The Sweet Sound of Pear Wood

It had lain in its case, on top of the CDs, since I moved here last April.  Occasionally, I would pick it up and blow the dust off the black cloth case, but never open it, even though I longed to.

You see, two of my flatmates are professional musicians.  A flautist and a pianist.

Yesterday morning, when I got up, I put the black case on my bed, in full view.  In the afternoon, I sat watching streams of golden light peering through the dark, purple-grey skies, bathing the oak tree outside my window.  Its leaves have recently turned into quivering jewels of ochre tipped with sienna, terracotta, glowing like gold leaf stencils in the soft autumn sunlight.

I looked at the black rectangle on my bed.  It was time.

I pulled the velcro apart, spread open the flaps, and slid the three wooden sections out of their pockets.  I squirted a small amount of almond oil on a cloth, and gently rubbed all three sections with it.  Then I poured some on the long, round-edged brush and oiled the hollow centre.  The wood looked glossy, revived.  Then I opened the small jar of grease, scooped out a generous dollop with my finger, and applied it to the cork coating on the tenons.  I joined the three sections together in a slow, twisting motion, until they were snug.  I checked that the mouthpiece was aligned with the top holes in the middle section.  The third section, I turned slightly off centre, so that the pad of little finger of my right hand could land straight on the two bottom holes.

I inhaled the comforting scent of the wood.  Pear wood.  As always, the deeply-buried pagan part of me, perhaps handed down by my Cornish grandmother, thanked the anonymous tree that, however many years ago, had yielded a part of itself for unknown German craftsmen to carve this magnificent instrument.  I thanked them, too, for their skillful workmanship.

I spread my fingers, so the pads covered all the holes, then listened, holding my breath.  No sound from the house.  I hoped my flatmates were out.  No musical ear could have tolerated, unoffended, the unskilled sounds I was about to produce.  I raised the labium to my lips and blew a slow, shallow breath.  The note was split, wobbly and strident.  Funny how musical instruments tease and throw tantrums when they know they are not in expert hands.

I blew more firmly.  E, F, G… a discordant sound spoilt the sequence.  I had forgotten the alto recorder requires that quirky finger movement to produce the A.  Start again.  My scales sounded more like a late night pub song than the authoritative primary colours of music.  Once more.  And again.  Eventually, I managed a steady, smooth sequence, although my fingers were stiff through lack of exercise.  I paused to catch my breath.  My lungs, too, were out of practice.

I had to take the leap.  I took a deep breath, and appealed to what I had left of muscle memory, from months ago…

It was on the fifth of August

The weather fair and mild

Unto Brigg Fair I did repair

For a love I was inclined

In the absence of practice, the tips of middle and ring fingers of my right hand had gone back to crossing over each other, instead of landing straight over the holes.  A teenager’s sacrifice to her love of writing.  When I was fourteen, I broke my right hand.  The metacarpal bone snapped and slid apart, forming a painful dome on back of my hand.  At the hospital, they pulled my middle finger out hard (they probably thought anaesthetic was for wimps) and stretched it over a metal splint, before binding my hand in plastercast.  They told me not to use my hand for a month.  My teachers let me off all writing tasks.  I followed the doctor’s instructions to the letter.  Well, almost.  I could not bear not to be able to write my stories.  So, at night, I would unstick the tape that secured my middle finger to the metal support and, despite the pain, curled it around my fountain pen, and traced slow, hesitant letters on my notebook pages.  When I had finished – or the pain became to sharp – I secured my finger back onto the splint.  When, at the end of the month, they removed the plaster, they noticed that my fingers had become crooked.  They simply noted that down on my file, and let me go home.

I got up with the lark in the morning

And my heart was full of glee

Expecting there to meet my dear

Long time I’d wished to see

The soft notes filled my room, and seeped through my skin.  They reached deep into me, like a balm.  I felt as though my body was singing in tune with the recorder; as though every muscle, nerve and cell was at peace with itself and the world.

I looked over my left shoulder

To see what I might see

And there I spied my own true love

Come a-tripping down to me

I have always loved that song.  A folk song from Linconshire, but which always evokes my beloved East Anglia.  A song of flatlands where the horizon is at your feet, of Fens, and skies so low you can almost touch them.  A song of elm trees lining a river, and of academic spires reaching up high.

