Archive for January, 2015

Pearly cover

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.’

We laughed.

‘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.’

This is what happened next:  L’Après-midi d’un faune.


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 Pearly cover

Chapter 6.

Shelley the cello gave a great gusty sigh. ‘Well, Obi was quite a good oboe in his youth…’

‘Hunh, quite?!’ spluttered Obi. ‘Don’t listen to her: I was top-notch, kid, top-notch.’

‘…and, new, he was bought by a top conductor, a wonderful musician, for his talented grandson, Gabriel. Gabriel and Obi played together for many years. When the boy was sixteen, they reached the final of Young Musician of the Year. Unfortunately Obi’s reed caught on Gabriel’s jumper, splitting just as they were to go on stage. The boy grabbed his spare, which was not properly broken in. Despite this, Obi managed well. The piece went wonderfully…until a high E flat, which came out a disastrous squeak.’

‘Oh,’ I murmured in sympathy.

‘Things went from bad to worse,’ said Obi. ‘Gabriel, of course, had forgotten to clean me, so there was water under one of my keys. Every time he tried to play a C, it came out as a B. Not a thing in the world I could do about it. The piece was in B flat, so it sounded particularly bad….wincingly bad.’

‘On coming off stage,’ said Shelley, ‘Gabriel entered the Green Room, yanked Obi’s three pieces apart, pulled his arm back, and threw them at the wall, one at a time, with all his strength. He then just left him there, crumpled and smashed on the floor.’

I don’t quite know how I did this, but with superflutan effort I managed to pull air from the room to let out a small but gruesome howl. I couldn’t bear this story.

‘It wasn’t his fault,’ said Obi quickly. ‘He didn’t mean to do it..lovely lad..’

Gosh, was he extremely forgiving… or was he blind? In a flash, I wondered if I too had been blinded… about Lucy. When she had left me out, had it been that she felt too lazy to put me away? When she had left me at school, in a cold locker, for more than a week, had it been on purpose, to avoid practice?  Yes, yes, I saw that it was true.  I had cared about her a lot more than she had cared about me.  As I realised these things, I felt all the light of my soul seeping out into the darkness around me.

‘Eventually another contestant gathered Obi up, wrapped his broken body in cloth, and took him to a repair shop.’

‘They, they managed, in the end….’ creaked Obi.

‘…They managed to patch him up, so he’d be fine for beginners, is what he’s trying to say.’

‘Yeah, so when I was taken out of my case, which was not often, I had to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’, and ‘Old MacDonald’, you know…’

We sighed. We did know.

‘….badly.…from playing Albinoni and Cimarosa.’ Obi sobbed. ‘Oh, how are the mighty fallen.’

Eventually we slept. The next day the flute-mender hummed tunes as he replaced my pads. I recognised one. Silvia and Madame had played it to us once. It was ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune,’ by Debussy. I liked it so much I couldn’t help sparkling a little in time with his humming. When the mender had replaced all my pads he started to play. It was without warning and, not being ready, I squeaked nervously into harmonics. ‘Ooh, steady on, old thing,’ he said. He started playing the faun.

Oh, I can scarcely tell you what it felt like.  The peace that suddenly envelops you.  It’s instant and it’s out of this world. I had heard a nightingale sometimes outside Lucy’s window. It sounds like that. Or like the calm pools of water I had heard about as Lucy read aloud from Greek myths. Cool, limpid runs of notes tumble and fall. It feels like your mind is being stroked by an angel, which allows you to be full of wonder at the whole of creation.

The flute-mender stopped playing. ‘Hmm, you’re not so bad,’ he said. I tried to glint again at him. He picked up a silver cloth and gave me a polish. I heard a scratchy noise. He was writing something on card. ‘£250,’ he said. ‘Someone should buy you for that.’ He put me in the window on a stand. At least it was light. I could shine a tiny bit and glint at the world.

I stood there all day. The other flutes were mostly all new. Sweet babies, they knew nothing. They had not even played their first tune.  I told them stories, of music and love and life, Yankee Doodle, Molly Malone, Morning has Broken, all of which I had learnt from the pieces I had played with Lucy. They sighed and longed for life.

