Go and catch a falling star
Get with child a mandrake root
Tell me where all the past years are
Or who cleft the devil’s foot
Teach me to hear mermaids singing
Or to keep off envy’s stinging
–John Donne, 1572-1631
Episode the Fourth
See how the mighty have fallen
Musick for Horns and Smacked Butts.
Saturday, 26 October 2002 8:25am
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! The weatherman PROMISED it’d be nice this weekend!
It’s not. More rain. More mud. I know the grimy, sticky, glutinous sludge is more historically accurate (“How can you tell he’s the king? He hasn’t got shit all over him.”) but this is becoming intolerable. I understand that it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, but I don’t recall any prohibition regarding cursing the muck.
Ergo, “fucking mud.”
It doesn’t help, but it assists in splenetic ventilation.
Bleah. It’s that kind of weather where the steel-grey sky merges with the color of the asphalt. Dank, wet, and dismal; the spattering of the rain on the windshield keeps time with Robert Eisenstein’s rebec and Christopher Kendall’s mandora as the O, Ecclesia recording plods forward from the Folger Consort in the CD player. I’ve always taken issue with the phrase “Dark Ages;” in fact, when I taught music history, one of my lectures was entitled “The Dork Ages, or, Were they really so stupid?” However, peering through the glass attempting to distinguish FM1744 from the soft, gelatinous shoulder, I’m not so sure anymore.
Magnolia looks so inviting this morning, too.
The mud is truly appalling this morning. I’ve already had my frikkin’ shoe sucked off my foot twice, and I haven’t even made it to the front gate.
Halfway through the first set. Intermittent rain, virtually no patrons, relatively speaking, and of course, our little cemetery benches in front of Ye Olde New Market Gazebo are bereft of occupants. We sound, if not horrid, then certainly not wonderful. For some reason, our intonation and general musical security seems to suck this morning. I’m ranging around on the slide trying desperately to find the pitch, but it seems to be somewhat migratory this morning. This does not bode well.
Our set comes to a undistinguished close as the string group that follows us trudges out to the gazebo–whining about our timing, no doubt. Karen, the tenor trombonist, who is with child, you’ll remember, is stepping off the gazebo. I see her, look away, hear a godawful whump, and when I look back, she’s sitting flat on her arse on the “proscenium” of the gazebo. My first thought was “Hell–I knew SOMEone was gonna slip and fall today; why’d it have to be Karen?” Luckily, no serious damage was done, other than to her pride and, of course, her left buttock.
The wood floor of the gazebo, in its waterlogged state, had become the fertile ground to a veritable rice-paddy of mold and mildew. When K took that first step down, it was, in fact, a doozey, as her feet flew up in the air. By the grace o’ the god of your choice, she not only landed on her rump — painful, certainly, but not debilitating — but also managed to avoid landing on her soft-sided trombone case as well. I’m no physics guru, but I’m willing to wager a guinea or two that the mass oaf a full-grown adult female, accelerating at 9.8 meters per second squared, would have made short work of an Edwards, single-bore, nickel-sleeved slide.
I was fully expecting to be the person to bite the dust; when living in Chicago, I fell with astonishing regularity during the months of November through March, usually at least once per week. It was a five-block trek from my 3rd-floor walk-up to the Loyola El station, and the icy sidewalks always got me. I remember trudging towards the train one morning, walking head-down in a moderate snowstorm, carefully examining each footfall. Suddenly, instead of seeing the sidewalk ‘twixt my feet, I saw the belfry of the Loyola Catholic Church, followed by sickening crunch of my back acquiring a sudden and unwelcome contact with the concrete. My first thought as I lie there, gawking upwards at the snowflakes fluttering downwards, was “Oooh! Pretty!” This was followed, as one may expect, by excruciating and awesome pain.
Sadly, Karen’s tumble was the highlight of the first set.
I loiter sluggishly during the interval.
Last week, one of those, dear, long-suffering folks who works the “front desk” at the TRF noted my habitual scowl as I made my retreat after a performance.
She: You don’t look very happy. (Ed. note: It’s raining like hell — she’s under a little shed thing; I am not.)
I: Nope. It’s turning out to be a day o’ shite, m’lady.
She: Such language! I gauge days on the “poo” scale.
I: “Poo scale?”
She: Indeed, m’lud — Today, for instance, is a “poo-poo” day.
On my way out at 11, she asked me, “How many poos today, m’lud?” I respond “One point three poos.”
Eric and I have the “Steak on a Stake” for lunch. Big mistake. One reaches a point in which one’s culinary tolerance can no longer brook foodstuffs served on a stick. I have reached this point; nay, have surpassed it.