I took hold of her lily-white hand

And merrily sang my heart

For now we are together

We never more shall part

*   *   *

This evening, I knocked on the door of my musician neighbours.  I apologised in advance for any outrage to their ears.  “I really want to learn to play this properly,” I said.  “Do you mind if I practise a few minutes every day?”

They replied with beaming smiles.  They would not let me go back into my room until I had played something.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  They would hear me, sooner or later.  I might as well get over the embarrassment now.  So I played I verse of Brigg Fair.  They still encouraged me after that.  Their kindness inspired me even more.

Back in my room, I blew more confidently into the labium.

For the green leaves, they will wither

And the roots, they shall decay

Before that I prove false to her

The lass that loves me well

Scribe Doll

 

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20 Responses to The Sweet Sound of Pear Wood

  1. There’s a wonderful pacing to this delightful love-story. Also a poignant ode to hands, creative hands, the joy they give, and how spirit lifts above obstructions and pain.

    I occasionally play songs or zikrs on my harmonium, when I’m alone in the house (you’re more courageous.) Once its bellow and keys are warmed and my confidence allows rapport, the notes reach deep … like you say.

    It happens when there is a desire to communicate with the beloved 🙂 It happens through music, painting, sculpting, dancing, or writing – as your story shows. Thanks for sharing such moments.

  2. What a wonderful story about a love of music. I too had a recorder at one time, a rosewood sopranino, but it has been passed down to younger members of the family, along with my piano (that’s actually on loan) and my guitar and my mandolin, and my flute was long ago sold to buy my piccolo, which was sold to pay for housing once when I needed it. But my real love of all time was my oboe (which I did not own, but which was on loan for my use from my school band); I even at one point when I was a teenager had fond fantasies of becoming an oboe player in an orchestra. (As you can see, I spent what money I earned on other instruments, but was fickle and didn’t stick with them long, and as books were my real love, and I finally clued in to the fact that oboe players didn’t make fortunes, I decided to be a writer!). I want to assure you that your friends are right, and you should follow their example rather than mine, and stick with your recorder practice, because it’s especially lovely and it sounds like you’re really a keen lover of folk songs and from what you’ve said in the past of other kinds of music as well, so please don’t give it up: you’ll soon improve, and you won’t feel like a fly-by-night the way I do.

    • scribedoll says:

      ‘bless your heart! You sold your piccolo to pay for housing! I sold my Spanish classical guitar to pay for a month’s rent, several years ago. I couldn’t play it because I never managed to afford lessons. It made me sad but it did go to a very good home, bought by a man who clearly loved it at first sight.

      I hope, someday, we may meet for a long chat over tea and cake!

      • Same here, Katia! I luckily didn’t have to pay for all of the lessons I got, though my parents paid for some when I was younger. One of the teenagers at a church in my home town gave stringed music lessons for free, in exchange for people who were willing to accompany their choir. I just feel that I wasted a lot of the opportunities I had by not sticking with what I learned in school and elsewhere. Now I listen to music, instead of making it myself, but I really do hope you will continue to play; someday, if we ever meet, I want to hear your folksongs on the recorder….

      • scribedoll says:

        With any luck, I might be able to play some simple Telemann, someday…

  3. “If music be the food of love……….” as the Bard once opined….at once clinical and sensuous, the music of paradox:-)

  4. evanatiello says:

    If only we could all hear it! You go girl!!!

  5. I think my readers would love this….mind if I re-blog over here?

  6. Thank YOU! I have posted it at the usual place…..

  7. Sue Cumisky says:

    Keep it up! How lovely you are playing again. Enjoy.

  8. Anna says:

    My old-fashioned black piano still stands in the sitting-room, gone to oblivion by me, its owner… I used to play it in those bygone days. I don’t know why I have long stopped opening its fallboard and touching the yellowish piano-keys… They come to life when my daughter visits us here in her native town and hurries to her old friend – the piano. But it does not happen very often. Why? Why have I let it down? I loved playing music and singing my own songs so much. I could not live without it a single day. Why does it stand abandoned? No answer…….

  9. grapeseed45 says:

    do you play lullabies??

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