For the night, I was taken out of the window and placed back on the workbench alongside other instruments.  ‘Obi,’ I called.

He answered with a groan.

‘Do you know ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune?’ ‘ I whispered.

He sighed. ‘Pearly, my dear! You are asking an OBOE! How could an OBOE not know the faun? I’ve played it with an orchestra, several times.’

‘But…it’s for flute, isn’t it?’ I asked.

‘The flute starts off,’ he answered, ‘but after a little while the flute hands over to the oboe…they share the melody.’

‘Can you…? Do you know…? Why is it so…wonderful?’ I asked him.

He sighed. ‘I’m getting you, lass….I know it’s special, but… nobody really knows.’

‘Is it..maybe…magic?’ I asked. I was scared he would laugh at me, but he didn’t.

‘That particular mixture and blend of notes sets the atoms buzzing at a frequency which activates something special in humans and in this world…’

‘But what is it, that special thing?’

‘It’s to do with ancient memories, the soul, freshness, childhood, perfection…the fact we all came from a star, something timeless and beyond us all….’

We all came from a star? Was that why I could bend light? ‘So…the faun…taps into all that, does it?’

‘The faun takes us back to before there was time. I think the composer managed to transcend, do you understand the word?.. transcend this world during the writing of it…Maybe he ate some dodgy mushrooms or something…. Ravel’s the best for that, makes the humans’ hearts soar…that’s one you should play.’ He hummed a snatch of it. ‘That’s the Daphnis and Chloe, have you tried that?’

‘I would, if only somebody could take me there,’ I said.

‘One day, somebody will,’ he promised. ‘Flute players can’t keep away from it. Not half of them can actually play it properly, mind…’

We talked about harmonics, resonance, tone, deep into the night, softly as the youngsters wanted rest.

The next day, I became aware of a new presence in the mender’s shop. All of us felt it. Dusk fell. We waited, straining our senses into the silence. ‘So…who are you?’ we whispered finally.

A low voice came through the darkness. ‘I am Alto…the story-teller.’ She sounded bigger than us, deeper and older. That night, all night, draughts whistled through her. She told stories of tunes: powerful melodies that change the world, that transfix and brainwash people. She told us of orchestral works, enormous concerts held in huge echoey spaces, the wonder of being an essential part of such creations of genius. As the night grew colder and darker, one of the older flutes beside me snatched at a passing current of air and managed to flutter, ‘Aaaltooo, teeell us about the Ooold Maaan’s Caaave.’

A shudder ran through the flutes. Everyone had heard vague rumours of the Old Man’s Cave. ‘Don’t even go there,’ groaned Obi.  ‘Honest, you don’t want to know.’

‘Ohh….the Old Man’s Cave,’ murmured Alto, ignoring him. ‘I had a poor battered friend, a piccolo…tiny scrap of a thing, called Pixie. He’d been left for a couple of years, damp, in a mildewed case… finally got chucked to the Salvation Army. An old codger bought him for four pounds fifty. Then…this old man…’ Alto coughed and her voice dropped even lower, ‘… took my friend, took Pixie into this room, this…dungeon…’, we all strained to hear, ‘…full of the corpses of old instruments, all mutilated, deformed. He put Pixie into a vice, twisted him into a spiral, attached fishing wire and hung him off the ceiling….he had become a mobile.’

We gasped in horror, ‘A mobile?’ If I could have hidden my head under my cleaning cloth, I would have.

‘Too scary, too scary,’ snorted the trumpets.

‘Why do you torment yourselves so?’ hummed Obi. ‘Forget about the Old Man’s Cave. It’s just a story…only half true. Or not even slightly true.’

We moaned softly, traumatised to the core. The rising moon glanced through dusty panes. Alto was getting into her stride: ‘There, Pixie told me, hang flutes of all ages. Spinning grotesquely around in the half-light, they are forever split into head, foot, body. They no longer speak, no longer sing. Dying musical instruments fill the ceiling space. Floating head joints, foot joints, swinging piano keys, spinning mouth organs, deformed trombones, cracked OBOES!’

Obi, despite himself, gasped in fright.

