Saturday, 14 January 2012

Fiction and oboes

The 'library' in the 'office' of our compact but adorable city apartment - just how I imagine thousands of others look like, all over the world. Dozens of disparate books of fact and fiction, carefully placed side by side in a manner so haphazard that I sometimes look for a particular volume for months - on and 0ff - before I find it whilst looking for something else.

I think I may go back to reading fiction again, as well as the reference and historical facsimiles which have been my sole reading matter for about 15 or more years now. The trouble is that - unlike H.I. - I cannot read in bed. When ever I try, I get about three lines in, then the next thing I know, it is 4.00 a.m. in the morning and my face is pressed between the covers of the saliva-soaked book like a wild meadow flower picked by a Victorian poet, so I push the book over the edge, turn out the light and return to sleep.

I stopped reading fiction because I was halfway through writing a dark, comic (so I thought) novel based in Waverley Abbey (don't ask, it's a long story) when a friend of mine in the writing industry read through the first draft and said he liked it. He then said it reminded him of Tom Sharpe, and that scared me so much that I put down all fiction until I could be sure that I was not subconsciously plagiarising any part of it - even the style. They say that you subliminally assimilate words very easily just before you go to sleep (a technique used by students swatting for exams) but since I cannot read in bed for the above reasons, I don't think this could be a danger for me, apart from the all important opening hook-line. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." etc.

A similar thing happened to me with music. I used to (badly) play a lot of woodwind instruments ('Oh no', I hear you groan, 'is there anything he hasn't tried?' Well there is actually, but it would be inappropriate - and dangerous - to list them here), mainly the clarinet. Someone asked me years ago if I had always played music, and I said "Oh yes. I don't think I could live without it."

Then I thought what a bloody stupid thing to say that was, so I put down the instruments and never picked them up again. No great loss to the world of music.

I think if I were to be cast away on a desert island, I would take a bass oboe with me as my luxury item. If you have ever been transported by Mozart's Oboe Concertos, then you will understand why, but if you have ever tried to play an oboe, then you might not. Apparently it has the most difficult and complicated fingering of all the wind instruments, but I might have time to get to grips with it just so long as they cast me away sooner rather than later. At least I would not annoy the neighbors by practicing all day and night.

The other great thing about wind instruments is the high you get from the great effort of breath-control. After half an hour playing the clarinet, it seems to have the same effect as about 2 hours yoga of the Kundalini variety.

When you first pick up a reed clarinet and try to get a note out of it, your cheeks expand to bursting point, your eyes almost pop out of their sockets and your face goes a bright red, fading to a pale blue around the edges - just to produce a squeak which sounds like the rear end of a ferret which has been run over by a 10 ton truck.

After about two weeks of this torture, you learn how damp the reed must be before also learning which area of the reed is best suited to your lips to produce the mellow, woody note you are looking for - then you can concentrate on the fingering by going up and down the scales until you can hit three octaves. With a bit of luck, you can attempt a melody along the lines of 'Three Blind Mice' within about a month afterwards, and before you know it, your breath-control is such that you can - with the minimum of effort - sustain a note for longer than you could hold your breath underwater. That's when you start getting high by playing the clarinet. Unfortunately, that is usually when the neighbors finally crack and come round to tell you to shut the fuck up.

Maybe I'll start by reading some fiction again.


25 comments:

  1. Mr Bilk would have been proud of you. I'm sure you'd soon regret your bass oboe; better to have a PLUTO style pipeline to redwineville.

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    1. Are you accusing me of being something other than a social drinker Cro? (never mind about a truthful answer)

      What was the name of that French clarinetist - much more my kind of listening than Bilk. I could even listen to jazz when he played it. Sydney something.

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  2. In France they pronounce him Beshette, everywhere else it's Beshay. Strange.

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  3. A groaning bookcase is the most interesting element in a room if you ask me....which you didn't.

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    1. Would you say a groaning bookcase is the most interesting element in a room, Raz? (now I have)

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    1. Were you, Groucho? Is the fingering difficult, and why did you stop?

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  5. yes

    similar to a recorder but with 'keys'.

    starvation

    (back to Kiwi Tennis. Monday is the start of the Oz Open.....ooooooooooooo)

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    1. Never mind about the tennis. Recorders are bloody easy, once you get used to them, even the big ones. I used to know old man Dolmetsch. Starvation? Is that oxygen starvation?

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    2. the Baroque Oboe is even harder to play (less keys). Building the embouchure (besides having a sense of pitch) is the key. BTW, I've performed the Mozart C Concerto. There are two different sounds for oboe; French and German. The German is the preferred universally. Just in case you were wondering.

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  6. I could not concentrate on the music bit of this post Tom for wondering what happened to that novel you were writing.

    My bookshelves look similar to yours - have even been know to buy a book twice thinking I had lent it to somebody and not being able to do without it (Brideshead for one - have three copies)

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    1. The book is gathering dust, like I am. The music should have drowned that out. Three copies of Brideshead means a serious psychological disturbance in (one of my) book(s).

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  7. There's a lot of information about you in this post. I think you should finish the book just for fun. No idea is new anyway, so don't get hung up on duplicating someone else's book. If you are copying someone else word for word, then yes, that's wrong. But it doesn't sound like you were doing that.

    I love all those books. The red Picasso book is calling out to me.

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    1. What's 'fun' about writing a book, Amy?

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  8. If these are your only bookshelves (shelves - how posh is that?) you are an amateur in the home library world. But you win in the oboe department. You probably lose in the authorship department, which is a good thing because you've actually lived an interesting life, rather than just inventing one.

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    1. I win in the pink-oboe department, Elegance (or so I was told). We have about twice as many books, but the rest are on the floor and in cupboards. I invented my life, I am afraid to say.

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  9. My Dad played saxophone and clarinet and our daughter played the oboe...... now I know why. They were obviously enjoying the delights that breath control give.
    A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead - Graham Greene.
    Perhaps a little bit of fiction in the armchair just before you go to bed would be O.K. ?

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    1. I have successfully managed to avoid the saxaphone during my mid-life crisis, Jack@. Ah yes, the delights of birth control, and friction in the armchair - those were the days.

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  10. coincidently, I have started to read fiction again after a break of a couple of years... I just got out of the habit!
    love your bookcase too but I think I would need to straighten up the books just a little and perhaps add a few "homes and gardens" objects to break up the paper!!!
    I thought it was easy to play a wind intrument....
    I thought
    "you just have to put your lips together ...and blow!"

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    1. We could do with you popping in for an hour or two a week, John -just so long as you don't bring your animals. We have enough War Horses around as it is.

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  11. you wouldnt want spielberg's warhorse... it's shite

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  12. I suggest you get back to your novel - one of our daughters plays the oboe, and the learning years were piercing to the ears! But she would emerge from wind band rehearsals on a high from the music and it also gave her the opportunity to travel to far flung places. ( I suspect you are too old to join a youth orchestra?)
    Other daughter plays the cello, and that sounded beautiful from the start.

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    1. Just because one of your daughters suffered from wind, Cher, there's no need to be rude about my age, or the fact that my recent application to join a youth orchestra was rejected because of VERY old police files which they were supposed to have burned many years ago,

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