We play somewhat better during the noon set, although there’s not anyone to hear us. I usually ask at the front right before the noon performance how many patrons have crossed the turnstiles thus for for that day. Last Saturday, with it raining like nobody’s business, the noon count was just under 9,000. Today: 2,600. Ouchies.
Since hardly anyone is listening to us today, with the weather being so suck city, Darryl decides we’ll sight-read stuff out of the book. I hate it when he does that. Don’t misunderstand — I love sight-reading; I just hate doing it in public. We’re bludgeoning some Susato to death, when who should appear but Al Cofrin, the lute/oud/etc. player from Istanpitta. Darryl asks him for requests; he asks for Praetorius. We have some Praetorius in our repertoire, but Darryl chooses one we’ve never played before. We wade it, and play it, badly, and under-tempo. I look at my shoes. Al is, of course, very gracious, and toddles back to his gazebo.
As he walks off, Karen says, sotto voce, “New rule: no sight reading when other musicians are present.” We all quietly concur. I feel as if someone has tossed a farthing in the cursing well, aimed at me.
During the break, I take my usual stroll over to the Istanpitta gazebo (it has a name, but I dunno what it is). After our abysmal showing earlier in the day, I was hesitant to even drop by, but since I’m a medieval music freak, I couldn’t stay away.
There they were, sawing, whomping, and picking away, and sounding damn good — and then, amazingly, about 8 bars into a piece, they had to stop and start over. I felt somewhat more sanguine about the Texas Brass’s performance earlier, until I realized they probably did it on purpose to make me feel better.
All-in-all, a most unsatisfying day.
Sunday morning, 27 October 10:40am
No Karen today — her sub is none other than Thomas Hulten, of Spiritual to the Bone fame, a former member of The Paragon Brass, as well as the current primary trombonist with The Texas Brass. Needless to say, I am nervous. This guy is a dude. (Ed. note: He also turns out to be a helluva guy.)
We begin our warmup and launch into a set of NON-Renaissance pieces, including Thomas’s own Pilska Polka, a groovy little 3/4 time thing. We have to cut out the jazz waltz section in the middle, however. Between this piece and a jazz-chord-substitution version of Amazing Grace arranged by Thomas Jenkins, we actually draw a bit of a crowd. It’s gratifying — it’s probably the most people we’ve had in front of the gazebo in two weeks. I keep expecting the Renaissance Po-leece to come haul us off to the hoosegow for being non-period, but apparently they’re busy chasing shoplifters or those caught drinking soda from a plastic bottle, and we escape unscathed.
During the “play against the damn parade” set, Eddie kicks off the Centone V of Scheidt at such an express-train tempo that I nearly cough up my bronchial tubes. As I don’t come in until the eighth bar, I get 32 beats to dread what’s coming. “For that for which we are about to receive–” Bastard. He’s not, really, but he’s such a damned MACHINE — I mean, this guy is an automaton when it comes to technique. I could take a fountain pen, shake it over a piece of staff paper, and draw sixty-fourth note stems on everything, and he would play it correctly. At MM=144. Thomas whirls through his part effortlessly as well, and I manage my part — just barely. Given my blood pressure when it’s over, however, I keep thinking of the commercial where the aging football coach who had a double bypass intones, in a deep Texas accent, “Ask yore doctur if Zoecor is right fer you.”
Maybe I’ll take up body painting in lieu of the sackbut. Seems less hazardous.
It’s not AS muddy today, but we’re noticing something new. The mud is starting to smell bad. REALLY bad. Like sewage. AND, it’s all over my Grand Cherokee. There are lots of reasons why the mud could smell bad, but I’m thinking it can’t be good for stuff you walk in to smell like human excrement.
The last set went surprisingly well, and I feel that I redeemed myself from my personal lackluster performance on Saturday. Two of Eric’s pals showed up, as well as one of Darryl’s students, “Young Charlie,” along with Thea, Al, and Michael (Istanpitta, Ltd.) — we managed to redeem ourselves with some Bach and Haendel. We ended, as we often do, with our trademark brass arrangement of none other than #44 from Haendel’s Messiah (not “The Messiah,” but just “Messiah.” It’s a pet peeve; humour me), the always-guaranteed-to-rile-’em-up Hallelujah Chorus. Droning out that final low C like a chainsaw always helps my mood.
So, all’s well that ends well, this week, at least. Theoretically, next weekend should be “nice.” Define “nice.” I just hope the mud doesn’t smell like Scheidt next week.