As hard as it is to believe, April is almost upon us. That means the new and improved In Touch Magazine has hit homes! We have new departments, a new layout, look, and feel, and have gained eight pages in length. That means there is more room for Bible studies, articles, and photos! If you don’t already receive a free copy from us via mail each month, I encourage you to visit our website and register. If you prefer the electronic version, you can visit our homepage.
This one, I’m not going to lie to you, was downright painful to write. It went through several substantial revisions before arriving in the form you see before you. However, I can say that it was worth all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I had to go through because the version that came out ended up being much better than the first one I submitted. This proves two things to me that I’ve long believed but need to be reminded of time and time again. One, God is in control. It’s His talent I’m using on borrowed time, and if I ever begin to think it’s mine, He reminds me with a challenging piece like this. And two, as wonderful and rewarding as the writing process is, it will always be hard. But then again, if it were easy, I might not love it so much.
For those of you who aren’t musicians or who don’t put a great amount of time in “behind the mouthpiece” as we say, you might not realize just how intimate the relationship between a musician and her instrument truly is. Much like one does with a spouse, a musician soon realizes her instrument’s likes and dislikes as well as its tendencies. For example, a certain kind of valve oil may be the only one that keeps everything in working order, or a musician learns to compensate for a certain sticky key for so long that she eventually avoids fixing it. Yes, there is a special bond formed between a musician and the instrument that serves to express the outpourings of her to the world.
Just as many people name their cars, so, too, do many musicians name their instruments. (My yellow Xterra is named “Bumblebee” after my all-time favorite Transformer in case you’re curious.) Some of the names are boring, others bizarre. Many were earned and come with a story to justify the choice. And there are some that simply are so non-sequitur that they cannot be explained. For example, my husband’s first trombone, “Rosie,” earned the moniker because her bell had a rosy colored sheen when polished. Another friend had a tuba he named “Bubba” after the character in Forest Gump because that’s what he said his lips felt like after a long rehearsal. (Don’t blame me if you think that’s racist. I’m just passing the story along!) 🙂 A student I met at Oberlin who played the trumpet named his retinue of them after characters from Lord of the Rings, but I only remember that he dubbed the piccolo trumpet “Frodo” and the Flugelhorn “Gimli.”
Connor. Betsy Ross. Killer. Natty Bumppo. Polly. Starbuck. Subzero. Herbert. Snort. The Grinch. Mahalia. The Dark Lady. Yoko Ono. Salsa Verde. The list could go on and on, and each one would be as unique as the person and the machine she wields.
Because musicians are like crazy cat ladies and one is usually never enough, most players I know have at least two instruments in their homes. While some are obvious pairings such as a flute and a piccolo or an English horn and an oboe, most simply have horns for different purposes. Yes, like Bruce Wayne and Batman and the disparate personalities they represent, some musicians can channel symphonic music only through one and must play jazz in another. Ask them why, and they’ll tell you about the range of each, the sound each produces, the tone each lends to a particular tune. They’ll tell you one “understands” a little better than the other or that one “wants it more.” Don’t panic when they tell you this; they’re not crazy. They’re just musicians…and that means they probably haven’t eaten a good meal in awhile.
So, you’re probably thinking, what’s your instrument look like, and what’s its name? Well, ladies and gents, without further ado, I give you my French horn…
This is the only French horn I own, and he has been a part of my life since my sophomore year in college. The first reason is because, well, there are twenty-two feet of twisted tubing in the average horn, and they’re pretty difficult to make. That means they’re expensive. A good one will cost you anywhere from $2,500 to “I don’t even want to know.” (I’ve seen one listed at $8,000!) My horn professor in college brokered a deal for me with one of the horn players in the Atlanta symphony back in 1998, and I shelled out a whopping $3,500 for him. (Yes, it is a him. I’m getting to why in a minute.)
Also, in case you are unaware, the French horn is universally considered to be the most difficult instrument to play (be it woodwind or brass), and the oboe comes in a close second. Most schools have one sitting in a storage closet waiting for a player, and many teachers convert a trumpet or flute player when they need a warm body to attempt it. Every time I showed up at a new school, there was a great, often minimally used, instrument for me to play.
I remember the day the gigantic box containing my very own horn arrived at our house. I pulled it out frantically, sending a shower of packing peanuts across the kitchen floor, and laid the case out. Let it be ugly, I thought. I know this seems odd, but I’ve always found that instruments that other people deem unattractive often produce the best sound. Typically, they’re older. They’ve been places. They’ve seen how the world works. And like a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, they know how to make good stuff.
