Pamela Goldsmith is an extremely accomplished violist (see bio
below) who contacted me regarding her brief time working with Frank
Zappa. In 1975 she performed at Royce Hall, UCLA, with the Zappa conceived
'Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra' performing several Zappa
pieces conducted by Michael Zearott. It's nice to hear from one of these
performers - the performances were not well documented, so to hear anything,
especially Pamela's recollections, is a real treat. Thanks again Pamela!
I really enjoyed the interview with David Ocker. I have fond memories of my brief tenure as violist for Frank and would be happy to share them if you like.
I wrote back:
Thank you for writing, I'm glad you found and enjoyed the interview. It was really fun to do. David was extremely gracious and patient (it took over a year of back and forths). His contributions to the Zappa newsgroup are missed so portions of this interview stand as testimony to his postings there as well.
I would love the opportunity to hear your memories of working with Frank and any remembrances you may have of the pieces you worked on (especially Greggary Peccary if you indeed were a part of that as well).
Thanks again and I hope to hear from you again soon.
I will do a little at a time because I am (as usual) busy. It was Jerry Kessler who asked me to join him in a string quartet (electrified) to play with Frank in a giant Royce Hall Concert. It was the first time I had dealt with a pickup (Barcus Berry in those days) and amp (giant Benson amp), so in combination with dealing with Frank I remember being extremely pressurized. I had feedback all the time, as I remember. I used a combination volume control and wah-wah pedal, and once I was fooling around with it during rehearsal and tried using it to produce 'vibrato'. Frank came running out wild-eyed saying 'that's it-you have to use that'. So I did. I played barefoot because that was the only way I could feel the pedal underneath my foot (you must realize violists don't use their feet to play and this was all new to me. I was fresh from Stanford University, having received my doctorate in eighteenth century performance practice). In the performance, Frank had the string quartet right in front at the edge of the stage, dressed in formal orchestral attire. Except for my bare feet. He definitely wrote for individual players, writing more and more difficult passages until you would hit your 'wall'. I remember finally saying to him, "Frank, I can't play that any faster". Then he said, 'okay', and that was that. Everyone was apparently relieved that I was not intimidated by him (only by the electronics). I think I was the only woman around in that group (does anyone remember? this was a long time ago). Yes the music was highly complex and difficult, but challenging and fun to play. Michael Zearott conducted (the meter changes were so difficult and frequent)quite wonderfully as I recall. In fact, everyone was in top form, rising to the occasion of this incredible collection of players. more to follow later. pg
Here's more: Frank definitely wrote personal music for his musicians. Someone must have told him I was involved with a trombone player at the time, so he wrote duets (in unison) for viola and trombone. I remember the marking was 'grotesque'. The great trombone player, Bruce was a pleasure to try to imitate--he really had the satirical style down. The only two titles I remember were Bogus Pomp and Gregory Peccary. Somewhere in the Concert Frank came to the mike and announced to the audience, "you think I am a wonderful composer, but the truth is these musicians could improvise their own piece and it would be just as interesting, so let's have them do it now. Let's start with Pam". Then he turned around and gestured to me. Can you imagine the terror that sprung into me at that moment. I picked up my viola and began to improvise, in a very avant-garde, all over the place style. (they tell me it sounded a little like ornette coleman) Then he gestured to others to join in, waved people in and out, indicated dynamic changes and so forth. When he cut off the music (noise, whatever), the audience cheered wildly. I could only think: "thank god that's over--I hope no one ever asks me to improvise in public ever again"!
Thanks for the two great posts about the Royce Hall shows! I'll have to go back and listen to the tapes I have of those performances so I can hear your improv. It's been a few years since I've dug those out - they are audience recordings but very listenable as I recall. And as I'm sure you know, Orchestral Favorites was culled from those shows. Also, Frank used 'Naval Aviation In Art?' from those recordings as an opening vamp for his next rock band as they took the stage. By the way, Steve Vai recently revealed that he has the master score for GP and is interested in possibly doing a rock/orchestra performance of the piece. I know that Joel Thome (Orchestra Of Our Time) has expressed interest in doing it with Steve. Also, I have to ask about the comment David Ocker made in the Internet interview I did with him. I refer to this part:
David: (referring to the Greggery Peccary notes:) Anyway, in one of the folders was a list of the players - all studio people, good ones. I remember only a few of the names - Pam Goldsmith was the violist (she had to play the fiendish viola solos in Bogus Pomp). Her part to that piece had been run over by a tire of some sort - like a car or motorcycle tire. I met her once and asked if the part had been run over intentionally. She denied it. Other names that I remember are Earle Dumler (an oboist who was also the contractor), Emil Richards (percussionist) and Malcomb McNabb (trumpet).
Also, I'd be very interested in knowing what you do today, your involvement with music today - and if you became a fan of Zappa's music or if it was just an interesting detour in your career path (or both!)
sure use it any way you want. I probably did drive over it (the music) with the car (but not intentionally). Those were insane days for me (as if the ones now are not). Yes of course I was a fan, just as I liked all the contemporary music I had performed since 1961 in New York (I was the original violist in the Group for Contemporary Music at Columbia University). I have always liked the challenging repertoire. The detour was with the electronics. I never again played with a pickup or any other way than a standard studio recording.(Too much to worry about). I am new to computer so will try to send a bio to you.
Pamela Goldsmith was raised in Los Angeles and attended UCLA, Mannes College of Music, and Stanford University, where she received the degree Doctor of Musical Arts. Her principal teachers were Paul Doktor, William Kroll, and William Primrose. She taught at Stanford, California State Universities Los Angeles, Fullerton, and Northridge, and is presently on the faculty at the University of Southern California, teaching Viola, Chamber music, and Pedagogy. She has been a member of the American Symphony Orchestra (Stokowski), Casals Festival Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra; she was principal viola of the Cabrillo Music Festival. Her chamber music experience includes the Group for Contemporary Music at Columbia University, Camerata String Quartet, Stanford Chamber Players, and Sitka Music Festival. She has participated in numerous first performances of contemporary music, and has presented solo recitals across the country, on radio and television. Recently she participated as performer and lecturer in the International Viola Society Congress, the International Viola d'Amore Congress (Stuttgart and England), the International Master Courses (Kapaonik, Yugoslavia), and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Pam is an emeritus winner of the 'Most Valuable Player' award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Her viola playing has been heard on countless records, films and television shows. She is Vice President of the American Viola Society and she also plays the viola d'amore. Her articles on the application of scholarly research to performance style have appeared in many journals.
Many thanks to Pamela for her emails and permission to use her posts on my webpage.