Dec 17, 2008

Of Penguins And Strings And High Mass

My daughter's Xmas recital was the other night, and I have to mention two things. Oddly enough, both are about young boys, which is way outside my normal paradigm. Bear with me.

The choir (Weerelephant is in her third year, being an 8th grader (yikes!)) was excellent, as always. They've toured a little bit, won awards and accolades and the works. That's not surprising. I've heard these kids sing--they've an excellent teacher and a lot of talent, and the teacher knows how to draw that out. I love to hear them sing, but the trick to it is that you have to get through the precursor.

If you remember last year this time I blogged about attending Weerelephant's SECOND choral recital. I recall talking about the school's band which for a bunch of 6th-8th graders was really quite good. They had spirit, bounce, and were very up-tempo. The string orchestra was up next, six or seven dispirited looking young ladies and one beanpole little boy dwarfed by his bass viol. They sawed and ground their way through some Bizet so slowly that it made me want to weep, then butchered a few other classical string pieces. I wasn't hard on them because I know that strings take a huge amount of practice and dedication, and most of the kids didn't really look like they wanted to be there in the first place. Then the choir took the stage, so it was bearable.

This year I have to change my tune, so to speak.

The school band was as big as always (probably forty kids or so) but they had a new teacher this year--the former band leader retired after teaching there some seventy years, and it seems he took either a lot of enthusiasm for his craft with him or he slew all the good players. Squeaks and groans abounded, and the poor little boy playing the French Horn looked like he was inhaling the whole time. Couldn't figure it. They played some four or five songs, squinting and heaving and seeming like most of them just wanted to get back to their running and yelling and so forth.

After their sortie into mediocrity was completed the string orchestra got set up, and I steeled myself for screeching of bows across strings and a dropped instrument or two. I knew from last year that the strings had to be endured to reach the good stuff, sort of like having to work your way through broccoli and peas to get to the apple cobbler.

Not so this year.

For starters, the string orchestra had grown from it's original seven or so to a whopping twenty it seemed, if not more. Multiple everything; a handful of cellists, five violinists, a whole array of brightly polished violas and not one but two double bass. One young man caught my eye right off, though. The first chair violinist was an 8th grader, a classmate of my daughter. He was painfully thin, possessed of arms so long they seemed that no shirt sleeve could fully contain them. His hands were long and lithe; with his fingers spread to hold his violin at rest the poor little instrument looked like it was being held gently but irrevocably by a pair of nut-brown spiders. He handled his violin like he really wanted to BE on that stage, and when he raised his bow to the strings and started playing it was obvious that he did.

Talented? Breathtakingly so. He'd earned that first chair spot, and he planned on hanging on to it like Grim Death. He closed his eyes and he played with a smooth, relaxed, effortless grace that I thought only adult musicians could manage, and even then not always. What surprised me is that for a brief flash he reminded me of how I see Sherlock Holmes at times, when I've got the chance to read The Canon. Eyes closed, the violin tucked under his chin I had an instant vision of him in a Victorian dressing gown, sitting in the window seat of an upstairs flat in London, mesmerizing himself with the perfect mathematical precision of a Bach composition. I could see him as Holmes as clearly as anything, his brain filled with lightning, his hands touching each string with exacting strength, the bow a continuous wave over the bridge of his beloved instrument.

It helped that the rest of the performers seemed to draw something from him. Enthusiasm, some palpable desire to be there and the performance, for a grade school string ensemble was really downright enjoyable. So, head still spinning over the sudden strange reversal, I got ready for the choir.

They filed in, a few boys in white shirts and black cummerbunds standing out in the sea of black-gowned girls. They sang carols both old and new with that high, sweet sound that only a children's choir can manage. Then from their midst stepped one of the littlest penguins. He was a chubby little boy with fair hair and skin so pale that his cheeks shone like he'd put on blush. He stepped up to the single microphone set very low on it's stand, took a deep breath, and floored me.

He sang the Ave Maria. Solo. His only accompaniment was a flute recording but he could have been singing a capella for all I could have told you. His voice was high and sweet and utterly beautiful, filling the place with Latin words and phrases that echoed back across the years, hurling me backwards to incense-wreathed Christmas masses with my mother and brother. It stunned me, it really did. I couldn't imagine that such a voice could have come from such a small, round body, or that what looked for all the world like a rough-and-tumble little boy of some twelve or thirteen years stuffed into a rental tux sans jacket could be possessed of such a powerful voice, but there it was.

When the last notes had only started to die I was already on my feet, dropping my furled umbrella in my haste to applaud. I stood there clapping loudly and strongly, but I wasn't the first, nor was I the last. I'd never seen anyone get a standing ovation in a school performance of any sort but many of us in that crowded performance hall were on our feet, having been moved by a little cherub-cheeked boy.

9 comments:

Joan of Argghh! said...

incense-wreathed Christmas Masses

Nice memory, that.

meno said...

The Christmas...oh excuse me....Holiday concerts i have had to sit through have been made thrilling by the sudden appearance of true talent.

Jean said...

Bless his heart and vocal chords.
Got goose-bumps from your telling.


p.s. if you really want incense, go to a Byzantine Catholic service. oy!

Gordo said...

Wow. I love going to a performance and being taken by surprise like that.

Maggie said...

and all that for free!

I'd like to see some performances like that. So far, I suspect since it is primary school, the performances have been mediocre at best. Though I have to say that the music teacher is a real gem. She's taught them to play all sorts of interesting instruments and always has them choreographed to dance throughout all their songs. And the kids look like they are having fun - that's key.

Maybe when he (B) gets to secondary school we'll get to see more wow performances like you saw. (I suspect they are rare though).

Clowncar said...

Felt like I was there with you. That must have been thrilling.

At our concert this year the focus was on saying the words in the correct order. Cute can still trump talent in kindergarten.

Nancy Dancehall said...

I'm jealous of everyone. We have a large community of very vocal 'religion-that-doesn't-celebrate-ANYTHING' folks at my boyos' school, so there are no pageants. All they got was 40 minutes of making snowflakes and decorating cookies in the middle of the day. And even that may be under attack. Pathetic.

Irrelephant said...

A strong one, isn't it Joan? For both of us, I assure you.

*lol* Nice PC, meno. This is the first one I've attended where something or someone truly startling appeared, and to have it twice? Shoooo!

Jean, I think I'll have to take your word for it--anything with "Byzantine" in it can't be that good for me. *lol*

It was an extra nice surprise, Gordo, I can say that for sure.

Maggie that really IS key--that young man who played, he was enjoying every minute of it, and it shown through in his posture, his expressions, and most definitely his playing. Be patient, you've got some pearls hidden in the mud to find yet!

*grin* I miss those days, CC. I remember Weerelphant's first dance class recital--they were all dressed in their little costumes, some of them as young as 2, and just being up there was a massive accomplishment for them.

Oh dear. I'm sorry, Nancy. Tell you what, next time I'll video tape it and you can tell everyone it's the boyo's school pageant, and you can point to kid that are vaguely blurry shapes and say "Look, see!" They'll never know the difference.

Todd said...

I have to hand it to you. I always think "Wow, that really took me there" after reading your posts. Only this time I was smelling the heavy-breasted over perfumed beehive hairdo lady while getting the back of my seat kicked by the bratty little brother of a performer.

Bravo, maestro!!