Naturally, I was thrilled when I got him. Just look!
If you’re interested in some of the details, I can tell you that this French horn was manufactured by a German company called Hans Hoyer. I have yet to discern what model it is because I cannot find a serial number anywhere on it. The company’s logo is even obscured because the musician who bought it had the bell converted to detach. Yep, the bell comes off, which makes transport a cinch. However, it’s impossible to get the back third slide out when the bell is on. Hence, the same musician also had a spit valve put on. (If you’re a French horn player, you have no idea how valuable that thing is when you’re in a hurry! I can’t live without it now.) The top weld never holds correctly, so I’ve secured it with a little tape. Classy, huh? The thumb trigger is unlike any I have ever seen before, and, as you can plainly see, the horn is not lacquered. It has no shiny covering that usually attracts people to an instrument.
Yes, by comparison, my horn is a little…if you’ll forgive the pun…lackluster. And I have to admit that when my husband and I were planning on a photography shoot involving both our instruments, he was not my first choice. I borrowed a friend’s horn that would photograph better. (Hangs head in shame.)
My French horn, despite my great love for it, did not have a name until recently. However, after some deliberation, I decided to give him a moniker befitting his character….Rochester.
Yes, I named my instrument after a character in my favorite book of all time, Jane Eyre. For those of you who have never read the book (shame on you), Mr. Rochester is the broody, Byronic hero and love interest of little, plain Jane. He is not attractive in the traditional sense, but he is mesmerizing all the same. Here, I’ll let Charlotte Bronte do the talking. Here’s how Jane describes her beau in a few words…
Most true is it that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gazer.’ My master’s colorless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,–all energy, decision, will,–were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me,–that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
This is how Rochester describes himself in one of his weaker moments…
Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre; one of the better kind, and you see I am not so. You would say you don’t see it; at least I flatter myself I read as much in your eye (beware, by-the-bye, what you express with that organ; I am quick at interpreting its language). Then take my word for it, — I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that — not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.
Rochester, on the whole, is one of the most hard-to-love and impossible-to-resist characters in literature. He’s dark, he has a past as well as a temper, and, above all else, he’s passionate. There’s a richness and a a depth to him that many heroes in other novels lack. He’s scuffed up and worn around the edges because life hasn’t been kind. However, the depths of his heart are seemingly endless, and there’s something about him that is wounded and vulnerable as well.
My French horn has the same look and, more importantly, the dark sound that comes out when I play (which makes me sound a lot more talented than I really am by the way) makes me think of the character after whom it’s named. Sonorous, pensive, and rich–it is all that and more. I’ll never be able to play it as well as I’d like or as well as it deserves. Perhaps my horn by any other name would sound as sweet, but I doubt it.
How about you? Is there a special object–an instrument, car, or something else–that you love and have given a special name? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Pictures are great, too!!
For those of you who have never heard a French horn, I give you my favorite horn solo of all time–the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony (Andante Cantabile).
A co-worker and I once had a lengthy discussion about how wonderful it would be to own a bakery/coffee shop in a small town square, one where patrons came each day to get a cup of well-made joe and one or more of our homemade baked goods. In our version of the story, everyone was whistling, walking or driving to their own joyful place of business, or taking it easy on a lazy Saturday morning in our establishments, reading the paper (either in print or on their laptop…using our free WIFI access provided for customers of course!), and generally enjoying life. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? What could be better than doing something you enjoyed, something that made the lives of others more pleasurable, and then being home by 3:00 PM? After all, I could use that time to write, to participate in local theater, and to volunteer at church to help others. My time would always be spent doing something useful and that would, I’m sure, make the world a better, happier, and shinier place.
This thought was only strengthened and reinforced during a recent weekend trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Wayne and I chose to splurge and have breakfast both mornings there in a little cafe/diner known as Cockadoos rather than the cheaper and more pedestrian options like Denny’s or any analogous variations of it. While there, we gorged ourselves on chocolate chip pancakes, cathead biscuits and sausage gravy, a pulled pork omelette, sweet potato hash browns, and a Memphis special known as “The Shag”–an Elvis inspired dish made with two pieces of French toast filled with peanut butter and bananas and topped with whipped cream and blueberries.
I can’t imagine what kind of dietary seppuku I committed that weekend by beginning each day with the food there, but I didn’t care. (Granted the other places we frequented–Gus’ Fried Chicken, the Rendezvous, and the Peabody Hotel bakery among others–likely didn’t help either!) It tasted great, the service was fantastic, and we were able to mingle with locals and fellow visitors before our day began.
