The Trog Tales

Friday, 30 June 2017

It's no secret that I owe much of this book to my parents and, in particular, my father. He's been going to the Summer School for more years than seems possible. He valiantly took on the archive a decade ago and has done an amazing job filing and indexing and digitizing many of the resources. But some of the best stuff is in his head, which is why I'm looking forward to another week of music and long chats in the White Hart next month at this year's Summer School

In the meantime, here are some moments remembered from his long career as Summer School helper, aka 'trog'.

Being a Trog gives particular insights into the character and personality of artists, never more so than in the green room.   Before going on stage some are quiet and withdrawn, some calm and relaxed, while others are unnaturally boisterous.

After the performance their behaviour may be even more revealing.   When the violinist Henryk Scherying came off after a particularly long recital the Trog, offering him a glass, said “You must feel tired after that.”     The arrogant Szerying replied “Does a High Priest feel tired after saying mass?”

Coming off the platform for some it is elation, some ‘glad that’s over’, others  quietly content.   One evening when a Trog commented on the beautiful encore that Paul Tortelier had just played, he replied “Ah oui.   Mais comme l’amour c’est trop court.”

After a performance people can be quite angry with themselves or others.   Quite often quartets or duos would come off arguing.   The singer Mary Thomas, having performed a lesser composer’s imitation of John Cage’s Aria, stormed into the green room with a black face, hurled the score right across the room – “RUBBISH” -, then turned round with the sweetest smile on her face and went out to receive her applause.

Then there is the unpredictable.   One day, in the early years  at Bryanston, Elizabeth Schumann was waiting to go on stage to give a lecture, and I, aged 19, was her attendant Trog.    The previous lecture, John Clements speaking on the Chorus in Opera, was concluding with a record of the waltz from Gounod’s Faust.   “Ah!    Wunderbar!” cried Schumann, as she grabbed  hold of me and waltzed all round the room with me.    I subsequently begged that disc off John Clements and still have it to this day.

See you soon, Dartington!

Come and join me for a concert or a yarn, or both. I'll be at week 2 of the Summer School and if you make a pledge, the concert's on me!

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James Wilson
James Wilson says:

The key to Trogging was invisibility.
The concert must go on, but how it happens should not evident to the participants - the performers and their audience.
As this book will, I am sure, attest, it was George Malcolm who, having conducted the first half of a concert in the Great Hall, sat in the front row to watch the "helpers" go about their work and then applauding them once the stage was set. He then went on to conduct the second half and subsequently be the orginal coiner of the title "Trog".

Invisibility allows privileges - to be so close to the artistry of a musician and even participate in the liminal world between the platform and the green room. I once trogged a concert for the Brodsky String Quartet. From the moment they arrived individually in the Green Room to the moment they put their instruments away and went to the bar, not one of us said a word to each other. It was close to telepathy. A great concert and a huge privilege to be a small part of it.

Yet Invisibility can be thankless or when more visible the actions easily forgotten.
Smooth runnings are not noticed.
Yet mistakes are easily seen and sometime the only feedback one gets.

The great French pianist, Vlado Perlemuter, was towards the end of his distinguished life when he last played at Dartington. The concert was a year after the death of Peter Schidlof, viola in the Amadeus Quartet. Norbert Brainin, Siggy Nissel and Martin Lovett, the remaining members, were in the audience. Speeches were made. Hopes and spirits were high.
But Vlado was not happy. At the end of his first piece he was upset.
"Vlado, what is the matter?" I gently inquired.
"Ze sto-ool is too I. Ze sto-ool is too I"
"Let me adjust it for you"

I followed at a respectful distance as Vlado returned to the piano from off stage. I walked behind the piano and knelt down by the stool. Vlado sat, saw me and allowed me to adjust it gently down until he was happy.
I got up and walked off as he began a vigorous piece of Chopin.

I imagined that the audience barely noticed this short period of adjustment before being enthralled by this master of the great French piano works.
And that was how I hoped it would be.

At the end of the concert, Vlado comfortable in the Green Room and visitors coming to congratulate him, I walked quietly outside to find get a jug of water or somesuch. Martin Lovett of the Amadeus, stopped me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, "Great trogging. Great trogging"

One of my proudest moments.

June 30, 2017

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