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On the tenth day of Christmas…

Posted in Day-to-Day, Waxing Philosophical by unboundpage on January 3, 2011

We interrupt this crafting blitz for a musical interlude.

I mentioned the oboe that had to make it through airport security.  The reason it had to come with me at all was the potential trouble I would likely be in had I not.  You see, I am named for each of my parents’ younger sisters.  One is The Crafter, and the other is The Musician.  Aunt Musician came to visit while I was up the mountain.

Aunt Musician was the child prodigy, picking out the tunes my mother and her older sister were learning in piano lessons before she was tall enough to actually see the keys on the piano.  She is, needless to say, an accomplished pianist, and really likes making music with the various and sundry musicians in our family.  I’m sure she would have understood if I didn’t want to cart the thing all the way up there, but I’ve been looking for a good excuse opportunity to play, and we always have a good time together.

I was very silly and neglected to bring along any of my sheet music with accompaniments, so we made due with Mom’s collection of old church hymnals and a quick lesson in playing Beatles tunes by ear.  The latter was moderately successful, as she was kind enough to transpose into playable keys and largely picked out the songs with easier melodies.  (As a side note, “Because” is not nearly as easy to pick out on instruments as voice.)

We did not make it very far into the usual Christmas carols before she started trolling the hymnal index for interesting composers.  I have to admit, I had somehow missed that a few of the hymns that had become staples in my church growing up were composed by Gustav “y’know… The Planets guy” Holst.

Then she got all excited finding the Ralph Vaughan Williams hymns.  For the most part, they weren’t the most familiar songs.  While I was impressed by their musicality, and had little trouble sight reading the music on the oboe, I couldn’t help but notice that some were rather difficult to sing.  Then a nagging sense of familiarity finally floated to the surface, and I realized where I’d heard these before.  The minister at my old home church is also a classically trained musician.  I’d always assumed that he wasn’t intentionally picking out the hardest hymns for us to sing each week, but I figured they must be old standards from the churches he grew up in.

As I sat there listening to my family – many of them seasoned church choir members – stumbling over these melodies, I realized that our dear pastor must have used the very same method of choosing hymns that Aunt Musician was demonstrating.  The old band nerd probably flipped back to the index and picked out his favorite composers, too.

Besides my moment of revelation, the evening was well spent.  The eclectic music selection and familial revelry made for great entertainment, and I really can’t emphasize enough what a special treat it is to play with my aunt, since we live so far apart, but collaborate so easily.

I was even pleased to see that my poor unpracticed embouchure was able to hold up for more than thirty seconds, and my fingers could still find all the right keys.  Now I just need to find more time to practice, and remember to take the bloody sheet music with me next time.

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Traveling with a musical instrument

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on December 24, 2010

My vacation has officially begun.  I am off work until the new year, I have finished the vast majority of my Christmas gifts, and I have a virtual stack of pictures waiting to become new posts for you.  But right at this moment, I am sitting in Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, waiting for my flight to my parents’ little slice of frosty paradise in the Appalachians.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a quick and easy pass through security this morning, despite my usual worry when carting a netbook, a baggie full of *potentially dangerous* cosmetics, and a little rectangular case full of oddly-shaped metal and wood.   To the real eyes of other musicians it is obviosly an oboe.   However, on an x-ray screen viewed by your average TSA agent, it could be… well, most of them correctly guess musical instrument without demanding a further inspection, but I’ve had a variety of reactions.

Granted, the easiest solution to the security problem would be to simply put the damned thing in a checked bag, but between the sentimental and monetary value of that horn, I would just as soon check my firstborn child.  I accidentally left it in a gate-checked bag once, and spent the entire flight in a state of mild panic, breaking into a cold sweat as I wondered what the temperature was in the cargo hold, and if the pressure difference would damage the reeds.  No, I just have to brave security when carrying my precious oboe.

I once had a screener stop the belt for a good thirty seconds while she stared at my bag.
“Is that a… flute?”
“Oboe.”
“Ohhh…  Oboe.  …Right.”
It has been my experience that the vast majority of the human population does not actually know what an oboe is.  It’s a crossword staple, so most people know the word.  Some will show a degree of familiarity when you say, “It’s the duck from Peter and the Wolf.”  Others will look quizzically at the small case because they are picturing a bassoon.  I once had an Abbot and Costello-worthy conversation with a trumpet player in my high school band as he excitedly told me about the “double reed” he had seen at a concert.  I was thinking he’d seen something unusual like an oboe d’amore or one of those cool foreign instruments.  Finally he said, “No!  The one you play!”
“You mean an oboe?”
“No, not the big one!”

I once found myself going through airport security fairly late at night when there was no one else around.  They decided I needed a full bag check, so I sat and talked to a couple of agents while another took my shoes and another three or four opened my bag.  I was mid-thought when I quickly leapt up and launched myself toward the table where my suitcase was opened.  Someone had pulled out the oboe case and started to open it – upside-down.  I had a terrifying vision of the pieces rolling out over the purple velvet, then falling down the stacked contents of my bag and finally the fatal three feet to the floor, where the keys and springs would be bent and rendered unusable.  It later occurred to me that it was very lucky those agents weren’t actually armed or otherwise trained to react to sudden acts of aggression.  By all rights, I should have been treated as a threat, jumping up like that.  Instead, they stepped back while I gingerly turned over the unlatched case and politely explained that the contents were worth more than I was.

Today’s pass through the TSA checkpoint was quick and uneventful. Shoes off. Netbook and baggie extracted from my backpack.  Everything else went before the backpack, so I was slipping my shoes back on as the woman looking at the screen squinted a little then turned to me and asked, “Do you have a clarinet in there?”
“Good guess. It’s an oboe.”