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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Contest

"Jeepers creepers!' she began, "it's raining cats and dogs outside, a real gully-washer! I thought I was a goner a couple of times when my wellies slipped in that mud. Mud! You wouldn't believe the mud. Why it's as muddy as…as…as"


Ella's words trailed off. She had run out of trite metaphors and clichéd similes. She looked at James, who held the stopwatch.


"Sorry, Ella," he said. "You only lasted seven seconds. You're obviously not going to be a winner tonight. But, as you know, heavy the head that wears the crown! Being champion might have been just one more onerous burden for you. Let's move right along. Harold, you're next in line. How about you give a kick at the can?"


Harold cleared his throat and began: "Fourscore and seven years ago… Just kidding, folks. Just tickling your ribs, trying to get a rise out of you. Now here's the real McCoy, the real deal. I'm stepping out here, letting loose with all the bells and whistles and, as they say, I've got rings on my fingers and bells on my toes tonight. I could bend your ears till the cows come home, so don't get your hopes up that I'll let the golden ring slip through my fingers. Old Silver Tongue will be happy as a clam, as smug as a bug in a rug, chattering on for your pleasure. This sort of thing is like mother's milk to me, a piece of cake, as easy as pie. Why, I was born and raised on clichéd phrases and trite expressions. My talent is just a gift. A downright gift. And I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Now you just stop me, James, if I go on too long, but I think I can safely say that I'm the best of a bad bunch here tonight. I believe I've captured the gold ring and James has the stopwatch to prove it! How'd I do?"


Indeed, Harold's performance was hard to beat. He was crowned winner of the Citywide Cliché Contest, and he reigned in peace for the entire year.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apostrophe to a Cello

Oh cello, whence comes (notice that old-timey construction) your human voice?


I've read that the violin most closely resembles the human voice. Well, that might be true if the voice in question is that of Isabel Barakdarian or Joan Sutherland. But for most of us, the violin's range  is much higher than the range of our voices. To me, the violin can be screeching or ethereal, depending on who's playing it. But it seldom sounds to me like a human voice.


But you, you plump wooden darling, you are tuned to my voice and my heart. Your bottom string resonates like thunder at two octaves below middle C. Your top notes—for those who have practiced long enough to be able to make them beautiful—rival the violin in their vocal inaccessibility.


But your middle range! All those tenor timbres that sing from the heart! Those cello tones that groan with sorrow or uplift the heart with their full joy. You are the instrument for humans, you curvaceous beauty.


The bow engages your strings, moving back and forth so smoothly that it sounds like a singer practiced in circular breathing—a sung sound that never ends.


I can apostrophize further in this vein, but I don't want to turn your pretty head. So let's move on to the nitty-gritty. The rest of this monologue is a plea. Since I began studying your ways, I've never asked you for much. But now I'm asking you to respond to my hours of work and let me sound like a cellist. I want to make beautiful sounds not just occasionally but throughout a whole piece. If I give you my loving attention each time I play, surely you can respond to my intention, which is to create beauty.


If I work at becoming less rigid, can you not do the same? As I play the Bach that I've worked on for so many weeks, I ask for your indulgence. I will pay attention to intonation, to bowing technique, to the underlying musicality of the piece, to accuracy as the fingers of my left hand shift from one position to the next, from one string to the next. I will devote my attention to all of these things (not to mention the additional element of memorizing those notes!). And in return, what will you grant me? Can I ask you to sing? Can I plead with you to respond to my attempts to create beauty? Can I at least ask for your cooperation?


If I can get you to accommodate me to this extent, can I then move on and ask you to overlook my occasional gaffe? Will you be forgiving of those times when I use a smidgen too much pressure on the bow—or too little—or when I anticipate the string crossing by a hairsbreadth, a nano-second, or when the little finger of my left hand (called the fifth finger in real life but the fourth in cello language)—when that finger isn't quite strong enough to press the string firmly—in all of these cases I ask your indulgence. I ask for a little mercy. I ask you to give me, if only occasionally, the benefit of the doubt, an A for effort. In short, I ask you to be kind.


And in return I'll practice, I'll dust your dark wooden surface, I'll keep you away from roughhousing grandchildren.


Together perhaps, one day, we'll make beautiful music.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Shared Meal

I'll have a bit more of that polenta, if you don't mind, Mr. Payne.


No problem, Ms. Joy. It's quite delicious. The menu described it as "Apache Polenta," quite a mingling of cultures. You'll notice, as you take a bite, that the polenta holds both grilled onion and grilled poblanos, giving it a southwestern flavor. And, of course, polenta itself is Italian.


You do go on, Mr. Payne. Sometimes for longer than one wants to listen.


