That very day, I was taken out of my case and run through my scales. The chap’s fingers were practised, deft, fast. We played Kohler studies, Gariboldi, Bach, even a Mozart cadenza, again and again, varying it each time. He took me right to the top, past top C to a top E. We flurried down again to bottom C. I was dizzy with excitement. This was the life. Real speedy playing, as much music as I could want. My player put me down and went off. I was aware of noises, bumps, a slamming door. Then commotion around me. Laughter.
‘Oh, you did get me a flute, Brian! Thank you!’ came a woman’s voice.
‘That’s alright, Deb,’ said Brian. ‘Got it for a song…works alright.. high notes aren’t bad.’
I was seized by eager hands. We launched into a trio, with Brian as conductor. He sang along hoarsely, tapping his baton upon a stand. Light flashed about, beams criss-crossing the room. Other flutes! Playing with me. What joy, what thrills. We played Kuhlau’s Grand Trio. There were difficult passages. I was flute three, but even so, my player’s fingers couldn’t really cope with the speed. When we got it wrong, she would collapse into loud laughter. She was fun, careless. She had not practised her scales, but she enjoyed the music. I ran up and down and around and about til I was breathless with happiness. I didn’t have time to talk to the other flutes, as we were kept on the go the whole time.
After about two hours, the players put us down and went off to drink coffee. In Deb’s case, I think that meant coffee laced with something strong and fumey. She came back and sent warm gusts reverberating round my core. She was even worse at playing when she was drunk as she seemed not to care what notes she was playing. I didn’t mind too much: I was just glad to be played at all and pleased with my growing repertoire.
During the players’ second break, another flute was laid down beside me. ‘What’s your name?’ I whispered.
There was a pause. Then a sigh. ‘Flutty,’ she said. It rhymed with putty.
‘Flutty?’ I repeated, surprised. ‘Oh, sorry…that was rude, I didn’t mean…’
‘Yes,’ she sighed, ‘my player, Eva, was six when she named me ‘Flutey’, which, let’s be honest, isn’t that much better….’
I thought Flutey was quite a bit better than Flutty, but I didn’t say anything. Flutty carried on, ‘…poor little girl made the mistake of trying to write it on my case, scrawling ‘FLUTTY’ in big tippexed letters that wouldn’t come off. Everybody took the mick. Her dad, her brother, her mum even. They would say ‘Have you played ‘Flutty’ today?’ and snigger.
‘Well…’ I said, ‘it’s not a bad name. Flutty. It’s OK, I think.’
‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘you’re sweet, but…it rhymes with ‘slutty’, so it can never be OK.’
‘Anyway, I’m far from slutty. Eva is twenty-one now. We’ve played together for a long time.’
This made me sad. I thought of Lucy. If only she could have kept me until she was twenty-one. What pieces would we be playing together now? And how was she possibly managing without me? Would Yammy be helping her like I helped her? Oh…for goodness sake…of course he wouldn’t be. He wasn’t capable of it, poor, perfect, soulless boy.
I told Flutty about Lucy and over the next few weeks, then months, we became best of friends. We met at the woodwind ensemble every week. We didn’t always get a chance to talk but we appreciated playing together. Kuhlau trios, Handel’s water music, ensemble pieces based on Carmen, The Magic Flute, Cosi fan Tutti and other beautiful works. I loved the sound that Flutty made. Her high notes were pure. Her Eva had perfect pitch and was able to tune each note exquisitely. I noticed too that together, they were making beautifully shaped sentences with every phrase. Their music spoke to me. I learnt so much just from listening. I was beginning to guage the tension and tautness behind each note, the power stored behind them, ready and wanting to burst forth… but held and contained by the bars, the solidity of the time signature, the heart-beat, the structure. The phrases varied so much in dynamic, the louds and softs. Eva seemed to let out exactly the right amount of breath to control the note. She swayed as she played, so Flutty’s light skittered around the room like magic. When Flutty was there, I felt fantastic. She spread happiness around her.
A few months later the players turned up for our weekly rehearsal. My friends were being taken out of their cases. There was a shuffling of paper as our conductor handed parts out. I heard exclamations of surprise. ‘Yes,’ said Brian, ‘I know what you’re going to say! It’s too hard.’
‘But Brian,’ gasped Deb, ‘It really is too hard! L’Après-midi d’un Faune!’
I felt weak suddenly with anticipation. Could it be true that we would be playing that wondrous tune again, and again? If so, we were blessed beyond measure. I vowed to myself that I would never complain to myself nor to anyone else, about anything, ever again, if it were true.
‘We can do it,’ said Brian, tapping his baton on the stand. ‘Take it in turns to play Flute one and Flute two. There are some excellent woodwind chaps coming in to help us out on Monday.’
From the very first notes I was put back into that trance. It is such a sweet and bizarre chromatic melody. It’s like it’s come from before time, from when ancient humans made sweet flutes out of bones in the woods. I felt like I knew all about baby creatures stepping out into peaceful, high-canopied forests for the first time, even though I had never been in a forest nor ever seen a faun.
At the start of the next rehearsal, I was aware of French horns, violins and cellos tuning up. I heard a new woman’s voice as she received her part. ‘Thanks Brian,’ she said, ‘I’ve always wanted to play this…. and at the festival, what a great chance.’
‘We’ll tune to your A, Toccata,’ Brian said to her.
As Toccata’s A sounded, I gasped: the A was Obi‘s rasping voice: ‘Oh Lord…work, work, nothing but work!’ he groaned.
As Deb played my A, I shrieked out ‘Obi! Obi! It’s Pearly! Are you here?’
In his next A, Obi called: ‘Of course I’m blinkin here, otherwise how would I be talking to you, you numpty!’
Flutty asked: ‘Pearly! Who is Obi?’
‘He’s my friend, my friend!’ I cried, bursting with so much joy and pride that I managed to snatch at the feeble rays of the afternoon sun and explode them all around the room.
‘Alright, steady on!’ chuckled our conductor, ‘When you’re ready! We’ve got work to do.’