Jim Zorn's Symphonic Masterpiece
Jim Zorn's Wednesday media session last week yielded the story of the time he found that road-kill coyote and skinned it for its pelt. That was kind of fun. This week, after the coach had dealt with Jason Campbell's groin and his surprising reliance on the run game and his stint coaching in Detroit, some rabblerouser decided to ask if he had really been an an orchestral headliner nearly three decades ago.
"Absolutely," Zorn said, eyes twinkling like an Eschenbach baton under the FedEx Field lights. "Did you hear I skinned a coyote in my front yard? All right, all right, so here's the deal."
Right, so here's the deal. Zorn's wife, Joy, plays the viola. Zorn, as you may have heard, is always anxious to learn new skills. So around Christmas time in the late '70s, he decided that he could certainly pick up something so simple as the viola.
[Bog interruption: I asked Clinton Portis if he plays any instruments, and he scoffed, like I was a fool. "Saxophone," he said. "I'm [bleeping] Luther Vandross." Just passing it along. Back to Zorn.]
"I thought I'd be a little smart-aleck and I said, 'I can play this thing, there's only four strings, " the coach said after today's practice. "And I'm left-handed, so I played it left-handed, [even though] it's strung for a right-handed person, and I started learning."
With the holiday spirit in effect, Zorn learned how to play "Silent Night." He learned how to play the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He learned how to play classic American folk songs. And then, when a local talk show asked Zorn's wife for some funny questions to ask her husband, she mentioned that he was learning how to play the viola, that oft-forgotten but invaluable member of the orchestral team, the very opposite of a quarterback.
"So they asked me the question, and I just started cracking up," Zorn remembered. "And so I told them, I explained this story. The Seattle Symphony calls the program and says we'd like you to do a medley on a subscription night at the Symphony, on a Wednesday subscription night, when the whole orchestra was there. I said, 'Are you kidding?' "
They weren't kidding. Now, if the Boston Pops, on a whim, called a talk show and inquired as to whether Bill Belichick might join them on stage for a subscription night, he'd mutter something into his sweatshirt and storm off. But when the Seattle Symphony extended that invitation to Jim Zorn, he started practicing. With a nine-year old boy who lived around the corner and who played the bass fiddle. The boy's mother played the cello, you see. Bear in mind that Zorn was an NFL superstar at this point in his life, practicing the viola with a nine-year old kid down the block who played the bass fiddle.
Anyhow, the big night came. Zorn and the nine-year old went out, each holding each other's instrument, each wearing jeans and tuxedo t-shirts. Really, they were wearing tuxedo t-shirts. Then they traded instruments, and Zorn played the viola like a fiddle, holding it under his armpit.
"We played three songs," Zorn said. "We played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star--with variations. We played Ode to Joy. And then we brought the house down with Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley, and we literally got a standing ovation."
Hmmm. For shame, Wade Phillips, for shame. I told some Redskins players, and asked if they were surprised that their coach once gave a symphony performance.
"No," Colt Brennan said. "Did you know he played collegiate badminton? He does different stuff like that."
"Jack of all trades," Chris Samuels summarized.
Before he started talking to an out-of-town reporter about the acquisition of Shaun Alexander, I asked Zorn whether he still tinkers around with any instruments.
"I just turn knobs on the radio," he said with a smile.
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