‘Dented cymbals, tangled triangles, ripped bongoes….and the silence….the silence is appalling…’

Alto fell silent. We all held our breath, imagining the quietness of this grey world. ‘But why?’ squeaked a baby trumpet. ‘Why would he be so cruel?’

‘He doesn’t know it’s cruel. He’s an artist. He is making art out of redundant objects.’

We finally slept as dawn was feeling its way through the windows. After that night, I tuned out and tried to sleep when Alto was telling her horror stories, as they made me unhappy.

A week later a raspy-voiced fellow came in, in a bit of a hurry. ‘I just need a flute. Any flute.’

‘What do you want it for?’ asked our mender.

‘Oh, ensemble, improv, knockin around. Doesn’t have to be great.’

The flute-mender’s hand hovered over several flutes. I could just tell he was going to pick me. As his hand pulled me through the air I whistled, ‘See you again, Obi!’

‘Best, kid,’ said Obi from the window, glinting sunshine at me from his keys. ‘Bach sonatas every morning: it’s the best workout.’

‘Bye friends!’ I shrieked as I was pulled apart, put into my case and handed over. My life was about to change: I was to become a working flute.

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Pearly and ObiChapter 5.

I hesitated. I had heard a hoarse voice like his before in my first shop. ‘Are you…an oboe?’ I asked.

‘You got it. You’ll have to forgive me, but I have an ongoing problem with my reed. I don’t normally sound like this.’ There was a silence. Then he squeaked, ‘Why you in here, Flute?’

‘I’m called Pearly.’

‘Why you in here, Pearly? Got a dent?’

‘No, not a dent.’ I felt a fresh pang of grief. I could hardly admit to it… but I did: ‘My girl… got a new flute.’

‘Oh,’ said Obi. ‘I’m sorry. No, really I am.’ He sighed again. It sounded like a creak in the floorboards. ‘You know, you’re lucky you had a nice kid for a while at least. I’ve had two kids, and both of them gave up after less than a year. They didn’t like me.’

‘Of course they liked you.’

‘No, no, they hated me. They didn’t want to practise, like, ever. I tried, but I ended up hating them too… horrible sticky fingers. Spoilt brats wanted to know everything from the off. So I just clammed up.’

‘Oboe?’ I said.

‘Obi is the name.’

‘Obi….I can’t…I can’t…I’m lonely,’ the draught whispered through my hollow frame. I was afraid a sudden gust would make me sob.

‘Look kid, you have to make the best of it. Hard I know. Hey, you haven’t met Shelley. Shelley!’

An irritated twang and a puff of dust came from the corner.

‘Shelley, we need you. Dissatisfied customer!’

There was a clatter of wood on strings. ‘Aaargh, can’t a girl sleep? It’s the middle of the night.’ Shelley’s voice was a buzzing hum.

‘Shelley’s a cello,’ explained Obi. ‘She…had an accident.’  He lowered his voice. ‘She was dropped from a train onto the platform at Stevenage station.’

‘Ooh,’ I winced. As an instrument, you become very sensitive to stories about man-handling.

‘Yeah,’ rasped Shelley. ‘Cracked and broken, that’s me.  Can’t be properly strung now or my neck will break. Strings flappin’ in the breeze. Oh yeah.’

‘So, are you guys…for sale?’ I asked.

They didn’t answer me. There was a pause.

‘Obi’s not telling you the whole story,’ clunked Shelley at last. ‘Obi, tell her.’

‘I can’t,’ moaned Obi, clattering his keys. ‘Every time I tell it, I get pains in my corks. You tell it, Shelley.’


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Pearly cover

Chapter 4.

‘I…I didn’t think,’ stammered Lucy, ‘…why now?’

Her mother said, ‘You’re nearly on grade five? For higher grades you need a better flute.’

I felt a rush of pain. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Did I …did I really get NO SAY? Was I not going to be consulted at all? I was shocked. And shamed. Was I not good enough? Did Lucy’s mother not have a clue how much effort I had been putting in? All that delicate work and encouragement of Lucy’s musicianship? I felt utterly betrayed. But still I did not grasp that that interrupted phrase of Fauré’s Pavane was the last thing I would ever play with Lucy, and that she would never play any piece with me ever again.

