There is a small village, many miles south of here, called Cadence. You may have heard of it and, if you have, it would be because of its world famous orchestra.
And, as you probably know, there is only one way to be admitted to the orchestra and that is by being born in the Cadence, to parents who have also been born in the village.
This story concerns Samuel.
Samuel’s parents, James & Martha, had long been married and had almost given up hope of having a child so when Samuel finally came along he was viewed as a blessing by his parents, and as a Clarinet by the rest of the village. As I said, only people born in the village may join but every single villager in living memory had fulfilled the expectations of their family and friends and had played in the orchestra.
For the first eighteen months everything was just as it should be. Samuel learned to walk and talk; his first word was concerto. He was a happy, smiley, loving baby who in turn was loved by his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the rest of the orchestra. It was only as he approached his second birthday that anyone began to suspect there may be a problem.
It was his Uncle Joe who spoke first, as he watched Samuel playing with his rattle on the living room floor. “He’s not keeping beat,” said Joe.
“’Course he is!” said Samuel’s father. James began to signal a time signature in the air with his left hand. Samuel continued playing, unaware of the conversation that surrounded him. “It’s not 4/4,” said his father, who then changed the rhythm of his left hand to 3/4.
“He ain’t waltzing,” said Joe.
James carried on counting in various time signatures. “Listen,” said James eventually, raising one finger, “he’s alternating between a contrapuntal common beat and a 7/8.” James looked first relieved, and then a little bit proud. “Not many two year olds can do that,” he said smugly to Joe, “and he ain’t even two.”
“I’ll tell you what that is,” said Joe, always happy to create a little bit of friction, “That’s jazz, that is. You’re raising a jazzman!”
James took it badly and Uncle Joe was thrown out of the house. There are few things worse to a classically trained musician than to have the aspersion of jazz levelled at them.
Strangely, as the months turned into years, it seems that perhaps things would have been better if Samuel had shown a flair for jazz or even country and western. The sad fact was that Samuel showed no sign of developing any talent for music of any description. In itself this would not have been an insurmountable problem as dedicated practice and good tuition would easily have sufficed, but apart from a lack of innate ability Samuel had no interest in music whatsoever.
Of course in the village of Cadence it was not possible to avoid music and from the age of three Samuel was forced to undergo two hours of musical tuition every day. After four years of woodwind lessons his teachers finally had to accept that Samuel was not progressing with the clarinet, nor would he be a flautist or play the oboe. He was transferred to the brass section where he moved swiftly from the cor anglais to the cornet, to trombones and down to the bass tuba. It was at this point his father took him under his wing and began an intensive schedule of violin lessons. James and the rest of the village were subjected to noises: horrible, horrible noises. The screeching ended when an unknown member of the orchestra first stole and then set fire to Samuel’s violin one dark and now blessedly silent night. The culprit was never identified from the seventy eight prime suspects.
Do not get me wrong, Samuel was a bright lad with an enquiring mind. He was adept at mathematics, enchanted by nature and was a great student of science. He was physically strong and gifted in sports. In the village of Cadence this counted for little: Very little indeed.
Finally the sad day came. Hints from friends and neighbours had been dropping heavily for a long time but his parents had grown thick skinned over the years, in denial over their son’s failings and the social disgrace this brought.
Samuel was now fifteen years old. In another year he would be eligible and expected to play in the Cadence Symphony Orchestra. Supper had passed in silence; Samuel had cleared the plates and washed the dishes. He was about to head up the stairs to his room when he was called to join his parents.
“Son,” began his father, “we have tried. Oh Lord how we have tried…”
Samuel stood up. “It is all right, father,” he began, “I know what you are going to say. You want me to leave my home and my family and make my way into the wider world where perhaps I can discover talents and abilities that elude me here in Cadence.”
A tear rolled down his mother’s cheek. “No, Samuel, no,” she said.
James shook his head. “I am sorry, my boy, but I am afraid that would be too easy.”
Samuel looked uncertainly at his father and then his mother.
“But,” he said, confusion rising before realisation dawned. “No. Surely not.”
“I am sorry,” said his father, “but you have left us with no choice. It is going to have to be…” he hesitated, “… percussion.”
Samuel cast his eyes to the ground. Kettledrums… cymbals… a triangle.
Martha let out a stifled sob.
The next three months saw frantic activity and long rehearsals as the Cadence Symphony Orchestra prepared for the annual Promenade: a concert held each year which was attended by every civic dignitary in the country. This year the orchestra was to perform Beethoven’s tenth symphony, chosen not least because of its total lack of kettledrums but also because there was only one cymbal crash towards the end of the second movement. To Samuel’s great joy he was excused most of the rehearsals and allowed to wander the local forests in search of wild flowers, insects and birds.
Finally the evening of the performance arrived. Over a thousand people crammed into the auditorium. The excitement grew as the hour approached but as the lights dimmed and the curtain opened complete silence fell.
The symphony began with a single vibrato c sharp played by the first violin. On the fourth beat this was joined by the French horn which drew a fanfare from the brass. Some twenty seconds later the audience collectively exhaled as the strings began a pizzicato rhythm which heralded the first movement. For forty five minutes the orchestra and audience were as one as music filled the concert hall and the surrounding countryside.
From his position at the rear of the orchestra, unseen by the viewing public and largely out of sight of the other musicians, Samuel read his book. Samuel did not like many pieces of music but he found this particular symphony to be dreary in the extreme. He increasingly found it difficult to concentrate he began to grow restless. Only the cheers of the audience as the orchestra reached the interval saved him from the embarrassment of yawning loudly when the monotony became too great.
Too soon for Samuel’s liking the second half picked up from where the first half ended. Again he tried to read but by now the light was too dim. He tried to follow the symphony on the pages of printed music on the small lectern in front of him but soon lost his place. He felt the first pricks in his left foot as pins and needle began to strike. Another yawn developed which he managed to suppress but not the next. Samuel grew fidgety and increasingly uncomfortable.
Throughout the symphony he had contemplated his place in the village, in the orchestra and in the world at large and the more he thought the more unreasonable he felt the world to be. This was his life after all and he should be allowed to live it any way he saw fit. Soon boredom turned to unhappiness and unhappiness turned to rebellion. “Really,” he thought, “what is the worst that could happen?” And with that he grasped his cymbals, stood up and crashed them together. At first neither the audience nor the orchestra knew what to make of this unexpected and discordant interruption. Samuel chose this moment of uncertainty to bring the cymbals together once more, and again, and again and again-and-again-and-again.
The next morning Samuel found himself locked in a shed behind the concert hall. His moment of glory had lasted perhaps fifteen seconds, and the performance had been delayed for a further five minutes as he had been grappled to the ground, bound and carried from the auditorium by some of the larger and less friendly members of the audience. The orchestra finished the symphony and the crowd showed their appreciation in the customary manner with a prolonged standing ovation.
But the evening had been spoiled; of that there was no doubt.
Samuel was still wondering what fate was likely to befall him when the shed door was opened by the conductor, accompanied by the first violinist and several members of the percussion section. Samuel tried to protest but nobody was listening and nobody was talking. They carried him, still bound by the wrists and ankles, back to the auditorium where most of the orchestra watched from the stalls.
A large wooden block had been place in the centre of the stage and Samuel was forced to kneel behind it, facing the audience.
The last words Samuel heard were from the conductor. “Sentence has been passed and will now be carried out.” With that Samuel had his head chopped from his shoulders.
The moral of the story is that if other people are enjoying themselves, even though you yourself are not, do not muck it up for everyone else.