“I couldn’t begin to feel what that is like,” said the clarinet.
“That must be excruciating,” echoed the french horn.
The flute did not look up. Nor did he feel less self-pity. He had been given to a beginner. The flute had performed at the Met. At the Lyric. At the Palladium. The notes of Handel, Pachelbel…of his beloved Bach, had graced his keys and tone hole. Yet, yesterday he endured the agony of Three Blind Mice.
“Our sainted Beethoven!” exclaimed the clarinet. “Three Blind Mice? Really? How did you ever manage, my dear?”
“I don’t believe I know that one,” said the French horn. “Is that a developed theme on Farmer in the Dell?”
“I managed,” replied the flute to the clarinet, ignoring the French horn. “It ought to be called Three Deaf Mice, for that is the only way to survive the experience. It’s one thing to be flat at every single “mice,” but the horror of the farmer’s wife pursuing all those notes with a carving knife! B-flats and C-sharps and E-flats scattering and screeching, without any hint of where they are on the scale…Oh, the horror…the horror!”
The flute shuddered and sank into tears, reliving the harrowing experience.
“Dreadful, simply dreadful,”said the clarinet.
“Hey, hey. None of that now,” said the French horn, attempting to sound comforting, yet firm. “It must’ve been awful. But it’s not the end of the sonata, right? Pretty soon, he’ll improve and he’ll…”
“…she’ll improve and in no time at all you’ll be playing The Volga Boatman and Chopsticks.”
The French horn laughed at his own joke; unable to resist mocking the flute’s sad plight. You wouldn’t know from the way he played – full of confidence – but he was envious of the flute. No gloomy mood could withstand the velvet force of his lilt.
The three friends agreed to meet again and parted ways: the French horn and clarinet to their virtuosos, the flute to his beginner.
“Three blind miiiiice. Three blind miiiiice…”
The poor flute felt a lifetime of dedication and sacrifice slipping away with each sour note and fumbled fingering. He was dizzy throughout the session – the girl with dark brown eyes having spent more time tapping his body joint against her thigh than blowing gently through the tone hole.
And then the flute heard a shout and angry muttering and was slammed against the sheet music stand.
“I will never learn to play this stupid thing,” he heard the little girl shout.
“Yes, you will. Just keep practicing,” replied the girl’s mother. “And you sound good. Really. You do.”
“I sound terrible! I hate that flute.”
“You sound good, Dear.”
“Good? Good?! Really, Mom? You call that, good?”
“You sound…better than you did yesterday. And that’s the truth.”
The flute heard the girl snort.
“Ha! That’s not hard. Yesterday, I sounded like an out-of-tune mutt howling at the moon.”
About a week later the flute met with his friends and told them how his rehearsals were faring. The French horn exclaimed,
“That is very good news! She is bound to quit and you will be free of this wretched urchin.”
“I don’t think her mom will let her quit.”
“No, no, no…you don’t know about these things. I do. That horrid little creature will bellyache so loudly and so often that her mother will surrender. You’ll be back in the hands of a true musician before long. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I am. Her mother won’t want to listen to her shrieking…or your shrieking for much longer.” And then he grinned at his own wittiness.
The flute had lied: he did not hope the French horn was right. He was beginning to feel less sorry for himself and more empathy for his new partner.
When next they rehearsed, the flute (concentrating on not blacking-out) was convinced that the torrid jumble of whistles and squeaks chasing the farmer’s wife with a carving knife sounded more like notes and less like squealing mice. But a dissonant wail of squeezed pain through his keys broke his good mood. The girl groaned, jumped up and banged the poor flute down on the sheet music stand, ending the session. The flute sighed.
“She will never pick me up again.”
But then a curious thing.
The girl returned. She collected the scattered sheet music; straightened the jilted music stand; repositioned the folding chair and picked up the flute. Then she cleaned the spittle from its lip plate, adjusted its tenon, took a deep breath and began to play.
But she played.
The flute found himself singing with happiness. He began singing the song to himself. He, a flute who had once crooned La Boheme, began singing Three Blind Mice. And living the sorrow, the angst. What did those mice feel being blind? What injustice did they endure from the farmer’s wife to chase her to the edge of madness? The flute felt the passion of the humble tune as he sang the same notes over and over. And again. And again.
“I bet the old broad made fun of the mice because they would never play the classics again…I mean, um, made fun of them for being blind.”
The flute listened to the sound flowing from him. It was clear. The notes were true. The timing was unhurried. The phrasing: natural.
And then the girl smiled. And then laughed with pride. The flute felt joy in her fingertips. The flute had once again spun joy from warm breath.
The girl ran into the kitchen holding the flute.
“Mom! Mom! Listen!”
The silver flute played as if for the Queen at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
“Esmeralda, that was wonderful! I knew you could do it,” said her mother.
“I’m so happy for you, my dear,” said the clarinet. “I’m sure the two of you will share many enjoyable rehearsals, together.”
“Wait a minute,” replied the French horn. “You want me to believe that Three Blind Mice is enough for you? And you (gesturing to the clarinet), stop encouraging him! Do you know where these rehearsals are leading? Someday, God knows how many unbearable hours from now, she might, maybe, if you’re lucky, be able to play the first thirty-two bars of Für Elise without screwing up the timing. That’s it! That’s what you have to look forward to.”
“And I will look forward to it. And to every fudged note and late beat before we get there. I have learned something about music, French horn. It does not come from virtuosos. Nor from peerless composers. Nor from timeless masterpieces. It comes from inside a kid who is happy. It rises to her fingers, to her lips, and then is free. That is music. And happiness. And it’s always a good day to play with Esmeralda.”
Brian Wapole ©2012