Oh, Oh, Oboe, written several months ago, was not the end of my adventure in the woodwinds.
Indeed, the sequel is a too-good-to-be-true story.
Once the Oboe, beloved friend, had gone to a high school orchestra (incidentally, the young oboist’s father contacted me to say he was doing very well) I turned back to the Baroque Recorder. This grand phrase, ‘Baroque Recorder’, is the way my woodwind teacher likes to distinguish what we play from the School Recorder, words which cause some folk to relive traumatic experiences amongst a gaggle of screeching plastic weapons. With the proceeds from the Oboe I ordered a good instrument from Germany which duly arrived but didn’t live up to my expectations, so back it went to the fatherland. A few weeks later I happened to look on Gumtree quite late one night, just to keep an eye out for woodwind instruments that occasionally pop up. My eyes almost popped out.
Someone in Western Australia was selling a complete set of five recorders: Sopranino, Descant, Treble, Tenor and Bass. Not just any recorders, but Rottenburgh recorders by the German maker Moeck. If you were a recorder aficionado you might emit a low whistle. The asking price was well within the proceeds of an almost new Oboe. It was such a startlingly impossible opportunity that I felt paralysed by an irrational certainty that they must surely already be under offer, or just plain SOLD. Was it actually worth making even the slightest emotional commitment to these instruments by enquiring? Or should I just save myself the pain, and keep looking. I sent an email right then, very late at night, and tried to sleep. In vain.
8am, no reply to my email.
9am, still nothing.
10am absolutely nothing.
It being almost a reasonable hour to ring someone in WA, I called the mobile number to find, wonderfully, ecstatically, that they were still for sale, and had been for 9 days without any interest at all. The owner was from a rural musical family, and was “cleaning out some cupboards”!
Eighteen months have passed since I began recorder lessons; I hate to think how much time I’ve spent going up and down scales and over and over and over tricky passages. So many, many hours! My style of learning throughout life has been plain old slow; and to get a passage firmly under my fingers I seem to need dozens of repetitions. But it seems to work, and I’ve played in several small concerts now, usually rather poorly due to ridiculous levels of nervous tension. I’m very privileged with teachers; last year I was being taught by the director of the conservatorium, and this year I am with another teacher who is something of a specialist in Baroque music and the bass recorder, which is my main instrument. For half an hour before my lesson both these teachers and I play trios together, which I really don’t understand because I’m nowhere near their standard. But it’s fantastic fun! There is even talk of a concert item.
It wouldn’t be a proper edition of Rejoice! if I didn’t engage in a little introspection (which must annoy some of my readers endlessly) so here it is: Amidst the great excitement and satisfaction that music brings, I sometimes think all of it is a monstrous waste of time. This is the comment of my Inner Protestant, who has a serious work ethic to uphold. I’ve been a slave to this all my life: every moment should count in some significant way that benefits all of humanity. It’s a vain and foolish paradigm, but deeply embedded for some reason. At another level I’m sure that the rigorous breath control required does me a world of good; so much so that I suspect that it actually keeps me going. At yet another level, I aspire to something lofty.
I have this hope that creative beauty might be more than an end in itself. While this may simply be my Inner Protestant having another go, trying to rationalise and subvert pleasure, adding merit to delight, I can sometimes play a transcendent note. Synesthetes, they say, see shades of colour when they hear musical notes. I catch a whiff of heaven. The human world is so endlessly ugly in its daily grind, in the lies of its politics, in its posturing and its poverty; so very ugly that I find myself pressed down by it all very often. So I look for the beautiful, and listen for it, and try to play it. When the sublime rushes through me, I hope that it is pure in some ultimate sense, and that it proves that life is ascendant. I want to discover over and again that life is divine.
Please note: the web address of Rejoice! has changed, visit www.rejoice.live
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