May 3, 2008
I’ve just been treated to an impromptu performance by five members of the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra… not my usual cup of tea at all.
Every Saturday morning consists of taking the two junior family members to Mt Albert Library for story time. We’ve been going since Number One Daughter was little and now we take Number Two along as well.
Let me tell you, the librarians who take story time are rock gods. Pansy has the guitar and her various helpers do all the actions. It’s thirty minutes of childhood memories in the making. Not least of which is when they asked Number One Daughter to read a story for Chinese New Year (“Lanterns and Firecrackers”. A rollicking yarn that spent, I believe, several weeks at the top of the New York Times best seller list. But I digress).
Today we were running late and Number Two Daughter was unwell so stayed at home with mum.
Number One and I got there half way through story time (don’t ask. It involves a Saab convertible, the threat of rain, a Shoe Crisis and… just don’t ask) which was a tad depressing but they rushed the end, gave everyone a stamp or two (not me) and then said “Don’t leave, we’re having a concert”.
Five members of the woodwind section duly arrived, sat themselves down and warmed up. I regret to report that I missed everyone’s names (was there a Jarrod? I think there might have been) so we’ll go with their instruments.
Flute stood up, explained she was the only Kiwi in the group and proceeded to demonstrate both flute and piccolo. It was lovely.
(The flute is one of those magical instruments that just sounds ethereal to me. It’s second only to the harp, but they’re few and far between in New Zealand sadly. I told the girls, when last we saw one busking on the street, that they’re always ALWAYS to put money in the harpist’s collection because harps are heavy beasts and it’s on a par with busking with a piano. You can do it, but why would you? That earned me a smile from the harpist.)
Then there was Bassoon. He was tall, American (or Canadian – my apologies either way) and asked if anyone knew what his instrument was called. “It’s a buffoon,” cried the clarinetist to much amusement. Bassoon then explained how the bassoon was one of the few instruments where most of the keys fall under the thumbs (this earned a gasp from the clarinetist, which in turn earned chuckles from the parents) which apparently made it the envy of the other musicians in the orchestra. Much merriment ensued.
Next up was the French Horn, who did a great job of making Oboe and Clarinet play six foot each of water pipe with funnel to demonstrate how the horns came about. It was good.
Following on was Oboe who was very funny. Again he asked for the name (“Buffoon,” cried Clarinet, but quietly this time), then he explained how the name came about, how the oboe is around 5,000 years old (which didn’t earn the gasp it could have – tough crowd) and how the double reed on its own sounds awful and the wooden tube on its own doesn’t sound like anything but together they sound beautiful and are the envy of the rest of the orchestra because of their beauty and flexibility.
I was going to ask about double breathing because I’ve never understood it (apparently the oboe, like the digereedoo, can be played in such a way that the note is constant but the musician is taking in a breath through the nose… I don’t get it) but I chickened out.
Finally we got to Clarinet who stood up and asked if anyone knew what his instrument was called (“It’s a buffoon,” I called out and received a round of applause from the orchestra. I used to play clarinet. I know you have to keep them in their place or they’ll take over). He actually had three – the bog standard boring one, the slightly larger boring one, and the small, but really loud and oddly powerful one – and he played a wee bit on each explaining how having holes instead of stoppers means he can be more flexible and play things the other woodwinds couldn’t.
And then he played the intro to Rhapsody in Blue and it was the most beautiful thing on Earth.
The thing with the intro to Rhapsody is that originally sounded quite different as I understand it. This from Wikipedia:
The opening of Rhapsody in Blue is written as a clarinet trill followed by a legato 17-note rising diatonic scale. During a rehearsal, Whiteman’s virtuoso clarinetist, Ross Gorman, rendered the upper portion of the scale as a captivating (and fully trombone-like) glissando: Gershwin heard it and insisted that it be repeated in the performance.
If they’d let me play Rhapsody in Blue at school, like I wanted to when I picked up a clarinet, I’d still be playing it today. Instead, all we got was Peter and the Wolf.
So, hat’s off to the Auckland Phil, to the five woodwind who showed up, to the library for making the space and to the kids who all had a whale of a good time.
And double hat’s off to the Clarinet for playing that astonishing slide up into the stratosphere and hitting the high note and sounding like an angel.
Here’s a full orchestral rendition but it’s not a patch on the Mt Albert Library performance.
If you get the chance to hear them play, I highly recommend it.
EDIT: That’s the Philharmonia, not the Philharmonic I’ve discovered. Interesting. Like Batman versus The Batman I suppose.