I was at my daughter’s orchestra concert a few years ago, sitting next to my son, Oliver. We were subjected to the full range of orchestral sounds, from beginnings efforts only a mother could love, to the top orchestra kicking out Stravinsky in ways that most college orchestras can’t touch with a conductor’s baton duct taped to the end of a fishing pole.
The directors had individual kids introduce the titles. This is an oft-practiced confidence building effort, creating poise in these young leaders, a great opportunity deeply feared by the introverts in the clarinet section. “Hi, my name is Sally Johansen. Our next selection was composed by Mozart in 1786….”
During an early applause that day, I whispered to my son that what we really needed was a balcony box for he and I, where we could heckle these kids. Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t deserve heckling. They were great. I just like the thought of being Waldorf to my son’s Stadler. If you’re under the age of 40, you might need to know that Waldorf and Stadler were the grumpy, old Muppets who heckled Kermit during the Muppet Show in the 1970s. I’ve always admired Waldorf and Stadler, aspirational and inspirational characters for my sarcastic brass-playing soul. At any rate, this conversation had my son and I primed for inappropriate giggling at a Very Serious Classical Music Concert.
A new kid approached the mic. His shirt was neatly pressed and tucked in to his black concert pants, cinched tightly above the required black dress shoes. He was as professional as any that day, and he confidently read his short script. While I’m positive his family was proud of him, I was sure I heard him introduce himself as “Grover Mupply.”
I leaned over to my son. “Did he just say his name was Grover Mupply?!?!”
The giggles began in earnest. We tried to contain ourselves, but once a trumpet player, always a trumpet player, and we bounced and shook well into the second selection played by the following orchestra. It wasn’t actually that funny, but you know how the giggles can take flight.
I later wrote about this inappropriateness in a Facebook post, simultaneously proud and ashamed of my behavior. My friend and trumpeter Bill Simenson saw the post, and took up the chore of writing a big band chart to honor this fictional kid. I believe this is how Prokofiev first conceived of the idea for Lt. Kijé. Bill is also a fantastic composer, and organizes a weekly reading session of his charts the first Tuesday of every month in Minneapolis, holding court in front of The Bill Simenson Orchestra.
That’s right, a kid who didn’t articulate his name to the extreme became a fictional kid, and that fictional kid became a big band composition.
I’ve been asked many times to check out the band, but unfortunately, I was the parent who drove my daughter to most of her orchestra rehearsals…you guessed it, every Tuesday night. On top of having an impossibly busy year, it just never worked out. However, tomorrow night, I will finally be hearing “Grover Mupply”!
Or, as Bill says, “We’ll Mupple it up.”
I’m truly excited to hear this chart, and will report back next month!
–Steve and the Gang
PS: The kid’s name turned out to be “River,” and as far as I know, he does not know he is slightly fictionally famous.
PPS: Bill’s CD, “Big Alpaca” can be bought on Bandcamp, and it’s great stuff! One of my old students, Paul Stodolka, is swinging the lead book. You should buy it. 😉