Monthly Archives: January 2009

Taking care of number one

A pious holy man once said to Nasrudin, “I am so selfless that I only think of others,  never about myself.” Nasrudin countered, “I am so entirely objective that I am able to regard myself as if I were someone else, so I can care about me.”

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I found my horn on YouTube

A single spotlight illuminates a lone man, naked but for his jockey shorts, clutching in front of his privates, bell facing towards him, a French horn.   “I found my horn” best-selling book, now play begins, the true story of a mid-life crisis in which Jasper Rees, the author played by Jonathan Guy Lewis, ponders what becomes of youth’s passions. Would he die, not having achieved anything of substance, of bravery?  It was time for him to dig out the horn from the attic, where it had lain dormant for twenty-five years and prove he could achieve something of importance for himself, rather than for others.  On the journey, culminating in a performance in front of the British Horn Society a year later, he discovers a brotherhood of men who share the madness of knowing there will never be perfection, where there is honour, courage and foolish folly.  Hornplayers. The musicians of Elysium.

A French horn player is like a professional golfer.  There is no such thing as a perfect performance or a perfect round. There is always something that niggles, something that could be improved upon, a point where luck and fortune wobble.  And so it is with a Mozart Horn Concerto.  Listening yesterday to a live recording of Dennis Brain, a man who created aural ambrosia from brass plumbing, I heard the occasional stumble, a couple near misses and yet the overall package is sublime, better for flaws born out of bravura.

And so to my own romantic foolishness, an attempt, courtesy of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra virtual auditions, to create a decent rendition of one movement of Mozart’s earliest horn concerto – commonly known as the second.  It was maddening.  I discovered how to create semi-watchable video and passable audio, in my dining room.  And how to concentrate for five minutes, never an easy task.  My result is here for the world to pick over.  There I stand, naked but for my underwear.  You may see with your eyes a man relaxing in a comfy cricket jumper, but hear with your ears a man starkers.  If we survive this climate meltdown,  a grandchild make recover those bytes and perhaps wonder why Grandpa did something so silly as to expose his foibles so.

And now the battle commences.  The competition is trooping in. Bring on the tyros, the stars of the world’s conservatoires  and knock the old man off his precarious perch.  Let them try his fiddly bits, his extended phrases and surpass his ancient output.  This is my Rocky Balboa with a dash of X Factor.

In February, you get the chance to vote on the players. In March, the battle will shift to Google, the people who came up with this mad, fantastic idea.  Creating a virtual orchestra is a huge task. It is like trying to create a virtual basketball team.  Musicians rely on real time interaction to get in the groove. Breaking the team into component parts and expecting it to perform as a whole, no matter how cleverly spliced, is impossible. It misses a key point of music making and many other types of teams, which is that feeling you get when you face a challenge together, shoulder to shoulder and create something of beauty and goodness.  But Google understood that well, which is why those selected to become part of the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra will gather together in New York in April to make music rather than solo recordings.  Google’s didn’t just do no evil – they did good. Let’s wish everyone, Google, the youngsters, the romantics, the aspirants, the pros who put so much work into this, and me, luck.

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The coat

An old friend stopped by to visit Nasrudin. “Ahmad, I haven’t seen you in ages, my friend!” exclaimed the delighted Nasrudin. “But I am just about to go out on my rounds.  Come with me so we can talk.” “But I am hardly dressed for the occasion and it is cold outside,” replied Ahmad.  “Lend me one of your fine coats and I will walk with you.”  So Nasrudin lent his friend his most exquisite coat.
At the first house they called upon, Nasrudin introduced his companion.  “This is my old friend, Ahmad!  And the beautiful coat he is wearing, that is mine!” 
En route to the next village Ahmad said, “That wasn’t a very smart thing to say – “the beautiful coat he is wearing, that is mine. ”  Please don’t say it again!”
At the next house the Mullah explained, “This is my old friend, Ahmad, who has come to visit me, and the beautiful coat – the coat is his!”
When they left, Ahmad, said, “Why on earth did you say that?  Are you nuts?”
“I only wanted to even the score,” replied the Mullah.
“If it is all the same with you,” said Ahmad, “Let’s not mention the coat again, OK?”  And Nasrudin promised he wouldn’t.
At the third and last house, Nasrudin said, “May I introduce Ahmad, my old friend.  And the coat, the coat he is wearing… but we mustn’t mention the coat, must we?

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Damned if you do..

As Nasrudin was travelling into town, leading his donkey on which his son was mounted,  a young man jeered them both.  “See the old man, letting the boy ride as he hobbles along beside.”  Nasrudin stopped, and exchanged places with the boy.  A little further along, an old women shouted at Nasrudin, shaking her fist, “You should be ashamed, making the little boy walk while you ride!”  Nasrudin stopped again and they both got on.  “That poor animal with two on his back is collapsing from the weight,” exclaimed another passerby a short distance later.  This time they both got off. After a short while, someone else mocked, “Nasrudin, are you taking your pet for a walk?”

Nasrudin had had enough.  He dropped his rains and slapped the donkey on the rear.  “Go and find someone who knows what can be done with you!” he cried, whereupon he hoisted the boy onto his shoulders and walked.

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Neighbourly help

Nasrudin’s neighbour stole several sacks of wheat belonging to the city, but was nabbed by the police.  Before the court date, the neighbour asked Nasrudin to lie for him.   When the judge questioned Nasrudin about exactly what happened, Nasrudin spoke in great detail about what happened to the sacks of barley.  “I asked you to tell me about the sacks of wheat , not sacks of barley,” interrupted the judge.  “Sacks of wheat, sacks of barley,” replied Nasrudin, “What does it matter when one is lying?”

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A stamp of authority

With the downturn in the economy, there was a great deal of disquiet throughout the country.  To reassure his people, the King sent a delegation of learned men into the villages who mollified many of the citizens with their pedigreed expertise and sage advice.   In each village, people assembled and asked this Royal committee questions.    When they arrived at Nasrudin’s village, they did the same.  Arriving late, Nasrudin, being a key local dignitary, was pushed by his fellow citizens to the front.  “What are you men doing here?” demanded the Mullah.  “We are the Royal committee. We provide the answers to the questions that people cannot answer for themselves.  And who are you?” responded one of the visitors.    “You will need me up there with you,” replied Nasrudin as he joined the wise gaggle.  “My job is to answer the questions you cannot and I propose  we start with those questions you gentlemen don’t know the answer to.”

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Changing one’s mind

Nasrudin, now old and destitute, lay on his bed in a poorhouse, contemplating his past.  To the chap in the next bed he remarked, “When I was seventeen, I was determined that nothing was going to stop me from becoming wealthy and powerful.”  “Why are you neither, my friend?” asked the companion.  Nasrudin replied, “ By the time I was nineteen years of age, I had realised it was far easier to change my mind.”

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