The secret lives of band geeks

“Instrument players had a sexual style unique to their instrument,” dishes author Blair Tindall in her memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music (Atlantic Monthly, 2005).

“French horn players, their instruments the testiest of all, could rarely get it up, but percussionists could make beautiful music out of anything at all.”

In 1984, thanks to the film Amadeus, we all learned that Mozart was actually a rock star — it was just that rock hadn’t been invented yet. And subsequent big-screen endeavors — Impromptu (1991), in which Hugh Grant stars as the effeminate pianist Fryderyk Chopin; Farinelli: Il Castrato (1994), about a skirt-chasing opera singer who has his voice surgically altered; and The Red Violin (1999), wherein an instrument appraiser played by Samuel L. Jackson traces the whereabouts of a mysterious 17th-century violin — all further impressed the point that classical music is actually scandalous, secretive and downright hot.

Tindall constructs an American history of classical-music appreciation using her own R-rated story. A reluctant oboist (by the time her name was called to choose an instrument in school, her only other option was the bassoon), she soon learned that playing music got her out of such drudgery as studying. And band competitions led to greener pastures.

“At fourteen, I checked into a Pinehurst motel with fifty college students and within an hour was sipping a twenty-year-old drummer’s beer while he stroked my ego,” the former North Carolinian spills.

At North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, the oboist jumps into bed with her teachers, graduating to sleeping her way into increasingly prestigious orchestras.

“Honey popped open a Heineken and almost simultaneously lit a joint. He chugged with one hand and toked with the other to counteract the cocaine he’d just snorted,” the author recalls of a hopped-up harpsichordist. “The Fifth Concerto’s harpsichord cadenza, a classical version of a solo jazz riff, would zip by at breakneck speed tonight.”

Written with pop culture-savvy flair — a feat for a musician who, at one point, admits to being “proud that I couldn’t identify a pop song from Beatles to Blondie” — Mozart is a delightfully unlikely page-turner. And, even if it doesn’t encourage readers to listen to classical music, it’s sure to instill in them an unprecedented admiration of this deviant art.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about Tindall’s take on violin virtuosos, she writes, “neurotic violinists, anonymous in their orchestra sections, came fast.” Who knew?

— Alli Marshall

Blair Tindall reads from Mozart in the Jungle at Malaprop’s Bookstore (55 Haywood St.) on Saturday, July 2. The 7 p.m. event is free. For more information, call 254-6734. Tindall will also present a 2 p.m. pre-concert lecture prior to Joshua Bell’s performance at the Brevard Music Festival on Sunday, July 3.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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