Sunday, 26 April 2015

Of Drumming And Dancing

I should be feeling elated.  I was worried about the rehearsal I had organised for this morning.  Among my performing projects is a community band with some exotic dancers.  I never set out to have dancers, but for the past few years they seem to have appeared from who-knows-where at all our performances.  They are sometimes a handy distraction if the band is a little under-rehearsed.  Their strategic use of feathers and beads and often little else has been the cause of alarm and joy since we welcomed them into our midst.  Often the dancers are not the same ones who came before.  They are a Terpsichorean enigma.

People notice the band, but rarely for the music.  Sometimes we perform from a forty-foot tractor-drawn trailer.  As we glide at head level past the crowds out to enjoy a carnival I love to see the responses in the audience.  There is a range of both audience members and responses.  Young lads ogle, older men try not to be caught ogling, particularly if partners are present.  Young women shake their shoulders, shimmying and bobbling in solidarity.  Many times we have seen wives cover husbands' eyes with both hands until we have passed by.  One time we attracted a prolonged tirade from a woman.  As she was screaming something incomprehensible into our percussion groove she had her hands over the faces of two small children in an attempt to stop them witnessing what I assume she thought was our debauchery.  The poor children must have been terrified by a mother who was beside herself with indignation and the fact that they could not see what was going on.  Since that time the local Round Table that organises the carnival has provided us with an armed escort.  I consider a flank of young men dressed in medieval knight outfits and wearing swords to be an armed escort.  It may not be convenient, but we are invited back every year.

For the third year in a row we have also been asked to provide a rhythmic accompaniment for a local charity sporting event.  The community band is quite a different breed of band from all my other projects.  For a start, people take part primarily because they enjoy it as opposed to taking part because they enjoy it and it's a job.  I've run this band for about twelve years, but not once have I known for sure who will turn up for a rehearsal or even a performance until they turn up.  One of my players posted photographs on Facebook a couple of days ago. She posted them from Turkey.  There aren't many places she hasn't visited and we are used to her being on a different continent.  One of the other players is prone to injury.  She is very active and, in her sixties (although I didn't just write that), she has recently achieved black belt status in Tae Kwon Do.  She also likes to ski.  Both activities have left her incapacitated and in plaster from time to time.  Today, she came in limping and unable to raise her arms beyond the height of her elbows.  Another of my loyal and committed players came with both eyes almost closed from hay fever induced swelling.  The Turkish holiday-maker had arrived back in the UK with her body, from neck to hands and feet, covered with itchy, strawberry-red blotches from some unknown allergic reaction.  The rehearsal room at the local sports centre had been booked for us by an officer of the local council who also coordinates this event.  I have copies of all relevant e-mails regarding the arrangements so it was with some surprise that, just after we started our first piece, two burley staff members came to ask what we were doing.  It's not as though I hadn't already had to negotiate the road barrier to get my van-load of instruments round the building or the people barrier that keeps non-payers from going further into the centre than the reception desk.  We weren't "on their screen" and they wanted to know who we were and why we were there.  How amazing it was that I could just walk in with a stack of large percussion instruments and a dozen other people and start playing without being challenged, particularly since we weren't "on their screen".  I may just try that somewhere else ...

I used to rehearse this band weekly, then fortnightly, but owing to the above-mentioned unpredictable attendance I now run rehearsals as required by the project.  At least this is affordable.  We haven't played this music together since last July.  They remembered pretty much everything in the five pieces I planned to rehearse.  I was very worried that I would not have enough players to cover all the parts, but somehow it always comes out okay and today was no different.  I should have been elated and I was for a little while.  Then I came back to the boat and saw Jack.

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