Thursday, April 03, 2008

Behind Oboe

Earlier this month, I posted a poem called "Oboe" that I wrote in a surreal style. And I promised to write the story behind it sometime. It make take away some of the mystery, but maybe not much. If you haven't read the poem yet, please go do that first. I'll wait right here. Really!

When I was kid I played the oboe in the school band. I read music (thanks to a head-start with piano lessons) and I was passable at sight-reading. I wasn't likely to play after I left high school, except that my high school band teacher recommended me to a program for the summer after my senior year. The United States Collegiate Wind Bands organized groups of young American musicians into groups that would rehearse and play challenging music together while touring Europe for a couple of weeks. It was more expensive than most of my friends could afford, but it for two weeks of chaperoned culture in Europe, my parents though it was well worth it. They signed me up.

I received a folder of music to rehearse, instructions on making or buying a long, black dress for performances, information on foreign currency, getting a passport and what to pack. We also got a list of the other people who would be on the trip, along with their home addresses. We were from all over the continental US, many of us from small towns.

The group of approximately 100 kids (most of us in the summer between high school and college, a few a year older) gathered in New York City for intensive rehearsals and sight-seeing. We played one concert in a small park in NYC, then flew to Europe where we played 10 concerts in 7 countries within two weeks. Quite a whirl-wind tour. It is the kind of schedule that only the young (or highly-caffeinated) can do. As it was we slept in the buses a lot.

Some concerts were in small town halls, some in town squares or parks. We saw big cities and small towns. We had organized tours and free time to get lost on our own. We went up in the Eiffel Tower, toured the champagne cellars at Moet & Chandon, and saw the Rhine Falls. We were serenaded by a town oom-pah band in Bavaria, and saw the fresco of The Last Supper in Milan. One afternoon we listed to the radio to hear the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana.

Somewhere in the middle of the tour our two buses drove us through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and delivered us to Chamonix for a two-night stay. We put on as many clothes as we had and rode trains up Mont Blac to see the glacier called Mer de Glace. Every summer a cave is carved into the glacier, complete with rooms filled with ice furniture and people are allowed to walk inside the glacier. Astroturf on the floor keeps people from slipping. The glaciated ice is so firm that it holds the cold quite well. The cave lasts all summer. All summer and winter the glacier keeps moving, and you can see the remains of the previous year's entrance downhill from the current year's. That glacier is the inspiration for the first line of the poem. The ice wasn't all blue, but it wasn't all clear or white either.

The next day was a concert day so we dressed in our concert outfits. The girls had long black dresses with the big patch of the tour group sewn on the left side. The boys had their tux jackets, some in paisley blue, some in paisley red, each with a patch and each guy wearing a white shirt and black bow tie. The organization never had to worry that someone would want to keep the jackets! Not a look any of us was into. The picture below suggests the pattern (but they weren't double-breasted). I couldn't find anything in the red that some of the guys had to wear.

We carried our instruments (or pushed them, if they were on wheels) from the buses to the tram cars. We really did ride up the mountain in tram cars that in the winter were used to carry skiers. At the top there, we really did walk over to the bottom of a skiing chair lift which would take us even higher up the mountain.

I have skied since I was very little, but on this summer day, I shared a 2-person seat with a trombone player who was afraid of heights. Personally, I was enjoying the view, and glad that the lift went slowly because unloading in a long skirt was not something I was familiar with.

It took a while to get all 100 of us (and the large instruments such as baritones, tubas, and drums, up the mountain. While we waited, we watched the clouds roll by in the valley below us, and we wandered around the green, green grass under the blue, blue sky.

Eventually we set up to play on a large wooden platform (covered with folding chairs). We really did play for 30 or 40 hikers and a herd of cows. I'm pretty sure the hikers were more appreciative. After we played, we filed through the catering line inside the little warm-up hut nearby. I don't remember much about that meal except for the exquisite fruit tarts with pastry cream that were for dessert.

All in all, the whole event seems a bit surreal, even at the time. So when the poetry prompt asked us to explore "surreal" it isn't surprising to me that this came to mind.


my backyard said...

Sounds like a great experience!

sister AE said...

Thanks, my backyard. This is just one little piece of the whole trip. Eventually I'm sure more of it will make its way into poems and stories.

Michael Althouse said...

I agree... it sounds like a once in a lifetime experience. I was in a marching band in HS and we got to play st some cool places, but never outside of California.

I played trombone. Not very well, I might add.

Michele sent me.

sister AE said...

Hi, Michael. Nice to see you.

Mad Kane said...

What a great story! I worked as a professional oboist for quite a few years ... but it never got me to Europe. :)

sister AE said...

I can tell you that Europe is likely much more fun without the oboe!

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the background to
Oboe, I hope you will consent
allowing me to post one of your
poems for Friday guest poet
night on my blog.

sister AE said...

Hi, Cynthia. I would be honored, and I will send you an e-mail with a related request.