Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stranger on the Shore - - - - and Me

After learning to play the recorder rather well, I graduated to learning to play the clarinet extremely badly.

Years later I worked out that one of the reasons for this was probably that we had entirely the wrong reeds for it - the reed is a thin piece of wood that fits in the mouthpiece. Or in our case, a thick piece of wood which meant we had to blow far too hard, and that made any note likely to turn into a shrill squeak at any time at all. It made for interesting concerts.

I played with the Intermediate Concert Band and then I played with Leeds Junior Orchestra. They were quite good - my friend Jo was one of the first violins and she went on to play in the Halle Orchestra.

The clarinet section was a bit rubbish though, especially the bit of it that involved me. I was one of the Second Clarinets, playing lots of low notes and hoping they wouldn't squeak.

We practised every Saturday morning at Leeds College of Music, next to what is now the Museum.

I went there every Saturday morning for several years and I have two strong memories.

One is that there was a girl with a false leg, which was bright pink and looked frankly ridiculous. We all stared at it constantly whilst trying never to mention it.

The other one is that someone once propped their cello against the inside of the door. I watched with interest as someone else opened the door and walked in, knocking the cello over and then putting their foot firmly through it, thus making a really quite interesting and very expensive noise.

On one occasion when we were giving a concert in the massive Leeds Town Hall, I looked to the side of me and there was a First Clarinet-Shaped Gap. I looked to the other side of me and there weren't any other Second Clarinets either.

This, I knew, was going to be a problem. In the middle of the piece we were playing, which I am pretty sure was Vltava by Smetana (yes, it's seared into my memory for ever) there was a couple of bars' clarinet solo, where the clarinet's warm, woody tones would soar effortlessly above the rest of the orchestra.

Of course, it was the job of the First Clarinets to do this, whilst we Second Clarinets were harmonising harmlessly an octave or so below.

But there weren't any First Clarinets. They all had flu, or the measles, or simply Fear, and I didn't blame them.

But without that little solo there would be a couple of bars of not very much at all. So I knew it was down to me. I spent the whole flaming piece trembling as the moment approached.

Reader, I played it. And it didn't sound too bad. And I knew at that moment that I'd only been doing all this orchestra stuff because I liked being with my friend Jo, and because I think my parents rather liked having a - supposedly - musical daughter. (I always scored very highly on tests of musical ability, but sadly consistently failed to translate this into any aptitude for playing instruments.)

So I left the orchestra, and I reclaimed my Saturday mornings, and did proper teenage things with them such as lying in bed. And forty years later, I'm still friends with Jo, and we swim together every week.

She teaches the violin. I don't teach the clarinet.

Take it away, Mr Bilk - - -


Blogger Jennyta said...

Kathy and Hugh were in the band ay their school. They both played trumpet, so you can imagine how it was in our house at practice times!

9:47 pm  
Blogger Arnold said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


4:24 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I enjoyed hearing Mr. Bilk play!

11:12 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

If you are fascinated by girls with false legs, you absolutely must read the short story "Good Country People" by American author Flannery O'Connor.

4:23 pm  

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