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Tuesday
Nov152011

Sweet Beautiful Drag

For one thing, flugelhorns are a lot heavier than they look.

For another, if you truly love somebody and want to bring that person into your family, you don't propose marriage.  You share your flugelhorn mouthpiece.  You thought Communion chalices were the last word in unsanitary marks of mutual devotion?  You have not hung around a marching band.

And so my life education at the hands of S Row continues.  Last week I was given a horn lesson by Neutron, who was full of solid instructional advice such as "Hold out your palm like this" and "Just think about stretching out the neck of a balloon" and "Calm down."  Because apparently my artistic relationship with the flugelhorn is to hold it in one hand, cover my face with the other, and laugh very hard.

The best part of this entire lesson was its location; it was on the stage of the visually spectacular, acoustically marvelous Schuster Center in Dayton.  Like all the most interesting parts of any performance, it took place behind the curtain. 

I sat with Neutron with the rustle of the house just beyond us, short stemmed roses swiped from dinner centerpieces scattered on the music stands.  Thick binders of sheet music lay in wait on the risers, and the plumed caps of the Band sat at attention.  The overhead lighting beat down on the horns, ensuring that the slightest shift of a valve reflected pure brass moxie back at the ceiling.  The Band would sit for nearly an hour at a time at concert-attention in heavy wool and crossbelts; me, I occasionally bent down to smooth and curse at my pantyhose. 

I've been sitting in the full blast zone of this Band since August, and the very idea of me attempting any sort of noise around them other than the sound of unconditional surrender is absurd.  Those of you who have read my first book are well aware of my history as a choral singer (short version:  I suck), and other than that, my only hands-on musical experience has to do with piano, at which I also sucked, but at least the piano has this going for it, other that its inherent ability to act as a deadly weapon when dropped from even a minor height:  Anybody can sit down at a piano and smack a key and get a bona fide note in return.  Pas si where any TBDBITL instruments outside of JI Row's are concerned:  It is all work, all the time, even to make the weakest hideous noise.

You don't just blow into a brass instrument, as with a woodwind.  You have to buzz your lips, and hold the mouth in such a way so that air enters the mouthpiece but your cheeks don't go all Goodyear.  And you have to hold the instrument parallel.  And you have to sit properly.  And you have to keep your wrists straight.  And you have to breathe from the diaphragm.  And after about twenty seconds or so Neutron sighed and took the horn away and left me with just the mouthpiece.

When he deemed me at last worthy of the whole horn, he first took care to turn me towards the wings and away from the innocent bystanders on the other side of the curtain.  "Okay," he said as I stared in astonishment at the weight of this thing, this little instrument with the wide mellow tones. "Ladies and gentlemen, the world debut."  I straighened the scarlet and grey flag hanging from the horn.  Positioned the instrument.  Inhaled.

Tiggles delicately characterized as what happened next as "making a sound."  That is correct.  The flugelhorn and I made a sound.  What exactly that sound was shall forever remain a mystery fit for UN-appointed teams consisting of leading theologians and Top Men of science.  It was unearthly, and somewhere between an actual note and the wailing of the eternally doomed, but it was a sound.  And  one that I made, one I'd never created before.  And one I'd have made even sooner had I not initally attempted to screw the mouthpiece into the horn backwards.

I returned my music teacher's flugelhorn, jumped up another riser, and bent to kiss the top of his head, because he was wearing a flawless uniform and I was wearing lipstick.  I mean... when you've shared a mouthpiece, there are few mysteries remaining.

For brass is, after all, an alloy.

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