhaps also in the sleep of the audience?
Oh, come on, Alicia. Eliot's waiting for us.
Yesterday afternoon was so great, such a recharge. And the kids!
I don't know how many have come up to me to ask when we're doing
it again. It's so wonderful for the families to have something
we can all do together, here, for a change. You promised.
I don't remember promising, exactly.
Well, Eliot's told everybody you're going to, so that amounts
to the same thing, doesn't it? They've all been looking forward
They have told you this, the people?
What do you mean by that?
Who is this everybody who has said that they are looking forward
to Alicia's playing of the hoedown? For instance, the maestro?
You mean Jim? What's with you, Raymond? Are you trying to insult
her or something?
Not at all. I have the greatest respect for Alicia, for the talent
of Alicia. I would think that her friends and her husband also,
would be alert to protect this talent-
Maybe Ray's right, Sandy. I'd better not.
SANDY (pulls ALICIA over to window)
What the hell!? Alicia. Look out there. All those people are out
on the lawn, sort of standing around. Eliot must be feeling like
a regular fool. Look, Ernie's even got his viola, but he's too
shy to start anything. I'm sure he's just waiting for you.
I'm shy, too.
Once you get going, you won't be! Like yesterday--
(Links elbows with Alicia and twirls her around)
Swing your partner and do-si-do
Grab a little girl and away we go.
Perhaps it has occurred to Alicia since yesterday that this playing
for the square dance is not a good idea.
I suppose you're another one of those snobs who think lowbrow
music is contagious. Pass the earplugs and spray the hall with
Lysol! Young people have got over that elite crap, Raymond. Look
here, Alicia. I called my boyfriend in Boston, and he drove up
with my tin whistle this morning. Ninth grade, we played in a
jug band. (whistles)
Your husband, now-- Sandra may be too young to know what she's
Maybe. But if you'll hum a few bars- (ALICIA giggles)
Eliot was going to surprise you. He's been practicing on the spoons,
so he can join our rhythm section. (demonstrates)
All right, all right.
That's a girl.
But let us finish this passage, first.
And keep them waiting?
It is what we're up here for. The passage we were working on--
We've almost got it. If Raymond doesn't mind, I'd like to go through
it one more time.
Five minutes, and then I'll be out and join you. Eliot can get
people organized into squares. Did you find another caller?
Fred Stark says he knows the Virginia reel, and I can fake my
way through the Texas Star.
Texas Star? What's the tune for that?
(SANDY PLAYS IT ON THE WHISTLE)
You go ahead.
I'll tell him you're coming. (exits)
RAYMOND (picks up violin)
We begin at the fermata?
ALICIA (starts to play, stops)
What was that all about, Ray?
Don't do it.
You said that. But why?
You'll ruin your career.
You can't be serious.
I know it is none of my business.
No, if you are kind enough to be concerned for me, I'm interested
in what you think. Playing junk music hurts? My talent's suffering,
because I fiddle country with my friends?
Of course not. I think your facility in that -- fiddle style--
proves just how deep your talent is. You have more than any one
repertoire can use, you have talent to burn.
Because what I think does not matter, and here there are people
who do matter. You are not fiddling with friends.
You mean I have enemies?
Competitors. And superiors; not to say superior musicians, but
men who will be putting in a word here and there, influential
ones who decide which players get asked back for next summer,
which are invited to record with a chamber group, who solos with
But it doesn't feel that way at all! This place is so relaxed,
at least it is compared to New York. It's summer camp.
They would have you think so. But they are watching and weighing,
all the time. Especially on weekends: then come the families,
yes, but also the board of trustees, the guild ladies. You think
they say, "bring your children, swim and play softball",
so that you can be a whole human being, and open up to the soft
and private places within that are the springs of better music?
No, it is for cute. The ladies and gentlemen, they mingle. They
feel cozy, they do not mind that you have a big talent and they
have none at all. But if you are too cute, if you make yourself
too cozy and small, they will not want you any more. What would
be the point?
That's a pretty harsh view.
It is a harsh world.
I know you've been around a lot longer than I have, and I supposed
you move in more sophisticated circles--
Your husband, too, should know better. He has been here before.
When you were not married, yes? Four years ago? He knew my wife,
at that time.
I didn't realize you're married.
My late wife. I am a widower.
Oh. I'm sorry.
A wonderful pianist: Veronica Gavenor. You have heard of her?
I may have, I'm not sure--
If you have not, it is because of what I am saying to you. No
matter the talent, the smallest slip can cast you out from the
circle. Especially a woman. What is eccentric in a man, in a woman
is frivolity. They say you are not serious --
What about Gunther Schuller?
Perfect, yes! In Europe, he would have had a great career. Only
now after he gets the "genius" grant, is he forgiven
his weakness of ragtime.
You've heard people saying this? Here, this summer? Those same
people who came up to me after yesterday and told me what a great
idea? Kicking up our heels, such good exercise--
Exercise, yes! But not music. That's how they think it. I can
see that they think it, and it makes me sick at heart.
I have noticed you, from the first. When you came last year to
visit your husband, and took over for Nina in the Brahms, I said
to the Maestro, that woman is very good.
Why, thank you.
But what is it you want, ten years from now?
Not a solo career. At least, I don't think so--
Then you won't. No one has a career who does not think he wants
it very badly. Your husband--?
First horn in the Symphony.
For you, I mean. Does - Eliot - wish to be married to someone
he must take seriously? Or does he see you teaching beginners,
playing in the Businessman's Philharmonic?
I don't know. It's hard to think past the next gig, the next set
of bills. When we talk together about what we want, Eliot and
I, it usually sounds like this place. Except that it's not summer
camp, but every day. Plenty of chamber music, no touring, or at
least not much, no living out of suitcases and losing track of
It can be lonely.
I suppose the ideal is a regular job with an orchestra good enough
so that there is constant discovery: but not one so big it has
to live by the warhorse. I want new music too. Sometimes I dream
I could compose---
Alicia? Eliot says he doesn't understand why the hold up? I told
him to just keep cool, get the dancers organized, but he seems
to think maybe Ray's giving you a hard time --
I am finished. But, ask yourself. (exits)
I don't think you should encourage him. Eliot certainly doesn't
like the idea. And to tell you the truth, old Raymond gives me
Raymond's very good. If he's willing to give me advice --
If Ray was all that good, he'd be at Tanglewood. Not that this
isn't better in some ways, at least at our stage -- .
Isn't it wonderful! Sometimes I think I've died and gone to heaven.
Maid service, gourmet food, a chance to play with people who'll
help me stretch and grow. Although Raymond says this paradise
business is an illusion. Secretly, everyone is watching for slips.
One long audition.
That man shouldn't be here. Jim's too soft. Sure, everybody feels
bad about what happened. But having him around to depress people,
to dispense gloom and guilt, it spoils the whole atmosphere. It's
not like any of us is to blame.
To blame for what?
You mean you don't know? About his wife? Jesus, I thought that
's why you were being nice to him, because you felt sorry.
Sorry for what? What happened?
Eliot never told you? It was before my time of course, but I'd
read it in the paper, and then Eliot filled in the gory details.
Ray's wife, Veronica, she killed herself up here, four years ago.
At the end of the season. I can't believe you don't know this.
Nobody's mentioned it?
No. No one.
That's funny. Eliot told me that--
ELIOT'S VOICE (off)
Sandy? Alicia? Are you coming?
Be right there! Come on, Alish. (runs out)
(ALICIA starts up, pauses, sits down again and slowly, softly,
begins to play.)