Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ill Wind

After writing a few blogs ago about the retirement of the great singer Thomas Quasthoff, I began thinking about the artistic talents that I sadly lack but wish I had. Singing is one of them. Mel Torme is who I wish I could sing like; he was a great interpreter of ballads, but could also swing the pants off anyone else. Alas, that punctured tire lying over there is less flat than my voice.
I also wish that I could draw. I would like to be able to produce caricatures. However, the best I could ever do was a stick man (and that was in the first grade). It wasn’t some childhood sexism that prevented me from producing a credible stick woman; I just could not manage the trapezoid for her dress.
And the piano. Yes, I would love to be able to play the piano. Actually, I can play the piano: with one finger I can tap out “My Coun-try Tis of Thee Sweet Land of Li-ber-ty Of Thee I Sing” (exactly like that—and please don’t ask for the next line). Although today I can’t imagine myself wanting to play any other instrument than the piano, I once did try to learn to play the recorder. I thought, "What could be an easier way to be musical than blowing into a little wooden tube?" So, outfitted with the wooden tube and a borrowed book of songs for beginners, I went to work. The first step was to try to figure out the notes. Following the little instruction booklet that accompanied the instrument, I attempted to place my fingers over the appropriate holes and blow. Sometimes a noise came out; I had no idea if it was a note or not. Finally, after running through noises that I hoped were all the notes of the scale, I decided to make music and turned to the borrowed beginner’s songbook. Fingers placed over holes; blow. Re-finger other holes; blow. After a few minutes of unconnected noises, I conceded defeat. Besides the fact that a noise followed by a silence (while finger repositioning was in progress), followed by another noise and another period of silence, and so on, was not very tuneful, I had no idea if I was actually producing the appropriate noises--since I had no idea what the tune I was attempting to play was supposed to sound like. Because all those songs for beginners had titles like “Bulgarian Tractor Dance” or “Albanian Hopscotch.”
But I did take away an important life lesson: If I wanted to call the tune, I would have to pay the piper.