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Concerto for fish and orchestra in B Major
Spread eagle among the misty rainforest of the pacific west, in among the paved roads of a small town, there lies a high-school. Not unlike any other dilapidated, under-funded, portable-ridden daycare for big kids, it has an equally predictable name: “Geo ge P. Vanier Se ondary” (of which two letters have been scraped off). Painted by an amateur hand upon the bricks surrounding its front door entrance is what appears to be an archway leading to an eden- like garden, with the capital letters underneath forming the words “WHERE YOUR FUTURE BEGINS”.
If you were to visit this high-school on sunny afternoon, you would not see students smiling or carrying around their books in a decent manner, holding true to this slogan with catalogue-pose precision. Instead, you would probably feel estranged by the company of which surrounded you: Teenagers with cigarettes in hand and smart-ass expressions, chubby girls corseting their thighs with denim, and skinny guys with pants that are so large that they defy the law of gravity by staying put upon their tall stick-figure like legs.
In fact, after paying your respects to such a so called “ordinary” institution, you might feel a tinge of disrespect for the cartoon motto which regards its local crowd everyday, - as if this very sign is mocking the students as they pass under its acrylic archway, staring them down and demanding that each and every single one of them have a planned future ahead, bright and brimming with societies great expectations, which constantly paint over it’s own pitfalls with slogans like these, covering the eyes of its beholders with a pastel-coloured blindfold of mundane routine. Shame on you for having no dream or aspiration! Ruin on those who only live day by day! Impending doom awaits those who have been numbed down by this place, or who have been led astray by its dark corners and hormonal spats. May you wither away in the fluorescent office-light of mediocrity!
By now you may have concluded that this story is about a student who attends this place. I have sidetracked you completely. This is not a tale of teen angst, but of a man and his music.
You see, every Monday after the students have finished that dreaded day of the week, the school is closed and cleaned by surly- faced janitors with balding skulls or heavily bosomed women, both of which hold an uncanny resemblance to characters from the sitcom “cheers”. They ride atop mopping machines similar to a John Deer lawnmower, minus the swift blades plus the grey tentacles of aged cotton and the smell of bleach. It is best to steer clear away from these people, as they will reprimand you at any given opportunity, as it is one of the two things they derive pleasure from in life (the second being pocketing junk food when re-stocking the vending machines). It is then that the musicians begin to arrive. From the indifferent to the amateur, from the hippies to small pre-teen girls who couldn’t read the treble clef if their life depended on it; they wade through the door with the clear intention of finishing off these two hours of their evening as swiftly as possible. Yet when sifting through sand there are always a few gems. In among the rough are a couple attendees who modestly make their way to this community orchestral rehearsal with music in their hands and minds, whose fingertips itch at the sight of small black notes on a stave, whose brains can be divided into two basic categories; major and minor keys. So is one very special man. His name is Blaine Waldbauer, and he is in his late forties. Most people age a certain way; they start their teen years bubbling with positive indestructible attitudes, and then gradually thicken and harden like plaster of paris into a mold of disingenuous stern facades. Blaine however, did just the opposite. To this day he has retained the authenticity of a boy and the awkwardness of a teen with everything he does. Some could argue this has to do with the amount of THC in his system. In his defense I would say that if he were not to have some sort of artificial compound in his bloodstream, he might just burst like a champagne cork from the shy and fastidious mannerisms that hold him in a state of permanent tension.
Indeed, after finishing your first conversation with this man, you will feel two very strong emotions; one of agitated nostalgia of discovering an all-too familiar feeling of chagrin, long since deeply buried on the outskirts of childhood, and the other of confusion and incertitude at ‘what the hell?’ just happened to make the conversation become so unlike any other.
Yet despite all these feelings of discomfort, (at least, if you are anything like me) you will discover that your lips are drawn in a sheepish smile, that your chin turned down to conceal your expression, and that your eyes are glinting through their now narrowed lids. Two seconds later you will come to the realization that you also resemble a teenybopper schoolgirl and quickly try to straighten or adjust your features, yet not without giggling a little more and feeling quite self-conscious along the way.
Today Blaine wears his thinning grey hair stuck up in places, and his usual attire. Black pants and a plaid shirt tucked in at his belt, which is always ornamented with a small knife. His build is average, and his physique is thin. In fact, his features are so extraordinarily normal that they are viewed as distinctive just because they are easy on the eyes and soothing to the mind.
