College Classics: Embarrassing musical stories from my school days

Embarrassing musical stories from my school days

Dear Incoming Freshmen:

Welcome to Charleston. As I write this we are having our unique brand of godawful weather, the kind of heat that leads to a lot of clothing changes and irrational behavior.

This morning I rode my bike back and forth over the new bridge, making me so overheated that, two hours later, I stood in the refrigerated produce room at Costco until people started to stare.

The next evening, driving home from work, a can of Diet Coke that had been left in the front seat all day exploded, all over me, triggered by a slight bump in the road. It was a little like when John Travolta shoots Marvin in the face in Pulp Fiction.

Heat like this causes people to do a lot of things they regret — for instance telling embarrassing stories from their happy golden college days gone by.

It’s been 15 years since my sophomore year so I guess I can now admit that this goofy kid named Mike Dobbert and I used to play the 1812 Overture in our dorm room, not as a study aid but actually rocking out, air-conducting and so on. I used to know exactly when each cannon went off at the end.

Our other favorite was the Ninth. Looking back on it, those two rhymed perfectly with Dobbert’s über-conservative, self-made-man Nietzschean, Wagnerian thinking. I don’t know what my excuse was.

My favorite concerts in college were of the typical hippie and neo-hippie acts: the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Phish, and Widespread Panic (back then the latter had a fan of club of like 12 in Connecticut — yet another reason you should be proud to be a Southerner). But somewhere in the top ten would have to be the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s 1992 Halloween show.

I’d had about 17 cups of Elm City Ale, which was a local microbrew before Sam Adams ran all the real microbrews out of New England. My friend and I got there at midnight, caught the last three pieces in Woolsey Hall.

The show took full, unabashed advantage of gimmicks and audio-visual aids. First was the theme to the Pink Panther, played to a cartoon on the screen. After that was the William Tell Overture, accompanied by a video of two guys running all over campus, rappelling off buildings and doing other stuntman stunts. The film ended with them running into the concert hall, and then they appeared in real life on the balcony and zip-wired onto the stage.

The closer was that gem of the classical canon: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” A guy with a thick Southern accent talk-sang Charlie Daniels’ part. The second violinist was dressed as a Red Devil, and the concertmaster was “Johnny” — a little Asian guy in a tux. Unlike the country music version, Johnny’s part truly bested Satan’s — a worthy champion in an improvised, all-out, insane fiddle-off that quoted Paganini, Stravinsky and “Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo.”

After that? I can’t remember exactly but I’m certain that I went home and studied, because I read every night for four hours no matter what. Just like you should.

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