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**A reference to an old joke between Self and Groovy Vic about my habitual facial expression, which many people take to be cold and disinviting, but which is more often attributable to simple nearsightedness rayther than misanthropy.

Last evening I attended the final string orchestra concert of the year at the eldest gel’s school.  I’ve written about these concerts before, noting that thanks to the efforts of the Magnificent Irishwoman who rules over the kiddies with a rod of iron, they are really much less dreadful than one might imagine.

This performance was a bit different, however.  For one thing, all the other concerts have been held during the fall and winter, when being packed into a crowded school gym is far from a burden and even has its advantages in terms of communal warmth.  Not so this time, what with the temperature being well up into the 80’s and the humidity spiking as well.  I only occasionally suffer from claustrophobia, but it always happens when I’m jammed into a crowd of hot and sweaty people, and as the evening wore on, I more than once had to force myself to fight down the temptation to suddenly run amok, smashing camcorders and telling people they have no business appearing in public dressed like that.

For the evening did wear on.  I suppose because it was the season finale, the M.I. decided to pull out all the stops.  First, she had about twenty-five different kiddies get up and do solos.  Even if they were all little Joshua Bells, this would have been waaaay too many, and since they were most emphatically not little JB’s,  the agony got pretty intensive after a while.  If the folks at Gitmo are still looking for a waterboarding alternative, they might consider an endless procession of elementary school string soloists.

Of course, there’s always one wunderkind in the mix to provide relief and this time was no exception.  A very pretty little 4th grader got up and started sawing away on some kind of 19th Century Hungarian ditty.  As she broke into the allegro section following the slow and mushy introduction, some fellah behind me started clapping, faintly at first, but gradually getting louder.  I suppose he was hoping that the rest of the audience would join in to keep the beat.  Now normally I’m a pretty tolerant and mild-mannered person  (stop snickering, please), but this time I couldn’t help myself.  I rounded on him and fixed him with the cold, blue marbles.  He’s probably still got frostbite this morning, but at least I saved the performance.

Next it was on to the ensemble.  As I say, the M.I. was pulling out all the stops and she had not one, but two orchestras packed in next to each other, the first composed mostly of 5th and 6th graders and the second of 4th graders.   There must have been something north of 175 musicians altogether.   I’ve noted before my belief that the theory of schoolkid orchestral performance is very similar to that of regimental volley-fire, the idea being that by concentrated grouping either is bound to hit the target through saturation of the general area around it.  What I at first took to be some rayther good ornamentation I later realized was, in fact, nothing more than some of the wider shots.

First the 4th graders paraded their stuff, then the more advanced kids.  Nothing especially memorable, but nothing too bad, either, although I really don’t think “Barbara Ann” translates well to strings.

In order, perhaps, to keep parents from sneaking off, the M.I. saved several combined efforts for the finale.  This proved to be quite interesting because the one orchestra really could not hear the other, and several pieces, despite no evidence of the composers’ intent that they be treated as such, were turned into rayther lively rounds until stopped by the M.I.  In the end, she had to resort to standing in between the warring parties and banging on a large cowbell to keep time.   (What problem is there that can’t be solved by more cowbell?)

In the end, though I was glad to finally get away, I was still quite pleased and proud.  The gel only picked up the violin for the first time last fall, yet she’s stuck with it and even earned herself a seat with one of the smaller chamber groups within the larger orchestra.   She has every intention of going on with it and will even be attending workshops this summah to improve her technique.   (My dream is that she’ll reach a point of proficiency where she and I can play some real chamber musick together.)  So I patted her on the back, gave her a big smile and said, “Oh, well done!”

Her reply? “Thanks, Dad, but boy was that long and hot!”

Taking a break from my historickal readings of late, I have gone back to an old, old favorite novel, namely Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust.

Poor old Tony Last.  I find that each time I read his story I am more and more horrified that Mr. Wu should send such a decent chap into a literal living hell.  “Why, after getting caught up in the whirlygig of Fate, can’t he land back on his feet in the end, like Paul Pennyfeather or Guy Crouchback or John Boot?”  I ask myself.  Hard cheese, indeed.

But then I remind myself that the alternative ending that Waugh wrote for the novel – evidently at the request of people with sentiments similar to mine – is really rayther flat and disappointing.   So go figure.

I also find myself falling into the extremely silly fancy of believing that somehow this time when I read the story it will turn out differently.  Ever experience that?  Utterly barmy, I know, but there is always a very small part of my mind that hopes the words have magically changed since the last time I clapped eyes on them.  (Although, come to think of it, I suppose the advent of gizmos like Amazon’s Kindle – a device I would never touch – make such a transformation somewhat plausible.)

By the bye, one of my fellow port-swillers some time ago put up the question of whom one would rayther take to dinner – Brenda Last or Pam Widmerpool.  I’m still in the air about that one, but on the whole I think I’d actually lean toward Pam.  True, she’d be far more likely to throw her wineglass or shank one with her salad fork, but on the other hand, but on the other hand, at least with her brand of evil, you know what you’re getting right up front.


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June 2009