I lay in my case on Lucy’s shelf. I heard them play Fauré’s ‘Sicilienne’, and the Poulenc ‘Cantilena’, which had also been one of our favourites, and the Bach ‘Adagio ma non troppo’ (which they played too fast, needless to say.) This was all pure agony. I wanted to be playing them. The new flute, whom she called ‘Yammy’, (OK, you can laugh! Permission granted) had no delicacy. The pieces were devoid of dynamic contrast. The end of quiet notes would tail off, flat. The C sharps were too sharp. Yammy just…. didn’t care.

Yes, that was the difference. He made no effort. His parts moved exquisitely, oh yes, but he relied too much on his technical brilliance.  His solid silver head-joint couldn’t help but caress the sound, but in a nonchalent, passive way. My whole work had been geared to endless adjustments and responses to the way Lucy played. We would produce the sound together, but Yammy did not even realise that work was required of him. I tried to talk to him from my case, but he ignored me.

A month or so later, Lucy’s mother was cleaning up. She flicked a duster over my case. ‘We’ll take this old thing back to the shop, see what they’ll give us for it.’

‘Oh!’ exclaimed Lucy. ‘Let me look at Pearly one last time.’  She opened my case. Light flooded in. I tried to glint, but found I could not. Lucy stroked my tarnished keys. ‘Sorry, Pearly. I’m sorry.’

‘Oh, Lucy! You are silly,’ scolded her mother. ‘It’s just a flute. Some other child will be glad of it.’

Lucy slotted me together and played three notes of a scale, but her friend turned up, so I was left, out of my case, on a chair. It felt better at least to be in the open, in the light, sun-starved as I was. Out of nowhere, a voice pulled air from the room to drawl ‘So…fancy yourself a flute?’

It was Yammy. Hmm. I just lay there, light-bathing, and said nothing.

‘Why are parts of you so dark, old girl?’ he glinted. ‘Does your player not polish you?’

A breeze from the open window tickled my pads. The energy in Lucy’s room was always shifting. Air moved around like it was spirit. I sighed. ‘Yammy,’ I said. I stopped. Where could I even begin? I thought for a moment. ‘You are a wonderful flute. You sound so bright and clean.’

‘What would you know?’ he scoffed.

‘The Fauré is beautiful, isn’t it?’

There was a silence. ‘Is it?’ said Yammy. ‘It’s the same as all the other pieces. I don’t really…evaluate them.’

‘Don’t you like some more than others?’

‘It’s not my job to compare,’ he said stiffly. ‘It’s my job just to play them.’

‘Well, next time you play it….try going a tiny bit slower?….relax….like, enjoy the phrases?’

‘Hunh, like I’m gonna take advice from an amateur. I mean…is there something wrong with your head-joint?… Your notes just then sounded so crude..like..buzzing.’

I didn’t say anything. Maybe I was a bit rusty from having been left so long. Also, Lucy’s mother had never thought to take me back to the shop for adjustment or cleaning.  He pressed on: ‘Where’s your owner? What are you even doing here?’

I nearly told him.  With just one gust of wind I could have burst into angry sobs and shrieked: ‘You stupid thing! Do you think Lucy learnt to play the Pavane all by herself? Who do you think taught her? Like totally DUH!’ But I had only a pathetic draught from the window. ‘I’m just…visiting…..on my way to the menders.’

‘Well, get a massive overhaul!’ he hooted, laughing as Lucy thrust the door open, grabbed something, then banged it shut again behind her. ‘I suspect you’re beyond repair, to be honest.’ He honked again. ‘Maybe they’ll melt you down? You’d make a good tray or beer mug.’

I gasped. That fear had not even figured in my fears repertoire til then.

Later, as Lucy’s mother came back into the room, my resolve gave out and I jabbered, ‘Yammy, please…look after Lucy. Help her play the best she can. Don’t let her go flat when she’s running out of breath. Just…put in…’ I nearly said ‘more’ but I stopped myself, ‘lots of effort!’

