For the last four years, I’ve played with my string quartet at The Paine Art Center’s production of Nutcracker in the Castle. What on earth is “Nutcracker in the Castle,” Ashley? Basically all the rooms in this mansion are decorated with Christmas trees and festive touches (nutcrackers). It’s sensory overload in a very festive (and nutcrackery)way. From mid-November until the January, guests are free to go on self-guided tours during the week or go on guided tours on the weekends.
We play on the weekends for the guided tours. Groups are taken by Godfather Drosselmeyer (who is usually mistaken for a pirate at least once a night) through the “castle” to see the rooms and a performance by a local dance studio. Before the guests go on the tour, they gather in a large gallery room to eat cookies, drink punch, play with toys, and take pictures in front of a gigantic tree. This is where we play.
We play the same music for each of the tours (seven on Saturdays, eight on Sundays). It gets old very quickly. Since the tours start the weekend after Thanksgiving, I’m usually in the Christmas spirit and feeling cheerful. But by the time Christmas comes around, if I hear Waltz of the Flowers, I’m about to go ape shit on somebody.
Playing the same music for eight hours each weekend for two months takes a certain stamina. When you’re playing Miniature Overture the 500th time, you recognize that you’re going insane, but you have to stop yourself from actually doing so.
Over the last four years, we’ve found ways to entertain ourselves. Though the players have changed (we rotate a few different violists, just got a new cellist, and now have two different first violinists to pick from), we still sort of do the same things: gratuitously long improv sessions during Arabian Dance, staring contests, adding ridiculous flourishes (super fast single octave scales), and lip-syncing the Drosselmeyer’s monologue. New forms of entertainment this season included the violist signing the monologue, Fruit Ninja battles on my Kindle, blowfish face ambushes (two of the musicians make blowfish faces and stare at me till I laugh), and stifling laughter at the expense of children who fall over for no apparent reason (yes, that happened).
Last weekend was the final performance of the season. Now that it’s over, I’d like to say that I’ll miss it, but I won’t. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with myself. If anything, I’ll miss seeing the group. We bonded, not completely unlike the way soldiers do. Hopefully there will be more gigs and even more after-gig beverages.