Phase II of Eggma began with the untimely death of of Rajat Mathur in a leaf blower explosion. He was briefly replaced by the other notable clarinetist from Jeff and Eric's alma mater, Clements High School: Marshall Murphy. This collaboration fell apart after several rehearsals because Eric had clearly not practiced the music at all, the unnecessarily difficult L'Histoire du Soldat by Igor Storpinsky. Eric's sidesplittingly bad rendition of the second movement became a running joke for years to come and was immortalized in Eggma's short film which also poked fun at luminary Van Cliburn.
With another third member running for the hills, Jeff and Eric were running out of ideas. As if the ebb of their of membership roster were not challenge enough, they dared to set their sights on a work of moderate to extraordinary difficulty. Looking back to Eric's salad days as a shiftless, lazy piano virtuoso, they unearthed one of his few projects, an inspiring recording of the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor with two Texas luminaries, violinist Andrew Wang and cellist Peng Li. This recording, in which Eric nearly played the piano part correctly, suggested the Shostakovich as a new project, but this time with Eric on violin and Jeff on piano. They would start from square one. Without any friends, let alone musician friends, they turned to a technological solution. Never clearly joking or being dead serious, Eric advanced the idea of playing a trio with a MIDI synthesizer. Somehow Jeff agreed to this absurd idea, and they meticulously keyed the entire cello part into Noteworthy Composer. Sound Blaster Live Value, a nationally recognized midrange sound card, was tapped for its delicate, realistic soundfonts. At last, they thought they had found a machine capable of replacing Rajat.
Artistic differences with the synthesizer, mainly over its rigid tempi, coupled with Eric's poor yet improving intonation, made this monumental Trio a tepid success.
For their next summer festival, Eggma broke with the synthesizer, and, paradoxically, with the search for a third member. The third member, like the second member, would be Eric! For the piece they chose Shostakovich's Trio No. 1, whose existence they inferred blindly from the numbering of No. 2. Shostakovich had repudiated this 10-minute, one-movement work from his early days as a composer, but according to Eggma's artistic judgment, it was still a masterpiece. Eric would dub the cello part on a viola lowered digitally by an octave. The key to the near success of this recording, which resulted in Eggma's CD-R release Shostakovich: The Complete Trios, was a 3-hour car trip to Austin during which Jeff insisted that Eric practice the hard part in the back seat. Eric practiced several times on top of this, and some of the notes were in tune. As usual, however, his expressive, singing phrasing was significantly better than that of typical inept amateurs--foreshadowing a great state of potential to come.
In the process of learning these works, Jeff meanwhile experienced a great deal of piano repertoire of world-class difficulty. His journey as a pianist, which began at age 10 in the rolling hills of Ft. Worth, Texas, home of fellow pianist Van Cliburn, was flourishing as a journey. Jeff's constant optimism also proved vital in holding the group together as Eric contemplated quitting violin altogether several times. In the end, the group stuck together, and the recordings were acceptable compared to other recordings that existed.
But Eggma did not stop there. Before Phase III it may have languished for months without any activity, and it might have been left for old history, but it was given a roundabout kick start. Eric had not touched the violin for some time and thought he might prefer to be a female pianist. At this juncture he came into contact with Peng Li again, now a master's student in cello at Rice, and faced with the prospect of reuniting their old trio with additional members and playing certain Brahms works, Eric bought a Casio and began practicing in earnest, spending several dollars on discount scores. Peng at one point became excited about the Tchaikovsky piano trio. Eric ditched the Brahms turds at this point and tried to learn the piano part of the Tchaikovsky at breakneck speed for the upcoming weekend. Then came his catastrophic finger door slamming injury, which postponed any playing past the week when all were scheduled to meet. His career as a typist lay in the balance. Luckily the finger was in excellent shape, despite some mashing. Around this time Jeff heard the mp3 of the Tchaikovsky trio and fell instantly in love... with Peng. The trio was everything he wanted in a trio, and he wanted to play it himself. So Jeff would take the piano, and Eric would take the violin. Partly as a result of this excitement, and partly a result of Andrew's sister's exciting pastime of playing wedding gigs, Eric took a renewed interest in the violin. But this time he resolved not to produce a regrettable, squawking, tin-eared atrocity, but instead a performance of the highest calibre. Jeff was doing missionary work in Thailand for several months, so they would have to practice separately for the time being. Peng meanwhile was too busy with a real career in music to practice the trio on the side. That part of the collaboration was stillborn before it was even conceived.
Eric began practicing the 20-minute first movement frequently, attempting to manhandle beauty from a twisted mass of sometimes limp, sometimes raucous screeching and uncertain, last-stand-viola-style pitch. He advanced admirably, but he was still frustrated by his inexplicable problems of artistic identity and basic technique that had lingered for years. In desperation he emailed a violin professor at the University of Texas for help, and was referred to one of his graduate students. An affable young prodigy named Pasha Sabouri took Eric under his wing. The amateurish je ne sais quoi of Eric's tortured youth would finally be banished for good in coming months. Combining flat bow hair, relaxed shoulder, increased bow speed, constant fingerings, calm and definite shifting, scale practice, and his existing genius, he skyrocketed out of the gutter, according to vague remarks made by several observers. By the end of the summer the Tchaikovsky trio was taking shape in a serious way with each occasional rehearsal. But who was the cellist?
The Third Member
Jennifer Tsai, who knew Peng, Andrew's sister, and Eric's friend Sriram, was the sister of the mysterious Steve, a classmate of Peng, Andrew, Eric, and Jeff. She had been the principal cellist of the Rice Campanile orchestra but had quit because of her busy schedule. Her desperation to play the cello again, coupled with a lust for power and money, brought her into the ever-expanding ranks of Eggma. Rumors that she was the "real deal" provided an extra incentive to Eric and Jeff to practice long and hard, to say nothing of the subtle artistic choices that would have to be made.
Once a month Eggma would sneak into a university practice room and rehearse. Their rapid improvement is chronicled in a series of minidisc recordings. Despite Eric's lingering self doubt, these recordings could be perceived as not being as bad as he believed. His mantra, adopted from decades-old video of Daniel Barenboim, "Zat was ooful!", could not have been more mistaken or even counterproductive. Eggma's distinctive, non-amateur sound was simply unmatched.
Eggma finally felt confident enough to have another Grand Concert for Jeff's patient relatives again. A great deal was riding on this performance: If they did not succeed artistically or if they missed even one note, they would be laughingstocks in Jeff's family for the rest of their lives. This would be particularly difficult for Jeff.
They pressed on, into the glowing black night of inspiration. Their optimism in the face of obvious and debilitating adversity was a beacon of lies in a sea of harsh, acidic truth.
Several years before, Jeff's [REDACTED] had [REDACTED] his [REDACTED], [REDACTED]. Then suddenly Jeff's [REDACTED], the flautist [REDACTED], said [REDACTED] too would enjoy playing in an eggma of such calibre. They immediately scrounged up several works by the Eastern Bloc's best-kept secret, Bohuslav [REDACTED]. [REDACTED]'s delightful 20th century tunes would prove a challenge and a joy at the same time. It would be a fortuitous meeting of two long-held nonsense words, Jeff's EGGMA and Eric's BOHUT. No one, except God, could have predicted this coincidence.
Beyond the future
Eggma currently performs with College Station native Lisa Lin, cello teacher, environmentalist, friend, and architect. Ms. Lin minored in music in college and studied cello with [REDACTED]. She has collaborated with such groups as the Eggma Trio.