Tuesday, April 18, 2017

And now for something completely different…

by Rick Blechta

As I said in the comment section of Aline’s post from yesterday, her woeful story of loss brought back one of the really bad moments in my life to the point where I couldn’t get the memory of it out of my head all day, and it even carried over into my dreams last night.

Something wonderful and a little strange happens when the bond is forged between  serious musicians and their instruments. I often tell people it’s really falling in love with an inanimate object. The emotion is that strong. I’m speaking, of course, of musicians who are committed to playing well, not some youngster who’s taking piano lessons and really not all that into it. I never felt any kind of bond between myself and the piano banged away on for years in our house.

That all changed when I held my French horn for the first time in 1969. I’d played trombone in high school and in university switched to horn, basically because New York University’s School of Education was awash in great trombonists, untouchable in their excellence. Hornists were, however in short supply, so I contacted the school’s horn teacher, Harry Berv (who’d taught a very good friend all through high school) and asked if he’d take me on. I told him I’d bought a very good pro trombone just before school. Harry told me to bring the trombone to him, he’d sell it, and the following week at my first lesson, he’d have a horn for me. (I had to pony up an additional $225).

From the first time the horn’s mouthpiece touched my lips, I was in love. It just felt so right. I progressed very rapidly and was soon playing in the school’s senior band. I could not put that horn down and practised for hours, completely smitten.

Then disaster struck one Friday evening the next fall. After a very long week, I got my sorry butt onto the train at Grand Central Station, found a seat, and put my horn on the overhead luggage rack. During the 40-minute ride, I fell asleep over a book I needed to finish for a class.

Waking with a start as the train arrived at my station, I grabbed my briefcase, shoved the book into it and dashed for the door. Unfortunately due to my grogginess, I completely forgot about my horn on the rack above.

I discovered what I’d done almost immediately, but alas, it was too late. The train was already disappearing around the bend north of the station.

I ran home as fast as I could. My brother was home, and we jumped into his car and tore off up the Thruway, heading for Stamford, Connecticut where the train terminated. When we got there, the train had already been sent to the north yard for the weekend. I implored the man in the office to let me search the train. They sent someone instead who came back with the bad news: no French horn.

Most people face personal catastrophes during their lives. This was my first. I was completely beside myself, distraught, angry that I could have been so stupid, and sad beyond belief. We went home (my brother was actually nice to me during the drive). I wrote up a poster, offering a reward for any information on my lost “closest friend”, and took it up to the Stamford station — but not with much hope.

I spent the next two days sitting beside the phone. It didn’t ring. I have certainly never been so depressed.

Monday, I just couldn’t face going to school and stayed home. Around eleven o’clock, the phone rang. It was a conductor who’d been on the train. He’d found my horn at the end of the line. In a hurry, he’d jumped on a southbound train with my horn which he’d taken home for the weekend. When he’d seen my poster that morning and immediately called me. With unimaginable relief, I picked up my horn that evening and gladly gave the man $100 for his honesty (a lot of money for a student in those days).

A few weeks later, my brother presented me with a set of handcuffs for Christmas so I could be assured of never being separated from my beloved instrument again.

I still have that horn, and I still feel the same way about it. My wife understands. She feels the same way about her flute!

And now here’s a link to that Flanders and Swann version of the Rondo from Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto in Eb Major. It is very clever and has always been a favourite. If you’ve never heard it before, you’re in for a treat — and a good laugh.


Sybil Johnson said...

What a tale. I've never experienced a bond with a musical instrument, but I can understand it.

Donis Casey said...

There's nothing like that sinking feeling when you first realize you just did something you can't take back

Rick Blechta said...

I can still remember so clearly after nearly 50 years, the look of the red light on the last car of the train as it disappeared around the bend just north of the station. Such a feeling of helplessness and defeat. I was certain I'd seen the last of that instrument.

Vicki Delany said...

So glad your story has a happy ending.

Rick Blechta said...

I did lose a trumpet about 20 years ago when I stupidly left it on the back seat floor in our minivan. Someone smashed the side window in a downtown parking lot and stole it and my briefcase full of reeds, valve oil, music, etc. that every band teacher carries and which is totally useless to anyone else. I'm sure it all wound up in a dumpster somewhere nearby. It wasn't my main instrument and I had professional insurance, so I could buy a new (and better) one. But that story doesn't have the same resonance as the one I related above.