In hand he carries something you rarely see him without: his violin case, blackened hard plastic with a faded Canadian flag sticker on the front. He nervously strides to the back of the room where he momentarily calms his jittery hands to carefully unpack the wooden creature from its golden polyester-padded den, where two eagle feathers are tucked under its curved back.
In one swift motion the violin is tucked under his chin and he prepares to tune; his right arm elegantly held high as if he were waltzing, turning a tuning peg with the other. The strings cry a dissonant sound- they are out of tune. He loosens one and then tightens it again, back and forth until finally they both resonate with a clear and gentle sigh of perfection. He performs the same operation on his lower strings, and this time I can hear the sticky resin which holds the tuning pegs in place crackle and protest.
Pleased with the results, he takes his seat and warms up his hands with arpeggios and fast sixteenth notes, which flutter away soundlessly in the noisy air of the sweat perfumed band room. His tense muscles have now relaxed and have been replaced with movements of grace and precision as he channels the chaos of before into something of exceptional beauty. His music briefly fills the room before the hubbub of brass and wind instruments cover his sound with their snorts and whistles. Defeated by the roar of the victorious trumpet, his violin shamefully resorts to sit upon his lap until its song can be heard. In turn, Blaine’s anxious look returns.
Yet as the euphoniums blare and the tendrils of horse hair screech against metallic strings, as the pounding of a timpani crashes in unison with a pair of cymbals, Blaine’s expression becomes faint. A person who rarely leaves the present moment, it is not often that one can observe a hint of a daydream pass over his face, or a second of blankness in his eyes. Yet if anyone were watching it would be obvious that he had escaped the mayhem of the room to another place entirely.
Cold, fresh air. He takes a deep breath to smell the decaying maple leaves beneath his feet. The moistened bark of the pine. In his ears there is the rushing of a river. It is the sound of anxious waters newly melted from the icy mountain, hurrying to reach their new home in the salty sea, their waves frolicking and licking each other as they skip over boulders and pounce on pebbles. Trees as wide as his house grasp the sky with their mossy knuckles while others open their palms with their sprouted fingers outstretched. Wading through dark green ferns he makes his way towards the stream. His face becomes wet with dew and he pushes a startled spider out of his collar without flinching. He is almost there. Finally he can see movement through the profusion of green. There among the roots of the ancient maples there is what he seeks. Flowing like the vein of life, like an artery of the woods, he reaches out in awe as he spots the true playmates of the playful spray- twisted bodies thrashing, their silvery pelts peak through in
a rhythmic strenuous dance, each time crashing down back into the surf with little more than inches gained in distance. Music is what he hears. It is made in such places. By fish. “Attention please!” Cries Pippa, her baton furiously rapping on the music stand. “Mark, give us an A will you?”
An oboe calls out smugly. A couple violinists pluck their strings in unison. “Stop that strings! We’re tuning the brass first.” She motions to the back of the room, where the brass section peeks each of their pairs of asymmetrical eyes above their sheet music like a bunch of small ground-dwelling mammals to expectantly await their conductors verdict.
“Too high, someone is definitely sharp.” Blaine blinks a few times. He often thinks of this place. At home lies a score which he composed himself on the very subject of these natural splendors. “John, come up a little.. And Amie go down some more. I know its cold outside but that doesn’t give us excuses to play with all our A’s all over the place.” Blaine ignores the argument taking place between the poor wind players struggling musical capabilities and Pippa’s dream that one day they will all awake in the morning with perfect pitch. Finally he musters the courage to raise his hand when they start to quiet down. “I just wanted to ask you something real quick.” He mumbles hesitantly. “What would that be?” “I uhmm.. Wrote a piece. For the orchestra. I was wondering if we could try to play it next week?” “Well, what is the piece about?” Everyone is now curiously regarding his struggle for words as he attempts to explain. “It is about the trees, and how the trees... Created the salmon and that is why the air stays clear, and uhmm... It is about big trees. Nature really, that’s what I mean.”
Pippa frowns. So does the room. “Sure, why not. Lets give it a shot.” No one notices as they hurriedly reach for their copy of Straussiana that Blaine has a mischievous look in his eyes, or that excitement is brimming around his shoulders, pulling his cheeks up in a grin.
Except for the cellist across the room. She never misses a thing.