Thursday, November 24, 2011

flowers swirling ... and fluttering

Davno, davno. Daleko, daleko. So long ago and so far away that I could not get back there if my life depended upon returning. Davno, I wanted with all my heart to play either the trumpet or the french horn. As it turned out, in our school, one first learned to play the trumpet and then the world of other brass instruments opened before him.

My dear parents sacrificed for my dreams. They rented a trumpet, or rather a coronet, for me to begin my quest. Practice practice practice the Band Master told us over and over. My poor father had to put up with me attempting to practice that fool thing day and night. Even on Saturday, on the thirty mile trek to the "farm," there I was with the mouth piece doing as the Band Master had said. "Pffffft." "Pffffttt." "Pfttttt."

About two weeks into the project, an upper classman, who was assisting the beginners, discovered that the only note I could make was "pffffffffft." It was a perfect "pffffffft," right on the tone - "C," but no matter how hard I tried, or what valves I pressed, "pffffft" was the only sound that came forth.

This was an emergency. My dreams were slashed, bashed, and crushed. The lead Band Master, Allan Ray Moers, was called in to discuss this with me. He asked me to whistle for him. I whistled through my teeth. "No," he said, "whistle through your lips." I could not do that. I explained to him that I whistled through my teeth because I couldn't whistle through my lips.

Allan Ray Moers sat there in silence for just a moment. Then he explained to me that, though rarely, some people are born without a certain pair of muscles in the center of the upper lip. A trip to the doctor might confirm that, but he said, "usually when those muscles are lacking, we have a natural born clarinetist."

"Oh no!" I thought, "the clarinet was a girls instrument, I cannot be seen with a clarinet!" It was as though Allan Ray Moers was able to read my mind. He said "I need some guys in the clarinet section. You have stronger lungs and stronger lips than the girls so you will do the band a lot of good."

School was out for the day and about that very moment I saw Henry walk past the window of the Band Master's office where we were talking. Henry went to dance class every day. For a long time I had thought that there might be something a little wrong with Henry, until I realized that he was the only boy in a dance class full of girls. Henry had just been ahead of the rest of us boys. Girls!!! And he could be with them and touch them and it was all approved and all ok!!!

A lot went through my mind in a split second. The clarinet section would be almost all girls! Girls and me! Ummm hmmmm. We swapped my rental coronet for a rental clarinet on the spot. I think Mr Moers was a little surprised how fast the idea that I should play clarinet took root in my brain and flourished.

It was today in 1958 that mama and tata gave me my Sve Nikola day present early because they didn't want to wait another day or even another hour. I was used to getting clothes for Dan Sve Nikola, but this package was hard.

I unwrapped it. It was a small black case. Inside was an ebony clarinet with silver keys. It was made in France. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

I loved her like some men love a woman perhaps. I lubricated her corks and I tenderly warmed her insides with my hot breath. I stroked her keys with all the gentleness of a lover. And she responded. Oh did she respond! Together we made music to wrench your heart.

As time went on, Mr Moers recommended to my father that I have special lessons. The clarinetist from the Houston Symphony Orchestra would come to our town once a week and these lessons would be affordable. On the night of the first lesson, the Clarinetist's reed broke and he didn't have another. There were half a dozen in the class so he asked if one of us would loan him a reed. He said that he usually used a number five, but he would be happy with whatever one of us could supply him. I used number fives so I handed him one of my spares. He was surprised but delighted.

He asked me how I came to have a good quality number five reed. I explained to him that Mr Navratil at Navratil's music shop ordered these for me special. They came from French Equatorial Africa and they were individually hand cut to my specifications. They cost a little more to begin with, but with some care, these reeds actually lasted a lot longer and were cheaper in the long run.

As he mounted this reed on his clarinet, he noticed that it was already polished. He complimented me on that and began a discourse on how the very best polishing material came from a certain plant found only somewhere in darkest Africa. He told about how it was expensive and difficult to obtain at any price. About that time he asked me how I managed to polish my reed so perfectly.

I told my father all about this discussion on our way home that evening. Saturday arrived. Father and I loaded up the pick up truck and away we went towards the farm. As we came to one of the swamp lands near the farm, Father asked if I saw what I needed to see. "Da, da!" He came with me into the sometimes waist deep water. We waded out to a place where the water was only a few centimeters deep. There it was, a sea of these special plants (and not in Africa someplace). Father watched me as I carefully cut each stalk just where the solid core became hollow. This would allow the plant to quickly regenerate. Why that was so important I do not know, but it seemed good stewardship of the resource so that is what I did.

We dried the tubular plant stems and cut them just right for polishing clarinet reeds. I bundled them in little bundles with rubber bands and stacked them neatly in a cigar box. When I presented them to my teacher I thought his eyes would pop out of his head. "Do you know what this little box is worth? he exclaimed? I shook my head. "This is worth more than the price of a house!" he said. He said he couldn't pay me for them. I said he didn't need to pay me, they were a gift to him.

Somehow after that, the lessons were free even when I was the only student in the class. A time or two he allowed me to accompany him to Jones Hall in Houston where the orchestra played. They let me sit in with them a few times. It was so very grand.

Once, a part of the Orchestra had a separate engagement. My teacher had to be in New York that week so they invited me to join them. It was a grand ball of some sort for the notables in the community. There I was in the best I had to wear - a $16 black wash and wear suit from JC Penny's department store. There all the people were in their wonderful finery. The men were in longer black coats than I had seen before - too long for dress jackets and too short to be overcoats for bad weather. The women were decked out in a glorious array of color.

This and that notable had a few words to say and then it was our turn. As we began to play I glanced at the ball room floor. The impression I've carried away for a life time is that of many flowers swirling and turning and fluttering in a breeze. The sight was beautiful indeed.

I've never been on the dance floor in quite such a circumstance. I don't know that that it disturbs me that I never was a notable worthy of being invited to such an affair. Heh, another observation that night was that all the rich and fine powerful people danced to the tune we were playing. The conductor's baton went up, we played, and they danced. At the moment we were silent, the swirling and turning and fluttering came to an end.

Flowers swirling and turning and fluttering in the breeze. Whatever one might think of all that, it was most certainly a beautiful and thrilling sight. The notables put on quite a show for us in the orchestra. I've never forgotten it but I had long ago despaired of ever representing that view in any sort of art - whether poetry, painting, sculpture, or in a video.

Our friend, Kotasierota1 has captured the scene beautifully and accurately this week with her "SECOND WALTZ - Dmitri Shostakovich." As you can see, her video resurrected memories long tucked away in a private corner somewhere.

I invite you to watch this video. If you haven't seen it, you should. If you've seen it before, its worth watching and hearing again.

I must go now, one of my daughters seems to be ringing the phone, probably to convey the old man her "Happy Thanksgiving" wishes from daleko daleko.

Kotasierota's video is here:  (sorry, I can't figure out the html to make it show the video right here but just click the link and it opens out into its own page).

SECOND WALTZ - Dmitri Shostakovich

See what I mean?  Like flowers swirling and turning and fluttering in the breeze and prancing forth in all their glory to the swirling and turning of the music.  

 do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,

Canovals a.k.a. Slavonac
24 studenog 2011

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