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Monday, 28 July 2008

The Night I Was a Leprechaun

By Mike Nichols of Anxiety, Panic & Health

My wife and I married while we were in graduate school. Our finances were precarious, so I took every playing gig I could to make ends meet. This is the tale of one of them.

Early one morning I received a phone call from someone asking if I could play a concert in Meridian, Mississippi. I agreed instantly.

Then he asked me what pant size I wore. And shirt and coat size. "Uh-oh," I thought, "What's this?" Without an explanation, he hung up. I was suspicious, but needed the money too much to call back and cancel.

As the date of the concert approached, my old '52 Ford, "Lurch," started acting up. He bucked and snorted when starting and dug his heels in when I tried to get him to move.

I was desperate. Gathering my courage, I called my father and asked to borrow his car.

Now, Daddy was inordinately fond of his new car. He washed it twice a week. He nearly rubbed the paint off polishing it. And here I was asking, begging really, to take his baby into the wilds of Mississippi.

The phone fell silent for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, being the good Daddy he was, he agreed.

The weekend for the concert came, and Ruth and I threaded the hog trails to Meridian. The orchestra was one of those that on Saturday morning had fifteen people and Saturday afternoon had eighty. Most of the musicians were hired for this highlight of the town's social season.

Looking out before the rehearsal, I could see a forest of three-foot home-made wooden candlesticks scattered throughout the orchestra. And the backstage buzz was that everybody had been asked their clothing size, but nobody was told why. The mystery deepened.

The rehearsal began. We quickly ran through the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture and the Grieg piano concerto, then rushed through most of the Haydn "Farewell" Symphony. You know, that's the one where each musician's part ends and he walks off the stage, finally leaving only the conductor at the end.

Only one ten-minute movement left! What were we going to do in the second part of the rehearsal?

After the break, we found out. The conductor had the last movement of the Haydn all choreographed and that's what we practiced for an hour: Discreetly finish playing when your notes run out. Tuck your instrument under your arm. Gracefully put your hand behind the candle flame, and with one gentle puff, blow it out. Tip-toe offstage.

And, oh yes, we would be in eighteenth-century costume.

The rehearsal went late and Ruth and I rushed to get some supper. The closest place was a little chicken shack. The food was so greasy that you could just snap your head back like a dog, and it would go sliding down your throat without a chew. I did that. I got heartburn.

The parking lot was surrounded by two-foot-high iron pipes filled with concrete and painted white. Decorative, I suppose. In quickly backing out, I ran over one of those little posts. I had caved in the bumper of Daddy's new car! No time to mourn, we were late.

I quickly got my costume and ran to the dressing room. Big gold shoe buckles. Long leg hose. Kelly green pants. A frilly white shirt and a gold vest. A white wig that sat on top of my head like Stan Laurel's hat. And a Kelly green cutaway coat with tails that were permanently stuck out at some radical angle.

I felt like a wayward leprechaun. I looked like a wayward leprechaun, only taller.

As the musicians came onstage, the audience giggled and pointed and poked each other. Grim-faced, we tuned up and tried not to make eye contact for fear of breaking up.

The concert started with the Berlioz. We felt ridiculous. It continued with the Grieg, and we felt like pure-T, anachronistic fools. Finally the intermission came and we fled backstage.

The candles were lit. The stage was darkened, and we came out with what dignity we could muster. The first three movements of the Haydn went off as well as could be expected, given the rushed rehearsal. But that was not the point.

The point was the last movement. Soon it was time for the first musician to leave the stage. He tucked his instrument under his arm, gracefully placed his hand behind the candle flame, blew it out gently, and tip-toed off the stage.

One by one the lights were darkened as the musicians blew their candles out. It was just lovely.

Finally, in near-total darkness, it was only me, the concertmaster and the conductor.

My notes eventually came to an end. I tucked my viola under my left arm, and gracefully cupped my right hand behind the candle flame.

Puff, I went. The flame wavered, but didn't go out. Again, puff I went a little less gently. The flame stood proud. PUFF I went and it gave up the ghost. The audience tittered.

Embarrassed, I hurriedly turned to exit the stage. The stuck-out tails of my Leprechaun coat caught the wooden candlestick and WHAM it toppled over and hit the floor.

The audience roared, as did the musicians backstage. If there were ever a swiftly-slinking tip-toe, I did it.

At last the concert was over. It was time to get paid. The conductor was sitting behind a little table in his dressing room, and the musicians were lined up outside.

When my turn came, he wouldn't even look at me. I had ruined his big moment. He just turned his head and thrust the money at me. I snatched it and ran.

Ruth and I retreated through the night toward home. All the way, I wondered how I was going to tell Daddy I had crushed the bumper of his new car. I didn't have to - he found it on his own the next morning. All I could say was that I would pay to get it fixed.

The repair cost $125. I had only made $100 at the concert, so we had to give him $25 out of our meager funds.

So all the wig hats, the leprechaun suit, the puffing and the chicken-induced heartburn were for naught, and then some.

It seemed like a disaster at the time. But I now consider it a bargain for all the fun I've had with this story over the years.

And, no, I never did play another concert for that conductor!

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Being a parent who loaned her new car to her son, only to have him damage it, I relate more to that part of the story. My son also paid for the repairs.

You held us to the end with this tale so it's easy to see how you've gotten mileage out of the telling.

I wonder how many times you have been invited to dinner on the promise of telling this story to the other guests.

Here's one more invitation. Can you make dinner at 8 P.M. this Saturday evening?

Bring the viola!


I had to cut the story in half and leave out a lot of details! It truly is a tale of comic missteps and woe!


Mike, I have to send this one to my son who has had many mishaps playing gigs. I know he can relate and would love hearing the entire story. His instruments are woodwinds, though.

Good story and so well told I can visualize you in your leprechaun outfit.

The mischievous leprechaun left them with laughter.

LOL.....that's a great story! You are lucky you didn't start a huge fire.

As a violist I found this hilarious- I was reading along with delight, then "I tucked my viola under my arm"
Thanks for making me laugh (with, not at you)

I wouldn't have been surprised if you had gotten an extra tip. Sometimes those unexpected scenes give spark and spice. I'm sure everybody except the conductor loved it.

This story is part of the wealth of this site. You too should honor us again if able.

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