Saturday, August 2, 2014


What I want you to imagine today is an orchestra. An orchestra that doesn't know it's an orchestra. An orchestra of competing sections: brass, woodwind, percussion and strings. Each of these sections thinks the other sections are stupid and doing everything wrong. The brass wonders why the string section isn't blowing into its instruments and the percussion wonders why everyone isn't just hitting their instruments with sticks. The woodwind thinks the brass lacks decorum, a bit 'brassy' if you like, and the brass thinks the woodwind is really 'stuck up'. As far as each section is concerned, it is engaged in a sonic war against the others. Each section attempts to assault the others with waves of sound. The loudest is the victor and each section feels it is always winning because, from where a given section's musicians are sitting, they are the loudest. No one gets discouraged and the war goes on. Kettledrums rumble like tanks. Violin bows are drawn like arrows. Brass blunderbusses blast and clarinets, flutes, oboes and bassoons are raised and fired like guns, rifles, mortars and bazookas.

The conductor is there too of course, on his podium. A stressed out secretary general of sorts, attempting to maintain some kind of order. He waves his baton frantically, favouring one section one moment and another the next. He doesn't really know what's going on. He clumsily turns sheets of notation as he mops his brow. He wishes the whole zero-sum composition would just fucking end.

And the cruel joke is that from a distance all this tumult and enmity harmonises into a single stirring composition, the woodwind soaring over the strings and the percussion and brass propelling things forward. From the seats in the auditorium, the ominous score builds to an unnerving crescendo that explodes and then lulls into the saddest adagio ever heard that then fades before it all happens again but in a different order and with some variations. It's such a tragic twist that those upon the stage are unaware of this and labour in the mistaken belief that they are separate competing entities and not, simply, 'one'. The sections do not know that they are all playing the same music and that the music could be joyful and celebratory instead of frightening and heartbreaking.

But there is one musician who knows the truth. An orchestra member who realises that every orchestra member, no matter what section, is part of an indivisible whole. One guy, sitting all by himself, down the back and to the side a bit. One fella who knows it would be a waste of time to share his wisdom with the others because he'd be laughed out of the concert hall. One member of the orchestra who, quietly and in his own mind, has it completely and utterly right.

He stands there, stoic, poised and mindful. He understands the great cacophony as a symphony and bides his time to prove this to the others. He waits and waits and waits until a great musical swell rises and then crashes. As the crescendo subsides he raises his instrument, holds out his wand and strikes once. Only once and with a perfectly restrained amount of force. The rage from the rest of the instruments dies out and silence rules but for the fading resonance of his modest contribution. The triangle goes ...DiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiNG!


Salvo said...

I always wanted to play the triangle in the school band. Alas, I was ultimately weighed down by a tremendous tuba. To this day I bring it everywhere I go. Except for mass.

Fugger said...

It's the same with me and the glockenspiel. I can't part with the instrument. Every time I feel I've made a significant or witty comment, I have this irresistible compulsion to rapidly run the mallets up and down the full register of the bars as a kind of exclamation/rimshot. A bit like Norman Finkelstein does when he trounces fundamentalist Zionist loons in debates.

Draculasaurus said...

Oh yes this is very familiar.
In middle school band class I played the trombone. I learned just enough to fake it because my real aim was to emit loud ridiculous blasts of sound.
Brass instruments are like that they can do the equivalent of a clarinet squeaking. It's very loud.
By some twist of fate, the other trombonist had the exact same idea.
Eventually, as an emergency measure the class was split into people who were trying and people who weren't.
The teacher never even cam in, it was just "free practice time" or something.
It was beautiful chaos!

Fugger said...

You know, I do see how the chaos of kids just making noises with instruments and delighting in them as noise making machines is a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful thing that a child can just celebrate the phenomenon of noise and not have to tame it and marshal it into notes. That is chaos with beauty at its core and more proof, if more proof be needed, that kids have the correct attitude to the wild and wonderful abundance that is reality.

However, I can also imagine the aural hell that must have sounded out and a teacher listening from outside the room with great big tears ready to roll from her eyes, wondering what she is doing with her life.