Just click on the link and look at the place; I dare you. From the decor to the food to the attitude, this is exactly the kind of place I’d like to own and run each day for both breakfast and lunch. Everyone there was happily working, eating, and talking, including the kitchen and wait staff!
Oh, and did I mention that the place was completely and utterly PACKED both mornings!? Really, I think they bordered on a fire hazard on Saturday because there were so many people sitting around waiting to eat or who were engaged in the act at a table or at the bar. The place is making money; it has to be. Imagine that!? They simply use their creativity and work ethic to create a pleasing place filled with quality food, and people reward them as we did–by becoming repeat customers and spreading the word to others. There’s something beautiful to that for someone in my situation. Their rewards are immediate and tangible after all. People pay them in cash and in praise for their efforts, and as long as the results are the same each time, that cycle of unmitigated awesomeness will continue to repeat itself into perpetuity.
The thought is positively intoxicating and leaves me high on a sugar and blueberry fueled endorphin rush each and every time I allow myself a moment to think about it. And that isn’t often. I liken it to a bright bird in a pet store left looking out the shop window at its fellow aviary friends happily eating birdseed under a park bench. Why think about something you can never have or torture yourself with dreams about life outside the bars that define your world? Paul Laurence Dunbar captured the impulse perfectly in his poem “Sympathy” in which he, as a black man in a white world, identifies with a creature that’s told it must deny its innermost self and be content with its restrictive lot. Granted, I am by no means oppressed. I do not live in fear of lynchings or of being barred from doing something because I’m X instead of Y. However, I do understand the concept of a gilded cage. I am relatively safe–my job makes me a solid living, I occupy an apartment in safe (albeit painfully vanilla and WASP infested) town, and I am never required to go without basic needs like food and clothing. Do I have everything I want? No. But I cannot complain, and that is why I feel truly guilty each time I do.
At the risk of sounding like Quint in the town hall meeting in Jaws, “You all know me, know what I do for a living…” Yes, I teach, and I do so in a place where I am the living embodiment of a fifth wheel. In a nutshell, I teach English in a technical college. Please know that I am a firm supporter of the technical college system; I think it is a valuable place for an ever-growing populace in America. People who come here get training for work that more Americans need to be doing if we ever want to get back to our roots as a nation, one that knows how to get things handled and make things that last. Our soul is in that which is technical.
However, ENG 1101 and 1102, the two classes I teach, are often the barrier that stands between them and that job training. Often, I am nothing more to them than a hinderance and a nuisance, something that must be checked off a required list of classes, and that, I must say, can sometimes be hard on someone who does love the subject. Yes, there are many students who enjoy my classes and who thank me in some small way for my help over the course of a quarter, but they are rare. There are a great deal more who come to me with only complaints, excuses, and threats than there are with praise and thanks. I work long hours grading, lecturing, and handling other forms of paperwork and minutiae that I don’t plan on elaborating on here. (That’s a blog for another time.) In short, I make a living, but I rarely feel alive in my chosen career. More often than not, I’m going through the motions and trying to do the best I can.
Is there any wonder then in the fact that I often fall prey to the siren song of my imaginary muffins sitting on the shelf in my equally ephemeral cafe? After all, as I’ve said to others, muffins don’t bitch. They don’t send you to pointless meetings or require you to earn continuing education credits; they don’t question your motives or your knowledge and why they need it. Muffins simply wait in their elemental form for you to mix them in the correct proportions and slip them in to rise, like gooey fruit and chocolate filled phoenixes, from their own floury ashes.
I know what you’re thinking–Jamie, you’re not thinking of the early mornings, the customer complaints, or the other problems ranging from product delivery to paperwork and taxes. Your glass is unfairly half full. And you’d be right–I’ve worked in a restaurant, but I have little knowledge as to how to actually run one effectively. And I am certain that if I did undertake such a business now that it would be doomed to failure no matter how good my recipes were or how cheerfully I crafted them. I am a realist in this regard. However, as Jane Eyre says in the novel by Charlotte Brontë:
I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!’
In this scene, Jane has been working for eight years as a teacher at Lowood School where she herself was taught, and as she looks out the window of her room to an open road, one she has never travelled, she begins to think of a new career as a governess. Like her, I’m not asking for perfection, for true freedom to be whatever I wish whenever I wish it. I only desire a change of scenery, a new world of work built on different expectations and principles that I can use to challenge myself and see just how successful I can be.