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Bonking gracefully - Joel Hall

My palms were sweaty, my mouth was dry, and my '92 Grand Marquis was running low on the $3-a-gallon gas that I had pumped into it that morning.

My mind was adjusting to the ending of daylight-saving time, and my body was coasting on a six-pack of mini-donuts and a bottle of orange juice, the only thing resembling food that I could purchase at the BP gas station on my way to Suwanee.

A few months earlier, I had scored a huge opportunity -- a chance to perform on the upcoming CD of an internationally-known, Atlanta-based jazz artist. Last Sunday morning, I drove up to a Suwanee recording studio for what would be an ill-fated session.

It's not like I didn't prepare. The week before, I had gone to the studio's web site, recorded the address, Google-mapped the coordinates, and left a half an hour earlier than the estimated driving time suggested.

The studio was on Buford Highway, which I now know is named Buford Highway because it goes all the way to Buford, Ga., north of Suwanee. The web site did not specify on which side of the expansive highway the studio was located, and I found myself on Buford Highway northeast rather than northwest, where I was supposed to be.

After getting minimal help from the studio engineer over the phone, I was able to make my way to the correct side of Buford Highway, and into the studio about 15 minutes late.

That was just the beginning of everything that went wrong.

When I entered the studio, I was expecting to see cigarette smoking, shade-wearing jazz musicians banging away at notes, anxiously awaiting my presence to begin the session. Instead, I was alone.

In the empty recording room, a thick sheet of soundproof glass was all that separated me from the artist, and the sound engineer on the other side.

Rather than a jam session, it was a "me" session. Under absolute scrutiny, my part was to be patched into the pre-recorded soundtracks, which I would have to listen to over headphones.

It was something I wasn't made aware of ahead of time.

I had recorded in the past, so while caught off guard, the idea of being patched in didn't bother me. However, when I opened up my violin case, my bow -- my $500, perfectly balanced, handcrafted, Brazilian Pernambuco wood bow that I bought when I decided to take music seriously -- was not in my case.

A large knot gathered in my stomach. I realized that I had left the bow on a piano in a practice room back in Clayton County, while practicing the night before.

I swallowed my screams. My thoughts strayed from my music to the idea of some jerk walking away with something precious to me that I couldn't easily replace.

I had two other bows to choose from in my case; the bow I used in elementary school, which was missing half the hair and chipped from sword fights in music class -- and a cheap, completely unused bow that came with an electric violin I had bought in Japan.

I had no choice, but to use the bow with hair. However, it was new, synthetic hair that wouldn't take to the rosin (hardened tree sap) required to keep the bow from sliding on the surface of the strings.

My violin was essentially strangled. I tried my best to play what I had rehearsed, but the artist wasn't satisfied. After playing the same four bars twenty times in twenty different ways, I was asked to pack up my case and go home.

Defeated, unpaid, and driving on fumes, I returned to Clayton County. I went to Best Buy and played Guitar Hero 3 for about an hour, so I could feel like a star and reflected on my missed opportunity to make it to the big time.

I felt like one of the many artists who have been booed off the stage at the Apollo. However, that same stage has produced Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Michael Jackson, and many of the artists whom people consider great.

Perhaps, it was a learning experience, a sign that I need to practice more, or just a terrible, random chain of events. However, some of the best artists are the ones who can bounce back.

I'll redouble my efforts and be ready when the next big opportunity comes along. In the meantime, I'll content myself with being a rock star on the Xbox 360.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.