He gasped. ‘You.. can’t be?… Lucy’s old flute? No wonder she was so pleased when I turned up. I get it now. ‘

As Lucy’s mother yanked me apart inexpertly, I said: ‘You lucky flute to have Lucy! Enjoy every…’ and then my joints were forced into their case, the wrong way round and the lid was slammed shut.

I was taken to a ‘used instruments’ shop. Someone changed a couple of my pads, tightened my screws and gave me a clean with a silver-cloth. I would not shine though. I felt like I would never shine again.

I lay out on the workbench deep into the night, missing Lucy and feeling cold and exposed. My screws and wires ached from being tightened. A rising moon cast pale beams through the window. I hadn’t the heart to play with them.  An owl hooted outside. ‘Oh, blinkin shut up, bird,’ creaked a voice right next to me.

‘Who’s that?’ I whispered, clamping up with fear.

There was a pause. ‘Obi…,’ came a defensive rasp.


‘…wan Kenobi.’

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Pearly cover

Chapter 3.

I felt as though I was dying during those weeks, stuck in my case, with no air, no light, no music. Eventually one wintry day when Lucy was doing her homework, there was a knock at her bedroom door. It was Silvia. ‘Lucy,’ she said. ‘I have a really pretty piece for you.  I wondered if you might like to play it in my Christmas Candlelit Concert?’

Lucy did not reply.

‘It’s low and easy,’ coaxed Silvia.

I heard Lucy get up. There was a pause, then: ‘What is it?’

‘It’s ‘Little Donkey’. I think you’ll be able to play it.  Would you like to try?’

‘I…don’t like Ds,’ said Lucy.

‘I know… Nobody does, at first. But they will get easier….and…’ I felt Silvia’s hand stroking my case, ‘… Pearly….Pearly must be sad.  She wants to play.’

Lucy unclipped my case and stared down at me. There was a long moment where I thought she was going to slam the lid down again, but, no, she put me together and played, slowly at first, ‘Little Donkey, Little Donkey, On the Dusty Road… EEG…E, FFA…F, EEG…E, bottom D, two, three, four’…oh, she could do it! The relief.  We worked over several weeks not just to play ‘Little Donkey,’ but also ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, and ‘I’m Walking in the Air,’ at the concert.  The thing I will always remember is being entirely lit by candles.  I had never played by candlelight before.  What fun it was to send the soft liquid flames darting through the darkness into the clapping audience.

Silvia and Madame were patient and kind. Over those weeks we practised going from C to D and back, from B to D, from A to D, from G to D, again and again. We played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ about fifty times: this stuff could drive you insane. I knew that. But I kept calm and held it together because I loved Lucy.

Silvia and Madame made it more fun for us by making every tune into a duet. Madame’s tones were so sweet blending into mine that I began to understand harmonies. This was painful, because, as soon as I heard a new blending of sound, I was filled with cravings: it was as if I was addicted.  I just wanted to create the sound again, but had to wait, in the muffled land of my case. Waiting, always waiting, for our next lesson….

Lucy sometimes left me out of my case. Silvia had said this was a good thing, explaining that part of the barrier to playing is the case. ‘Yes,’ I wanted to say: ‘part of the barrier to me being out in the world is my case!’ I was glad to be out, as, since the concert, I was obsessed with light. I had been practising and, with a little concentration, I could criss-cross beams, explode the most miniscule slanting rays into golden drops and send stars skittering across the ceiling. Also, if I was out of my case, Lucy would play more. Straight from school she would play ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, then go off to eat. She would come back and play ‘Kookaburra Sits in his Old Gum Tree’, then do some homework. Then she would play ‘Molly Malone’, ‘Greensleeves’, then, if I was lucky, the scales of F major, G major and E minor. We flutes like to work, you know.

On a good day, when Lucy played for an hour or more, I would go to sleep at night pleasantly sozzled with the music, gently fatigued, my keys, pads and wires tingling. The tunes kept singing themselves through the night, in echoes in my mind, and Lucy’s mind, for she suddenly started to progress faster and faster.

