Atop a Mountain

Two years studying Baroque Recorder culminated last Friday in a student concert. A small affair really; about 20 students, most still at school; and an audience of mums and dads. I turned that upside down: parent performing and two of my children in the audience. A small affair, but …

… my goodness!

“There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

A highly inappropriate and profane use of Matthew’s description of Christ transfigured on the mountain, no doubt, but nothing comes to mind that captures so well the transporting, fulfilling thrill of that concert performance. It was a shining, glorious moment; time seemed suspended, and for days I walked on and on in the light of that moment.  In fact I can still immediately summon the brightness of the recital and bask in its joy.

Lest you think I am boasting too much; this will bring us all back to earth: Just a dozen bars into the first tricky phrases of a solo piece I stumbled badly, completely stopped playing, and apologised to the audience. Not classy at all. Fortunately my music teacher had drilled me in beginning the piece over and over from several different ‘rehearsal marks’ for just such a moment; and so I was able to pick up again and from then on the piece went very well. Except for one other little two year old detail.

My grandson was in the audience. In our home he often travels on my lap as I roll up and down the hall doing tasks about the house, so when I rolled down the aisle to take my place behind the music stand, he wanted to come too. Furthermore, at home when I play recorder I give him a plastic descant to toot along with (he’s very good!); and so during my solo piece he had two points of grievance with me.  As I played on after my false start I was vaguely aware in a minuscule pocket of concentration not required for music that my daughter was trying to keep him quite. I could vaguely see her, just above flights of semiquavers on the score, standing up with him and eventually walking straight toward me, turning left in front of the music stand, and leaving the room. On I played!

And the solo finished well. It was a technical piece, introduced with an enthusiastic preamble by my teacher in which he mentioned that the piece, Telemann’s Fantasia 1 for Recorder, is commonly chosen by students sitting for their A-Mus. examination. No pressure though…
Here it is, played by a master, Aldo Bova.

It really did go well, and it was well received. Towards the end of the piece I felt my concentration shift towards listening to the sound, rather than the technical task of creating it. I have heard musicians describe this experience of intense concentration seeming to move them to being observers of their own performance, sometimes even from above. The following day the teacher sent me the most generously worded review of my performance, which I won’t reveal, but which will stay with me as a gold medal of sorts.  Deeply satisfying.

Following the solo I played the bass part in two Telemann trios; one with another adult recorder student who is a highly accomplished sax player and teacher at the Conservatorium. He was brilliant, superb.

The great trouble with most mountains is that they seem to place themselves, for reasons I don’t understand, right beside valleys. So problematic! But not the mountain I am on. Perhaps it’s a Mesa, one of those enormous flat topped giants, and the cliff edge is out there somewhere, waiting for a careless step. But I think not. It was transfiguration, and it came not just from two years of daily, often lengthy instrument practice, nor from the tuition of an excellent teacher, nor from a generous audience – though all those things contribute. It was bigger than all of that. A flawless performance of a Telemann Fantasia performed in private would not have remotely the same reward. It interests me that Christ met his transfiguration in the company of three friends, and tellingly the heavenly voice speaks from above the mountain, “this is my beloved son…” Transfiguration, whiter that white, belongs in a myriad of different expressions to people who live, work and strive together; family, friends, community; combining talents and effort, pursuing something grand, discovering something boundless.


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