Jun 8, 2018

Fugue

By Rebekah Curtis


"A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been a regular in my car for years. Our recording is of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. I don't pay close attention to the variations after this many hundreds of grocery trip concerts, but I always find myself listening again at the end. Benjamin Britten's Fugue is almost more than I can handle.

The piccolo starts, pipey and frantic, desperate to get in her say while she can.

The other woodwinds follow, just as panicked, trampling their little sister. Her fears were the same, and are now realized.

The violins swoop in, snooty and self-important as always. They are so sure of their superiority as to barely allow a fair entrance to the steadfast, modest, and (let's be honest) more personable cellos.

Basses . . . um, yes, I can hear somebody down there now . . . oh, no--the violas! Well, I guess they made it on their own again. Next time I am for sure going to cue the violas!

HARP. You are so weird, harp. Say your piece.

And, OK, the whole brass family is terrible. But surely the French horns ought to know better than to blast their way in like this!

Of course the squirrelly trumpets are even worse,

and the trombones are as close as they can get to outright honking without Leonard having to stop the whole thing . . . 

the tuba's probably doing it too but it's become such a blaring jumble we can't even tell if we should be scowling at him. Seriously, is there a score here or is everybody playing whatever fool thing comes into their heads? 

And now, just what we need: percussion. I might have to stop the car.

And then, out of the squeaks and the swoops, the blasts and the blows: the theme. Purposeful. Powerful. Perfect. It rises somehow from this mess and these maniacs. It is what we have been working for all this time; even when we doubted the hints a fugue so crazed was barely generous enough to toss our way, even when we couldn't remember the promises we'd been made through all the sectionals where we began. The twitters, swoops, and explosions, which earlier were senseless distractions, transform the monolith into a triumphant magnificence of grace. Maybe a critic does not find Purcell's theme extraordinary. But only a critic could be deaf to the miracle that a score exists, that a performance succeeds, that any orchestra works.

The theme will rise from our screechers, snoots, honkers, and blasters. Our flutes will whisper, "It's OK, Mom." Our violins and violas will hug each other and talk on the phone every day. Our oboes will murmur, "I'm sorry too, and I forgive you, if there's anything to forgive." Our stately horns will chuckle, "Do you remember that time we honked?" Our tubas will guffaw, "I can't believe we thought you didn't know!" Our basses will mention, "I already took care of it." Our cymbals will crash into the room, and instead of getting mad, everyone will laugh. Our piccolos will trill, our trumpets will proclaim, our cellos will hum, "I love you! I love you! I love you."

There's something wrong with my eyes. I might have to stop the car.



***

Rebekah Curtis is married with seven children, and participates in Sunday School, Altar Guild, Trinity Brass, Ladies' Aid, yearbook, debate, and Friday dodge ball.

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