Over the months, little by little, we were playing more complex things. For her Grade 1, Lucy learnt ‘Edelweiss’. We experienced a break-through with this piece. It is a simple melody, holding such calm within it that it put us into a trance. Our tone was improving. When Silvia accompanied on piano, the sound seemed to soar suddenly. I can’t explain, because I didn’t understand why, but it was like magic, and that night, cradled in my case, I felt that melody becoming part of who I was, linking up with all the other tunes inside me like a lattice holding me together, connecting me with the world.

For Grade 2, we learnt our first ‘swung’ study, full of jazzy accidentals and little grace notes. At first Lucy was reluctant, and neither of us really understood the feel of it, but when we were on about our tenth try, playing along with Silvia and Madame, the tune suddenly managed to teach us that it was just a joke, a funny story with unexpected twists and turns, so we started to enjoy it, even love it. Lucy finished the tune laughing out loud.

Later, around Grade 3, we moved on to chromatic scales. These include every possible note, and are wonderful if you are a flute as you want every key to be exercised and kept nifty. We learnt graceful Sicilianas, lovely lilting pieces in six quaver beats per bar. Some of the pieces were so fast I felt dizzy and like my head-joint was spinning, but with excitement. Lucy and I got on so well by this point that it wasn’t like she was a person and I was a flute…it was more like we had merged into one, like I had become an extension of her mind, or she an extension of mine. As soon as she picked me up, we were off, we didn’t have to think about it any more.

The year after, we were practising diminished sevenths, F sharp minor, A flat major, trills. We played taut and bouncy Irish jigs. We puzzled over strange modern tunes by Hindemith. You don’t always know if you are playing a wrong note with Hindemith! They all sound wrong. Until you know the piece, that is, when they start to sound right, and then even like they couldn’t be any other way. We had a go at low jazzy numbers like ‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes.’ They have lots key changes and ‘rubato’ bits where you slow down and speed up again. It takes a lot of control to do that right. We both fell in love with ‘Dance of the Blessèd Spirits.’

As the pieces got harder, with fiendish rhythms or slurred octave leaps in semi-quavers, Lucy would get discouraged and start thinking it was just impossible. But Silvia always said, ‘One bar at a time, Lucy.’ So we would tussle with just one bar, sorting out the rhythm, the notes, playing it very slowly until we had it all right, linking it to the bar before, the bar after, then gradually, gradually speeding it up.

One day, we were in the middle of playing Fauré’s Pavane. The music bowls you along in a calm but intense way. It hypnotises you with its haunting minor melody. I was concentrating on helping Lucy not to rush, subtly slowing her down by holding on to the notes slightly, as the piece is much better really quite slow, wistful.  I was also bridging the gap between notes whenever Lucy gasped for breath. Her mother came into the room but we carried on playing. We were loath to stop, as we had reached the best bit. ‘Lucy!’ said her mother.

We stopped, in the middle of the phrase. Looking back, I can see how sad this is. I didn’t realise it at the time, at all. I was just impatient to get back to the work.

‘I have a surprise for you,’ said her mother. ‘Here.’

Lucy put me down. I didn’t pay much attention. I was just longing for Lucy’s breath to allow me to voice the next phrase. I just wanted her mother to go away. But then I heard the click of sophisticated, oiled catches and the sharp intake of breath. ‘Oh!’ said Lucy.

The light in the room changed. There was a brutal flash, a painful brightness.

Lucy laughed. ‘A new flute!’ she exclaimed.

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Pearly cover

Chapter 2.

I let go of the sun’s rays and the light went out of me.  If only that lovely girl could have chosen me.  I just knew she was right for me.  All of the next day, I was in the window again, but nobody asked to try me.  I felt dull, grey. The sun must have been behind clouds as there didn’t seem to be any light to play with.  I dozed fitfully.  Lucy’s voice woke me from a troubled dream. ‘Mum?  See!  She’s still there!’

The shop owner, Pudgy-Fingers, picked me up again.  New as I was to the world, it was disorienting to be swung around, flipped suddenly horizontally instead of vertically. Pudgy-Fingers placed me down on a velvet cloth with some other flutes.

‘You can try all of these,’ he said.

‘I don’t need to…thank you. I already know which one I’d like,’ said Lucy.

