Today’s post comes from another friend of mine, Sean Jacobson, who is a student at St. John’s University. Having known him for several years now, I can say that he is serious when he writes that “there is very little in this world that I enjoy more than classical music.” In fact, I would even add that such enjoyment rests on a fine precipice that, with one stumble, could send him careening into obsession and thus a life spent locked away with as many cats as there would likely be pianos. But I’ve digressed.
Sean had the great fortune of seeing the Minnesota Orchestra perform at his campus a few weeks ago and (as you will learn) thought it would be a good idea to solicit a drawing from famed conductor and notorious sourpuss OsmoVänskä. Unfortunately that cold April evening only saw Mr. Vänskä carve his name into the Wall of Shame as the orchestra’s Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano made history [Clarification Needed].
Without further introduction, I now present to you what will likely be the best-written post you find on this website for a while:
A (Somewhat Artfully Embellished) Tale of Classical Giraffes
As those who know me will tell you, there is very little in this world that I enjoy more than classical music. One of those things, though, one of those rare interests that can contend with Mahler, Beethoven, or Shostakovich for my love and adoration is the noble giraffe. As a child, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would proudly answer “a giraffe!” no doubt hoping to capitalize on my then-disproportionately long neck. Naturally, then, a giraffe drawn by a professional classical musician…well that would just be the bee’s knees.
Such were the thoughts going through my head recently when the Minnesota Orchestra performed on campus. As I sat entranced watching the concert from the second balcony the thought, nay, the revelation, nay, the divine mission struck me: I had to get a giraffe drawn by the conductor, Osmo Vänskä. As the first half of the concert closed with a brilliant tuba feature, I set off to seek out the maestro. As I wound my way around the back of the hall and into the rear lobby I noticed a group of musicians huddled in a circle intent upon something in the middle. My mission temporarily on hold due to curiosity, I decided to examine the situation more closely.
It was then that I noticed that one of the three musicians was none other than Manny Laureano, principal trumpet of the orchestra. Let me put this in perspective for a moment: I’m a music major. The Minnesota Orchestra is one of the world’s best ensembles and one which I have idolized since I first saw them live in ninth grade. I play trumpet. Manny is an artist of the highest caliber. Put it all together and you have me hyperventilating like a pre-teen girl meeting a varsity quarterback. I cautiously approached Manny and the other two no-doubt virtuosic players (who, I am embarrassed to admit, I have completely forgotten the names of). One of them was playing a game of chess against Manny who promptly put her in check. I couldn’t help but think that either he was a pretty awful chess player or was making an extremely bold gambit. Certainly, he had put his opponent in check, but in doing so he left his queen wide open to attack. As I meekly intruded, introducing myself as a trumpeter and giving the pitch asking for a giraffe from any of the three, I watched Manny’s gamble pay off as his opponent, no doubt focusing on her king, missed the opportunity and blocked attack rather than going on the offensive. Manny made his next move and proceeded to begin drawing a giraffe while the other bystander and I made small-talk about giraffe fight videos on YouTube. I was impressed by Mr. Laureano’s ability to multi-task as he sketched the giraffe while still continuing to dominate the chess board.
Clearly impressed as well, the bystanding musician commented “Oh yeah, that’s pretty.”
“Mmhm. She’s gonna have some eyelashes too,” was the trumpeter’s response.
Breaking for a moment from the game as he began to draw the horns, Manny asked “They have some kind of unit on their head too, don’t they? Like big-ass goats, right?” Mr. Laureano proceeded to finish the drawing, promptly declare checkmate, and play a Rachmaninoff symphony. Cause that’s just how he rolls.
Now, a giraffe from the principal trumpet is a beautiful victory in itself, but it still left the big fish to be fried. As I watched Osmo conduct the second half I was almost certain I saw his baton trace the outline of a giraffe in mid-air. Determined to acquire a giraffe from the director, a squad of friends and I surrounded the backstage area and loading dock to intercept him. Musicians and instruments flooded out the doors one after another, but the maestro was nowhere to be seen. Figuring that he had already snuck out the door, the team and I gave up the chase and headed for home.
Just as hope was dwindling, though, I caught sight of the back of a particular curly white-haired head as I passed the backstage doors one last time. I reversed direction and walked in. Sure enough, it was Osmo Vänskä himself. I waited for a lull in the conversation he was having with another musician and interjected.
“Er…excuse me, Mr. Vänskä, I was wondering if I could make a somewhat strange request.” He slowly turned around and gave me a look unlike any I’ve encountered before. It was a look of mixed surprise, unease, and impatience, a look I can only describe as one most people might give if they were ordering a meal at Taco John’s only to find they were out of Potato Olés. Every eye in a twenty foot radius turned and stared at us. After a break of silence that seemed to last an eternity he spoke:
“Well, that depends.”
I gave the pitch and watched as the spectators’ faces broke into smiles and laughs, as if to say “Why what a brilliant idea! Please, Osmo, give this eager, doe-eyed young lad a giraffe!” The look stayed on the conductor’s face with a coldness as harsh as the desolate Finnish wasteland from whence he came. “I’m very busy.”
I was stunned. The possibility of a rejection hadn’t even crossed my radar. “Sir, it’ll only take 30 seconds of your time, you can do it right now.”
Osmo was unmoved. “I’m going to be out of the country next week, I’m very busy.”
“30 seconds, sir. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. In fact it’s best if it’s not.”
Cold. So cold.
After a while of trying to convince the maestro (a while, I should mention, that almost certainly would have been long enough for him to draw a freaking giraffe) I gave up, and walked away empty-handed.
I bet Vänskä’s giraffe wouldn’t have had such pretty eyelashes anyway.
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I love the baseball bat legs. Positively outstanding!
Really, Osmo? Give the guy a drawing! Philip Glass obliged…
This is one of the best blogs I’ve read in a long time. Although I am rather biased, as the giraffe is by far my favorite animal, (likely because I sit at a meager 5’2″ and am amazed with the glorious animals)… this is such a great story! We should all remember how important it is to take 30 seconds each day to simply smile, and be creative. Music and giraffes… I think you’ve got it right.
Manny would do just about anything to help out a young musician. He ennobles the music profession through his playing and his humanity.
Why should Osmo Vanska draw you a giraffe if he doesn’t feel like it? He is a great conductor! Why put him down because he didn’t comply with your request?