Villanelle: Rehearsal

14 July 2011 § 8 Comments

Conducting experiments

It’s better than it was before.
But it must be exactly right.
Please can we try it just once more?

That’s just what I was hoping for,
You strings; you kept your bowing tight.
Far better than it was before.

Flutes: sorry to be such a bore:
Those quavers must be quick and light.
Please can we try it just once more?

Remember, trumpets: really soar
In bar sixteen – be bold and bright.
Still, better than it was before.

You’ll notice if you check the score
A rallentando – very slight.
Please can we try it just once more?

You’ve worked so long and hard, I’m sure
You’ll sound amazing on the night –
Much better than you did before.
Now: can we try it just once more?

A small tribute to our wonderful Community Orchestra conductor; a gracious lady with infinite patience and nerves of steel who gives her professional experience freely to amateurs possessed of far more enthusiasm than skill. She works us hard, sets high standards and encourages us to play music, not simply the right notes in the right order. For two hours a week, there’s no room in my brain for anything except music. And for that, perhaps above all else, I’m incredibly grateful to her.

Ensemble

25 May 2011 § 7 Comments

Playing for time

Thrown together for a weary Sunday
We dug out flute and fiddle,
Coaxed the stand from its collapsed-umbrella tangle
And played dance music
Nine times older than her ten
And my forty-something years combined.
Splitting first and second parts unselfishly,
Spinning the simple, timeless tunes
From breath and horsehair,
Varnished wood and tarnished silver,
Our thoughts as closely mingled
As our blood.

All too soon
To be in the same room
As me may be
More than she can bear.
But in all the discord
Of our crescendos, fortissimos
And silences where no one’s sure
If they should clap
Or dare to cough
The neutral notes and impartial time
Will be our arbiters;
A shared and secret language for us, free
Of should and shan’t and
Not-while-you’re-under-this-roof-my-girl.
A separate space outside of life
Where all is sweet,
And we can stay in tune.

Soul music

15 April 2011 § 9 Comments

Hardy Perennials

Left pop-eyed by an hour’s hauling
Through worthy, densely-noted classics
We put the hallowed names aside,
Relaxed our reverential frowns
And turned to those prolific geniuses
Trad. Arr. and Anon.
‘The Soldier’s Joy’ and ‘Six-Hand Reel’
Sparked new quickness in my fingers;
Reinvigorated lungs
To send the trills and grace-notes swirling
Round the room like silver swifts;
Warmed me through like strong mulled cider.
Not holy writ with Koechel numbers,
Catechism in compound time,
But tunes that sprang from workfolk; fiddlers
Hardy and his fathers knew. The music
Of the Christmas party, country wedding, village dance
Dick Dewy and the Mellstock choir
Played beneath that greenwood tree.
A heritage all-but forgotten
In this downbeat, download age,
But mine to claim, preserve and play,
With or without the printed page.

Inspired by this week’s Community Orchestra rehearsal. Like most people who play orchestral instruments, I revere Beethoven, Bach and the other Great Masters; however, I generally prefer to listen to their better-known music, and certainly don’t have the technical skill or theoretical knowledge to play it properly myself. So it was a huge relief at the end of the rehearsal to be handed a set of fiddle tunes collected by Thomas Hardy. Like his father, grandfather and various uncles, Hardy was an excellent musician and played the violin in his local church band, or choir – the inspiration for  the Mellstock players in Under The Greenwood Tree.

Having spent most of my childhood in Dorset, I have a great love of the old folk tunes, which are our true musical heritage. If the classical canon is music’s great literature, folk tunes are its oral tradition; the tales handed down through generations that tell us something of ourselves. And while a Colossus like Beethoven can wring my heart, these humbler melodies speak to my soul in a language I truly understand.

Noteworthy

15 February 2011 § 8 Comments

MAESTRO

You stand out front,
A firm grip on your bow
And their attention.

Rapt, upstanding, desperate to please,
Two dozen Heifetz aspirants fall in and follow –
Up-bow, down-bow –
Through dense quaver thickets
Up and down arpeggio hills
Along broad, smooth andante trails
Over jagged heaps of broken thirds,
Filling the room with smiles, swarms of sound

And me with longing and regret
That you were not around
When I was young;
And the wistful, certain knowledge
I’ll never be in your class.

Inspired by and dedicated to the wonderful staff of the East Sussex Music Service, and in particular my daughter’s violin teachers. There is no praise high enough for their dedication, enthusiasm and musicianship.

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