She looked again at my engraving. Her face was so close I could feel her breath clouding my surface. ‘Pearly,’ she whispered. Gentle hands picked me up and cradled me. I could tell she did not know how to play. But she tried. I tried my hardest to make a sound for her, but without the breath going in the right direction it was nigh on impossible.

‘Don’t worry,’ said her mother’s voice. ‘You need a teacher, that’s all.’

‘Can I start today, Mum?’ she pleaded.

‘It’s already late. Maybe tomorrow.’

I was pulled apart and put into my case.  I was carried, swung slightly. I felt rumbling beneath me, crude vibrations. I was scared, but felt reassured that Lucy was near. I could pick up, muffled through my case, her eager chatter.

I loved being at Lucy’s house. It was calm. Lucy took me out, slotted me wonkily together and left me out, balanced on my case, all night. The next morning, very early, so it was still almost dark, I awoke to high and joyful chirpy noises outside. A  fascinating crescendo of sound bathed my whole being. I listened and learned in wonder, as strengthening light and fragrant air poured in upon me through tall windows.

That day, I was taken out in what I knew by then was a car, for us to have our first lesson with Lucy’s new teacher, Silvia. The first thing Silvia said to Lucy was ‘Oh, what a lovely flute! Gorgeous, isn’t she?’

I always liked Silvia after that. Also, she helped Lucy to progress quickly, and that was good, as I wanted to play interesting things.  She showed Lucy how to slot me together correctly and adjust me.  She had Lucy stand up tall and straight and taught her how to hold me so that my head-joint was locked securely against her chin, with the little finger of her right hand pushing forwards like a lever, and the side of her left index pushing back. Silvia demonstrated on her own flute how to play a long B. As the note sounded, I heard, ‘Bonjour, my friend! Enchantée! Je m’appelle Madame Douce.’

Silvia’s flute was quite old and from a place called France, the other side of the big water, she told me. Her tone was very sweet and gentle. She was my guide, as we played a lot of things together to help Lucy.

Lucy learnt the notes B, A and G first. She had to play lots of long notes to increase her lung capacity. At first she would let air escape too fast so she could only manage one second, but she quickly learnt to play more quietly and control the air-flow.  She could do three, then four seconds, but within a few weeks Silvia was timing her for eight seconds, then ten, then twelve. At first our sound quavered and was uneven, but quickly it became steadier. After about four lessons, we could already play ‘Hot Cross Buns,’ ‘Au Clair de la Lune,’ which Madame loved as it is French, and ‘Merrily’. This was all good…. except we played them all about fifty times.  ‘Merrily’ goes, BAGABBB rest AAA rest BBB rest BAGABBB rest AABAG. I can do that off-by-heart for you any time! Seriously, my girl was hooked on that tune. I didn’t mind because by then I would have done anything for Lucy and I took comfort from the fact that every time she played it, she was improving.

Luckily Madame and Silvia taught us C and F so there were a few more tunes we could play. Lucy got hooked for a few weeks on ‘When All the Saints’.  It’s a tricky one as, being in the key of F, there must be some B flats. If your player forgets to put his or her right index down to make the Bs flat, it sounds very odd. Whenever Lucy forgot the B flat, I would sort of shrink from the B natural to make it sound even odder than it was, to give her a clue. Eventually she got it.

About five or six weeks in, we hit a stumbling block: middle D.  I so wanted Lucy to learn D, because I knew that as soon as she did, she would be off, as D leads into the easier middle octave where the fingerings are all the same as for the bottom octave.  However, D is hard for a child to learn as it uses a lot of fingers. Beginners have quite weak fingers and can’t press our keys down hard enough. With the best will in the world, a flute can’t put its own keys down. To play D, every finger which is up for C goes down, including the left thumb. Every finger which is down for C goes up. This means going from C to D is a big change. D is the only note that you raise your little finger for. But after playing D, you have to put that little finger straight down again.

Lucy found it very hard. Her little finger did not have much strength in it as she was so little. She forgot to lever her hands properly to lock me against her chin, so every time she went from D back to C, I would slip as she took her thumb off the key. This made me nervous I was going to be dropped, which made my sound buzzy.  Lucy cried often and couldn’t bring herself to play. She started inventing excuses to miss her lessons.  I lay in my case feeling like I had failed, and panicking in case Lucy decided to give up. I sent out thought waves to her ‘Please, Lucy, don’t give up…give me another chance…pleasepick me up…play something.’

