A huge metal instrument, tubes and vibrating bars. I play. A side door opens. A man slips through, carrying something. He makes no effort to be quiet. He scans the stage, focuses on me. He stares. Glaring spotlights wink out, leaving me alone in an island of light. My solo. I sit, close my eyes, focus on the notes and the movements of my fingers.
The solo ends. I sit back, relax a little, my brain defocused, the muscle memory piloting my fingers through the harmony. I scan the rows below. Hard to see much but the whites of their eyes. No sign of the fellow now, not even lumbering under the bulk he carried. I wonder idly if he has been ejected for blocking the view.
A soft twanging sound. I look down quickly, checking all the parts of my instrument. I am aware of the myriad high-tension sounds which can indicate a critical failure. Nothing wrong. The harmonic twang again. I glance around, my hands still playing my part. There, in the wings. Out of sight of the crowd, but only a few metres from me, here under the lights.
He stares. He shifts his weight. He almost lunges onto the stage, stopping himself at the last moment. My fingers stumble, I miss a note. He moves his hands across his instrument again, producing the same off-key discord, barely audible of the sound of the orchestra and my own deeply resonant tune. I look up, catch up, my fingers flying. The conductor shoots me a glance and I resolve to ignore the fellow in the wings, to concentrate on the piece and my part in it. I have no interest whatever in learning of this fellow player with his broken instrument. What interest is it to me, what help could I give? Each is tuned to its player – nobody else could produce any usable sound from it. Nobody else could understand its feel, its unique harmonics. It’s strange enough that I’m here at all – this piece was written for a different player. I’m just on call, filling in.
Inevitably a realisation rises at the same time as the swell of the music. My thoughts are cleared while I focus on the complicated and scintillating motions of the finale. Though my sound can’t be much like that of the player I’ve replaced – who (of course) is the one standing almost close enough to reach – I do my best to follow the music, adding the unique sound expected of a player like me. I have no desire to overshadow the fellow I’ve replaced, but the piece needs the full use of my clumsy, beautiful instrument to succeed. I can sense him there, though, his stare boring holes into the side of my head, his body practically vibrating. Continue reading