Notes to self

Silver bullet

My mother
Never understood how I
Could play this thing
When I couldn’t see
What my hands were doing, or
Which finger pressed which key.

My father
Couldn’t fathom embouchure;
And though he tried
He could not begin
To see the simple physics
Of blowing over, and not in.

My classmates
All clamoured for their turn
Then wondered why
They could not make it speak
Beyond a hollow, windy hissing
Or sudden, scalded shriek.

And I was grateful
For their foolish questions
Which moved my mind
From darker, deeper fears
That occupied it then, and still
Endure despite the years.

And even now
The asinine demands of others
Fade into forgetfulness
Whenever I take up this length
Of slender silver, close my eyes,
Reach back in time, and breathe.

On one level, the flute is a very simple instrument: you only play one note at a time (no chords like the guitar, or double-stopping like the fiddle) and only ever in the treble clef (it doesn’t go lower than middle C). At the same time,  many people find it fiendishly difficult, or even impossible, to produce a single note (the idea is to blow across the hole, rather than into it). And while it’s sweet and soulful, it can also be very powerful, cutting through the sound around it like a silver stiletto.

I’ve been a flute-player on and off since I was nine years old. After being ‘off’ for most of my thirties, I’m now playing regularly again, as precisely half the flute section in our local community orchestra. We’re a small ensemble, mostly ‘of an age’ and pretty rusty, but through our weekly rehearsals, I’ve rediscovered the sheer joy of making music again.

Although the ol’ brain and fingers don’t work together quite so well as they once did, I’ve surprised myself with how much comes back to me when I stop trying too hard.

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8 thoughts on “Notes to self

  1. Thank you Charles – we’re giving our first concert next Saturday, a prospect that’s as exciting as it is terrifying. It’s free for folks to get in: what we haven’t told them is it’s £10 to get out..! I jest, of course.

  2. How many more hidden talents are you going to reveal to us?! Will be be ‘extreme ironing’ next?
    This is very positive and satisfying poem to read – I like the simple form that repeats, and the sparing use of rhyme too. Lovely stuff Nick. (and good luck with the concert)

  3. Hi John – I’m afraid that’s about it as far as talents go, hidden or otherwise! (I did ride horses a lot back when I were a lad, but I quit that very expensive habit some years ago) And if anyone fancies any extreme ironing, our house is definitely the place to come! Thank you for your very heartening and generous comment on the poem; I started writing it as a free-verse thing, but it didn’t seem to want to go that way and ended up more or less rewriting itself. Glad you think it works – like flute-playing, it was a good lesson in letting things find their own course, and not trying too hard!

  4. I like the ‘my mother’, ‘my father’, etc., as the beginnings… it works really well. It is a polite excuse me for the feeling that take you onto the personal experience of how you found the playing experience. I feel like you’re really enjoying your writing – when that happens, it shows and is such a pleasure to read.

  5. Wow. Thank you, Kiersty, for a really generous and encouraging comment. You’re absolutely right, I AM enjoying my writing, more so every day, and it’s receiving responses like yours, and the others I’ve had today, that make it such a joy. Thank you so much for your support – can’t tell you how much it means to me.

  6. Thank you for this pleasant poem 🙂

    That is great, giving a concert! I remember how my son had flute lessons for four expensive years, he never played since, but maybe there is hope 🙂

  7. Hi Ina – thank you for you comment! I decided to play again after attending my daughter’s violin concerts and wishing I’d enjoyed it as much when I was her age (she’s 9). I realise now we were taught very poorly, really, especially when I see my daughter’s teachers, who are the best teachers of ANYTHING, not just music, that I’ve ever seen – truly inspiring.

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