But there I lay, for days and days, ignored. ‘Lucy,’ called her mother, ‘you must practise your flute!’

‘My fingers hurt,’ she wailed… ‘I can’t do D.  I hate D.  It’s….it’s just….TOO DIFFICULT.’

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Pearly cover


For our new clan member:  Dara Fearghus

Chapter 1.

My final wires were slotted into their grooves. Cool fingers glued and pressed my last pad into its home. I felt vibrations of human speech through my core. ‘Time to engrave.’ I felt a tickling, painful rush as a machine’s needle engraved me.

A lower voice barked, ‘Adam! You done there?’

‘Just engraving, Sir, then I’m finished,’ said the chap holding me.

‘Good. Told you you could do one all on your own.’

Adam dusted the engraving. ‘Pearl,’ he said. He tipped me in the light. I could feel his gaze. He dusted then tipped me again. His cool hands adjusted my head-joint and slotted my foot-joint into my body. ‘Let’s see what you’re made of then, Pearl my girl.’

Then, I can hardly explain to you what I felt as a soft, warm breath rushed through my core.  It was like I came into being and understood my purpose upon this earth.  ‘I am a FLUTE,’ I said to myself, as I heard the sound I made. I felt it and heard it at the same time. From what I know about humans, if you put your fingers in your ears and hum, your humming sounds much louder than normal, like a foghorn. That was what it was like for me suddenly to hear my own voice. I was voice. It was a shock and a revelation.

It was so much of a thrill to be making this enormous sound that I was overwhelmed. I certainly at this point never understood that the sound was called music or anything to do with that. I did start to grasp however that I was allowing this person, the owner of the delicate fingers, to pour out feelings that could maybe come out no other way. Adam put me down and looked at me for a moment, thinking. He put me back into the clamps. I braced myself as the needle buzzed again. ‘You will be Pearl-y,’ he breathed. ‘Pearly, my own special creation.’ Just as he was finishing the ‘y’, with his own hand directing the engraving machine, his phone started to buzz. He jumped. His hand slipped so my body popped out of the clamp and I felt a painful gash over my surface.

Adam found his phone. ‘What?’ he gasped. ‘Already? At the hospital? Oh my God, hold on, I’ll be straight there.’

‘My baby…the baby’s coming,’ he yelled, ‘I’ve got to go!’ Another man took me out of the clamps, tutting over my scratch, cleaned me, put me in a soft velvet case and closed the lid. I slept and relived the rich vibrations. What could they mean?  They felt so right, but were so complex I could only grasp shadows of their meaning.

I slept in my case all night. The next day, I was picked up, by someone else’s hot, pudgy fingers. They slotted my joints together and put me in the window on a stand. I was standing upright. I could feel the sun on me. I enjoyed the warmth and light, and knew I was glinting and sending sparks out into the world. It felt good. I must have looked good, too, as people kept coming in that day, asking to try me out. I did my best but a little boy let me slip and cracked my head-joint against the counter. Later, a little girl spluttered and spat into me. One child covered me with sticky finger-prints. By the end of that day, I felt battered and shaken. Would every day be this bad?

‘Mummy, look…flutes!’

I registered the voice through the glass of the window. A young girl’s voice. ‘Ya-ma-ha,’ she read out. ‘Boo-sey and Hawk-es….Pearl….Trev-or James…Jupiter….’ As she moved along the row of flutes, I felt her shadow block the sun. She then moved slightly to the right so the light caught my keys again. I concentrated hard, held onto those rays and shivered very slightly so my lights would flash. It worked. ‘Pearl…y,’ she read. ‘Pearly?’ There was a pause. I could detect her intent gaze upon me, even through the glass. It’s like I could read her energy. I could feel her colours, pale greens and pinks, radiating out towards me. ‘Mum? That flute, that’s the one: Pearly.’

‘Oh, don’t be silly, Lucy,’ came a deeper voice, ‘You’re going to play violin, not flute.’  Lucy was dragged away.

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