Variations on a Jaegerbomb for 4 trombones and contra bassoon

Youth orchestra tours. Honestly,if parents had any idea of the bacchanalian debauchery that goes on, they’d be banned. I’m not joking. And, having spent the last couple of Augusts at Dartington, it occurs to me that international summer schools are really just youth orchestras for grown ups.

The fact is, when classical musicians get together you’d be amazed at the number of alcoholic units we can put away before falling over. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we all spend our spare time downing Jaegerbombs and singing “Get yer tits out for the lads” in perfect 4-part harmony to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. Really, I’m not.

However, some of us do. And this is the thing…

It depends on which instrument you play.

After an extremely unscientific study carried out in the White Hart at Dartington, I came up with an Instrumental Chart of Heroic Alcohol Abuse. I lost it on the way home but in descending order it went something like this:

  • Trombones
  • Brass
  • More brass (especially French horn)
  • Woodwind (and French horn)
  • Violas (yes, I know)
  • Conductor
  • Violins – both 1st and 2nd but 1st violins buy more rounds
  • Contra bassoon

Cellists pop in for one or two but won’t usually join in the 4-part harmony thing (unless they’re Scottish – see below). The contra bassoonist occasionally moves up the list, but may lose his trousers during the course of the evening and try to get off with a soprano.

Now, I’m not going to reveal the details of Dartington misbehaviour because I may lose friends. Instead, I asked my mates for their youth orchestra stories… and ended up with 26 tales of unspeakable behaviour.

So it was, frankly, difficult to choose. But take, as a typical example, the well brought-up young lady horn player who, not wanting to be rude to her generous Italian hosts, drank an unfeasible quantity of red wine during a pre-concert dinner. It was unfortunate that she threw up on stage during the 1st movement of Brahms 4th symphony but at least she was sensible about it and upchucked into the bell of her French horn.

Unlike the pair of cellists from the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland who may still be larging it up on the Orkney islands after an incident involving alcohol poisoning, Nigel Kennedy and a ferry.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that parents should be more careful about which instrument they allow their offspring to learn. If you’re waving little Tommy off on his first European tour and Tommy has reached Grade 6 or above on the trombone, well don’t blame me if you get a phone call at 3am telling you that Thomas has somehow wedged himself in the ornamental fountain after over-indulging in the local aperitif.

Actually, you can blame me. That particular incident was, actually, my fault. But bassoonists are sensible and don’t get stuck in fountains. We just point and laugh when trombonists do.

Anyway, I’m off to the pub. Cheers.


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