BUT I DIGRESS
June 02,2014
BACK ROW MAESTRO - Part 4

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 4

"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

Given that we were an amateur orchestra whose trip had been funded by donations, parental and otherwise, we were not equipped for having a life of luxury while on the tour. Accordingly, hotel accommodation was out and billeting was in. Being that we were on tour in England for about a month and were scheduled to play some twelve or more concerts across the length and breadth of England, a great deal of travelling by bus and billeting in different towns and cities was involved. Of the travelling by bus I have few memories in detail although I vividly recall the beauty of the Lake District in northwest England. Of billeting I have two rather graphic memories, interestingly perhaps having taken place at the extreme southern and northern parts of England.

The first was in the southern town of Brighton, the location of our first concert. Considering those people who so generously billeted and often fed us visitors at their expense, the following descriptions might seem, over the fullness of time, to be quite uncharitable. For an untraveled, life-poor teenager however, they were memorable. Normally, two of us of the same gender were billeted in any one location. Being the youngest member of the orchestra, my billeting companion, whomever that might be, was by definition my senior, and in some cases older by what seemed like an immeasurable four or five years. In other words, he was a parent-like adult. The memory of his experiences therefore probably did not parallel my own. In Brighton, we were housed high in the dark attic of a poorly lit, rickety old house whose sole other inhabitant was an old lady who at that time seemed to me to be more than a hundred years old and an ugly, wizened, hunch backed old crone. Yes I know, that is a very uncharitable description but so be it. It was all very Dickens-like and I can swear to this day I heard her cackle as she bid us "good night"..which it was not. While it had no effect on my roommate, I don't think I slept a wink that night, as I lay there, my imagination out of control and my immaturity at the forefront. Somehow I survived the "ordeal" of two nights of billeting there before moving on to our next location.

My other memorable billeting experience took place at the other end of England, specifically in the far north in the town of Darlington. "English" is of course only a generalized description of a language with numerous dialects and idiomatic representations. In Canada, we often mock, charitably or otherwise, the particular, idiomatic English of people from the province of Newfoundland-Labrador, without sometimes realizing that elsewhere in the country, if perhaps less extremely expressed, English also has other particular geographic and demographic identities. In North America, much merriment is often made of the English rendered by London Cockneys, the Scots and Irish, and even forbid, the beautiful, nearly choral renditions of English by people from Wales. I can and have handled these English dialects if not with mastery, then at the very least with the ability to comprehend and converse. Nowhere up to the time of our tour of Britain however, had I ever experienced an alleged version of English than I encountered in the northern border area of England, and specifically Darlington. I recall I was billeted with one of the trumpet players who was about twenty-one and thankfully, had considerable more life experience than I did. As was often the case, we were billeted for two nights in that town as with others, arriving one day, giving a concert the next, then moving on the third day. Thus, we were to breakfast and supper with our hosts for two days in addition to spending more minor amounts of time on other occasions while we were their billets. Over the course of my entire stay in Darlington, I come to understand, with no exaggeration, not one word spoken by our host and hostess. How an ear, reasonably tuned to music, could be so untuned to the spoken word has always amazed me, but I put it down to youth. Consequently, all conversation while billeted was undertaken by my roommate, a fact that must have left our hosts wondering about the deaf and dumb mute they were also billeting. In my defense, it was the nearly unanimous opinion of the orchestra that handling the local dialect had been a challenging experience for everyone. A number of years later, when I had allegedly become an adult and found myself in various parts of the British Isles, either for business or pleasure, I had occasions to encounter the many dialects there, but with the learned ability to better comprehend and converse, and most importantly to let the ear and the heart enjoy.

It is fair I think to say that while all our experiences in the various towns and cities of England were enjoyable and could be deemed to have been successful, the highlight of the tour must surely have been defined by our stay in the great city of London. We were to play stage three memorable concerts there, the events and settings of which have blinded my memory to all other aspects of our London stay, including where I was billeted.

In an order of which I have forgotten, we played one concert in Albert Hall, a large, preeminent venue at the time with a capacity of over five thousand people, and since its construction in 1851 with subsequent renovations, still a prominent concert hall in London. A second concert was played in St. James palace in front of the Queen Mother and lesser royalties whose names I have forgotten if I ever knew. My principal recollection of this event is that the concert was staged by the sixty odd members of the orchestra before an audience all of whom were assembled not in an auditorium or theatre, but in a drawing room of the Palace! We could have played a football game in there! It made me wonder what some of the other palace rooms like bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. were like.

To be continued

Copyright 2014 Ian de W. Semple


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