BUT I DIGRESS
May 01,2014
BACK ROW MAESTRO - Part 3

TALES FROM OUTSIDE THE UNDERBRUSH

"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.

This month's entry continues the tale.

BACK ROW MAESTRO - Part 3

"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

William Congreve

"People who don't like classical music just don't listen to it loud enough."

Mark Hahn

"Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune."

Frank Hubbard

In 1947, the Montreal Junior Symphony Orchestra was founded and conducted by Lewis V. Elvin, the same gentleman who had entered my grade five class room and invited me to take up the violin. It was also the same Lewis Elvin who conducted the Willingdon School orchestra and who soon became my personal violin teacher. The Montreal Junior Symphony was designed to accommodate musical talent ranging in age from middle teenagers to early twenties as I recall. This differentiated the orchestra from the more adult Montreal Symphony Orchestra which prior to the 1960's identified a number of different organizations going back to the turn of the century. In truth however, during the 1950's at least, the Montreal Junior Symphony was probably that city's pre-eminent symphonic organization and one of the best in the country. Under the direction of Elvin, the orchestra flourished until the latter's retirement in 1971, when the orchestra was briefly taken over by its concert master. These pre-1971 accomplishments included not only top honours in many musical festivals in Canada and the eastern United States, but also tours of England in 1954, continental Europe in 1961 and Scandinavia in 1963. The English tour was the first trans-Atlantic crossing by a Canadian orchestra in history, a fact I was too young to appreciate at the time.

  Somewhere around the age of thirteen I was invited by Mr. Elvin to join the Montreal Junior Symphony. What followed were four or five years of hard musical work and challenge spiced with enjoyment, camaraderie, travel and collective success. Each year we staged a concert at Plateau Hall in Montreal, the pre-eminent concert hall in the city at that time. These annual affairs were always well attended and written up by the city's major newspapers.

The highlight of my tenure with the Montreal Junior Symphony however was to be the tour of England that the orchestra made in the summer of 1954, and with me as the youngest member of the orchestra at fifteen. Although nearly sixty years have since passed, there remain indelible in my memory certain components of that trip, while admittedly other elements have suffered the ravages of an aging recall.

Certainly the actual sailing to England was in itself a marvelous adventure for a fifteen year old who while having enjoyed some travel in eastern Canada and the USA, had never left the shores of his native land. This was to be my first time at sea, and as evidenced by our journey across the Atlantic Ocean on a perhaps appropriately named vessel, the SS Atlantic of the Home Lines cruise ship company. Built in the USA in 1927, this two funneled ship of some 16,000 tonnes had sailed under several identities and owners before she became the SS Atlantic. Small perhaps by today's standards, she was elegant for the time and could brag of having the first indoor pool ever on a cruise ship. For me, as I embarked on her at Quebec City after a rail journey from Montreal and a somewhat apprehensive parental farewell, the ship was nothing but a wide-eyed wonder to me.

The five day journey across the Atlantic to Le Havre, France and thence to Southampton on the south coast of England was to be a time of immense fun………..and gluttony! There is little that occupies the male teen age mind, at least in those days, and perhaps even more than discovering girls, than a rapacious appetite for food. I was no different; a weed needing to be endlessly nourished and never completely satisfied. At home, even as an only child, I ate enough for three and must have put considerable pressure on the family's modest budget. Imagine then the thrill of discovery that on board ship, every meal that was offered was on an "all you can eat" basis. I truly thought I had died and gone to heaven! And eat I did, the voyage becoming literally a blur of meals and at which I was also, however tentatively, to be introduced to wine at the table. Having discovered online in the course of writing this essay some of the ship`s 1954 menus, I am reminded how varied and excellent was the onboard cuisine. Having placed my stomach before my heart, I must admit the latter did come into play during the voyage when I fell into what I surely thought was true love. The problem with this crush which was on one of the orchestra`s violists, whose lovely Italian last name I remember but not her first, was that she was at least five years older than me and an adult to boot. I got over it though by having an extra helping at each meal while on board ship.

While the orchestra staged a practice on board ship every day, there remained lots of time between practices and meals to enjoy some of the other amenities on board, or just to gaze in wonder at the endless ocean. One such activity in which I undertook was trap shooting off the stern of the boat. This involved shooting with a shotgun at round disks launched off the stern of the boat. Having already had some experience with long guns, I recall having some success on the boat on the one occasion I tried it. Other games of shuffle board and the like as well as short spells in the pool that although not really large enough to do any serious swimming, helped make the five days of sailing pass in a blur. With a short stop in Le Havre, we crossed the English Channel in a chilly fog and embarked at our final destination of Southampton on the south coast of England.

To be continued

Copyright © 2014 Ian de W. Semple


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