Just a bit more, my dear, for I wanted to point out that the corn used for polenta is actually itself a New World product, thus this form of polenta is not really traditionally Italian. The original Italian polenta was made from chestnut flour or buckwheat flour. There. Now I've finished my lecture. You help yourself to a bite of this interesting dish, which seems to be cross-cultural but is actually, as I have shown, mono-cultural—that is, completely New World. 


Ms. Joy takes a bite of the Apache Polenta from Mr. Payne's plate.


Um-m-m. Oh yes, it's quite good. I do like the poblano flavor here. But, Mr. Payne, must you always always elucidate? Do you feel you need to enlighten me with every single bite?


When you eat from my plate, Ms. Joy, you partake of more than just my food. By asking to dine with me, to eat what I eat, you are in effect asking that I share with you a part of myself. So that's what I've been doing.


And I thank you for it, truly I do. It's just that sometimes (not always, of course) I find your explanations and enlightenings just a tiny bit long-winded. Appropriate for the classroom, perhaps, but hardly what I want to listen to as I eat.


And may I ask, Ms. Joy, what it is that you would like to listen to as you eat? Or, more apropos, what is it that you like to eat? What is that mixture on your plate, for example?


Ah. You've forgotten what I ordered, have you? I don't know whether it would be to your taste. But it suits me so well. It's a mixture of tropical fruits, and I ordered it because it felt just right for this hot day. Would you like to try a bite from my plate?


Thank you, my dear. I don't mind if I do. M'm-m. Interesting. I never have much liked that silly star-fruit, myself. It makes up in appearance what it lacks in flavor, so I find it makes a better objet d'art than a food item. But here's a piece of mango. Oh yes indeed, that suits you. Ms. Joy. Mango is indeed a joyous taste. Of course, you know that in this country we get to sample only two or three varieties of mango, while actually dozens and dozens of varieties are grown around the world. So, while this particular mango is quite good, one can't help but wonder whether another type of mango might actually be better suited to this tropical salad of yours.


You know, Mr. Payne, I'm beginning to see just how well your name suits you. You do tend to be—well, yes, a pain. May I suggest that we enjoy our meal and not analyze it to death? Do you parse all of life in such detail?


Indeed I do, Ms. Joy. Parsing life gives me great pleasure, if Mr. Payne can be said to enjoy pleasure. The more I can divide life up into tiny little compartments, minuscule shades of meaning, then the more likely it is that I will find the almost-hidden, nearly-forgotten shards of pain. It is important to reveal their pain to people so they can wallow in it. Without me, they might be able to overlook it.


And that's a most disgusting sentiment, Mr. Payne. As "Joy" incarnate, I feel it is my duty to expand experience for people. The more sensation they can bring to an experience, the more likely it is that they will be able to transcend or to forget their pain. I find this a loftier goal than yours.


Each to his own taste, Ms. Joy. You do your thing and I'll do mine. Whose approach will be more popular? I'm quite sure mine will be. No one is actually looking for "Joy," no matter what they say. People want to feel their pain, dwell on it, hold it, bring it out and fondle it. Your happy-happy attitude is counter to what I have seen of human desire.


People change, Mr. Payne. Whole societies change. People need joy. And, whether or not you admit it, Joy can obliterate pain. In fact, I'm sorely tempted to do that right now. But no, instead of obliterating you, I'll just have another bite, from your plate, of your Apache Polenta.


No hard feelings, m'dear, I hope. Help yourself. And if you don't mind, I'll try a bit more of your slightly disappointing though still interesting tropical fruit salad.


Having realized that they will never come to agreement, Mr. Payne and Ms. Joy continue to eat from each other's plate.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prudence or Fear?

I'm a wimp. I don't make waves. On the subway recently I sat at a right angle to (and several seats away from) a large young man. He slouched over two seats, but the car was not crowded, so I didn't begrudge him that extra space. He wore a ball cap pulled over his eyes. And his face was set in a scowl.


I noticed him only when I realized that I was hearing really ugly rap music. Two girls and a boy were beyond him in the car, and I hoped that the music was coming from them. (They looked a bit more approachable.) But as I kept glancing up from my reading I had to admit that the music was coming not from the two girls and their friend but from the glowering young man nearer to me. The music was not only truly dreadful, but it was not bleeding from his i-Pod. He had a radio or some device (I never did see it) playing at top volume into the subway car. This was not accidental. You might even say it was provocative.


Here's what I wanted to do. I wanted to say to him, in a non-censorious tone, that I did him the favour of not blasting my favourite opera into the public space of a subway car, and I wished he would pay me the same courtesy.


Here's what I did: nothing. I was afraid.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor