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Friday, April 01, 2005

Where There's Muck...

AMarch.jpgT THE BEGINNING of the present school year, to my enduring delight, Youngest Daughter - the only one of our children who yet retains some measure of her earlier cuteness - took up the Learning of the Trombone, both in school and out.

Bless her little cotton socks, says puff-chested me, She's marching in her old man's footsteps!

About the only thing I've ever missed of my schooldays was learning to play an instrument and playing it in the band. In my four-year High School career I played brass - cornet, french horn, euphonium, and ultimately, finally, best: bass. I was the band's tuba player. We'd practise at lunchtime - we each received passes that allowed us to jump the line to lunch, though to use them could result in a kicking later-on behind the techy block, depending on who was skipped over - and we'd play before visiting dignitaries or tour primary schools, churches, and hospitals. Those were the sit-down concerts, filled with light classics and lighter broadway: Rosamundes and Desert Songs; Fausts and Light Cavalrys; pieces of Symphonies finished and not; Poets, Peasants, Lohengrins and something about a happy clappy blacksmith*? How we pled with our Head of Music, we heavy brass, we oomphers and barroomphers: Give us the Eighteen Twelve! we cried, Give us the 'Ride of the Valkyries'! - for nothing was beyond us, not us? Her response, when it came - and may she forever rot - was to press us into the hated choir: If you will not sing then you do not love music, and you have no place in this band. Band was one thing, but choir was another - it called into question our manhoods. It meant that we, who propped Saturdays for the school rugby team, had to boost our school bus profiles: to smoke more, and more boldly; to sit at the very back with the hardmen and bullies; to champion ourselves at the Running of the Gauntlet by walking, walking not running, the aisle between the ranks of two sidewise-facing benches at the back, from where a dozen boys kick ferociously inward like a crazed centipede trying to rip its own stomach apart? To toughen ourselves, in short, in the eyes of our peers. Her real offence, which became apparent only later, was to force upon an innocent christmas audience grown used to the dull bloodless hymning of the catholic mass, a most lumpen, sullen, and menacing Halleuia Chorus? Ha. Le-YOU-YAH How they shuddered in their seats.

But. We were a band, not an orchestra, and a Military Band at that - which meant that we had brass and woodwind in our band, and that we fought all the time. Concerts, though fun, are by their nature static: but we were a band, by God, and bands are made for marching. Marching in parades up and down the High Streets, leading bands of skipping children, like sloven Pied Pipers, down the rainy streets. All the mining villages - and there were many - held an annual Gala where families would parade through the village, then picnic and cavort in a park for the afternoon.

Ours was nothing like the marching bands of america, where garish pom-pommed uniforms wiggle and jiggle and strut retentively - why do you do that to your kiddies? No: ours was more of a clumping sort of marching band. And though we did indeed play one or two Sousa marches on occasion, we really didn't need to. We were a british clumping marching band who played our own beloved marches - most of them written by Kenneth Alford, a much neglected figure on these alien shores - though I'll bet most of you have whistled 'Colonel Bogey' one time or another? He also wrote 'The Thin Red Line' which, if any of you can remember The Ipcress File, makes an appearance in the park when two spies are quietly plotting in front of a bandstand? I tried to find you a sample of it, but that proved to be impossible.

Now: here's a pretty thing, if you'll forgive yet another diversion, for what is the Xenoverse if it does not confuse us? I can understand that movies made in Hollywood about WWII are yanko-centric: heck, half the movies ever made in Britain are about Tommy bravely fighting The Hun, where americans, if they turn-up at all, are always late to the show and steal all our glory and all our wummin? That's one thing. But why do Hollywood movies feel the need to purloin other people's heroics, too? Lord knows there were more than enough of the genuine article to celebrate? But why do you need to be the ones to have stolen an Enigma machine from a U-boat too? Or why are there sixty pages on Google dedicated to a movie called "The Thin Red Line" that is all about US Marines fighting in the Pacific and not at all about the Argylls at the Battle of Balaclava? Now, if anyone deserves an hundred movies made about their heroics it is surely those Marines (did you know, incidentally, that Lee Marvin was one of them? For real - shot in the butt-tocks, too!) But call it something else, wontchya? Sheesh - imagine if a British movie were made about the RAF bombing Hiroshima just because Leonard Cheshire VC was there as observer? Ptah!

Dammit: now I'm running out of steam and I've lost my thread. Hate when that happens, and it happens every day... start out nipping through the room for a new pack of smokes, next thing you know I'm three streets south chasing the cat because it has a nasty cut on its behind ripped by that big fat thing from across the road in a fight in the backyard the other night and I wasn't supposed to let the bugger out while I was emptying the trash that was overflowing the kitchen because those bloody kids forgot to empty it again and though I shouted What About All Your Other Chores!! at the void in exasperation all I heard was chirrup of crickets so I stomped off muttering and swearing and tore the bag out of the bin by myself then dumped it on the doorstep when the cat escaped between my legs nearly tripping me chasing it away down the street and all the while forgetting about the bloody cigarettes...

Ach but daughter - that's it, Daughter! She's learning to play trombone: not for band but for orchestra - which she will be allowed to join when she can play well enough? I'm glad of that, reaaaally I am, because, as I've said, nobody's child ought be dressed in that gaudy trickanery, least of all mine. She's too smart and too cynical for that. But the wider point of learning to play an orchestral instrument and to play it with others in a band or an orchestra, the hidden goodness that seaps out of it, is exposure to classical and other orchestrated music. An opening of the ears to it and a staked interest in it that - for me at least - has subverted my listening ever since? Never stopped me from loving other kinds of music, quite the opposite really, but it did manipulate my tastes towards the fuller, more elaborate kinds of music, and left me open to everything. Everything but Country, that is.

* Can't remember what the happy smithy thingy was called, but pretty sure it wasn't Handel's "Harmonious Blacksmith"? Wawtah mewsic an' foiahworks, that was yer 'Andel squire?

All suggestions greatly appreciated.
- Fcb


Anonymous stjb@earthlink.net said...

"... my name is Harry Palmer ... my name is Harry Palmer ..." The Ipcress File is indeed an excellent film: wait a minute, I am thinking of the right one, aren't I?

5:50 AM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Love the "losing thread" description. There are glasses full of water about the house where I've placed them to solve (well, attempt to solve) a family matter that juggernauted to another dilmna while my thirst wiated to be quenched. Must be 5 gallons of the stuff, all in various glasses, scattered througg out the house. Can't comment on the bands, though I wish I could. We, unfortunately, have utterly failed as adults in convincing our kids to play any instrument (unless playing the turntable counts as playing an instrument? Haven't seen any marching bands out there lugging twin turntables, amps, and long electrical cords). I see it as a major failing on our part. Hope you have better luck with your daughter. Trombone, especially jazz trombone, is a favorite sound of mine.

7:53 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

That's the one alright - complete with the electronic brainwash noise that some of us can clearly remember...

And DarkoV - she is our last hope. One earlier violin that we shall never speak of, another ongoing keyboard, and one who bought his own electric bass, but she at least pretends to be serious.

8:22 AM  
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