November 7, 2009 by Irish Peloton
The cycling season: A musical journey
The stage is set, the musicians are ready, this is what they’ve been practicing for all winter. All that hard work, monotonously reeling through chord progressions, day after day of repeating the same sequences of notes over and over again. Finally the day of the performance is here, the musicians’ fingers are twitching, eager to put an a show as some harbour hopes and dreams of greater success, while others fear for their future as a musician if this performance isn’t a triumph…
Here it comes, the opening motif, the didgeridoo begins. A rhythmic thrum emanates around the theatre as the audience take their seats for what they hope will be truly a spectacle to remember. The didgeridoo continues alone when suddenly there comes a crash of cymbals which evokes the image of the sun rising. The french horns enter and increase the tempo as if their racing toward that sun.
The auditorium is full now with everyone seated as the doors are closed. The French horns are joined now by violins. Not just any violins, the most wonderfully crafted Italian violins who begin La Primavera, the first verse. As the French horns fade away, the violins really take over with a wonderful verse which comes to a rapid staccatic conclusion. Enter the choir, joined by the entire brass section.
But wait…is that?…Yes, it’s Flemish, they’re singing in Flemish, how unusual. The choir continues to wow the audience with the expertly crafted verse they’ve cobbled together as they flow into what sounds like a line or two from Handel’s Messiah, but it’s hard to tell when it’s in Flemish… HALLELUJAH. Yes, there it is, the Hallelujah chorus, it must be Holy week, the audience loves it. The Hallelujah chorus continues, but softly now, very softly.
The mellifluous singing continues in Flemish, as an accordion and barrel organ can be heard contributing in the background, as the audience are treated to complimentary beer and frites. The crowd are completely captivated now and although they were nourished by the Hallelujah chorus, that was merely a taste, they want to hear the decorous chorus, they’re ready. The Italian violins return, but not alone. With them are the entire string section, Cellos, Violas and Double Basses all authentically crafted Italian instruments.
The chorus is a musical journey in itself, evoking images of vast, iconic mountains, perfectly still lakes while also progressing the tempo enough to have us imagine the hustle of a modern city. Shortly, the entire brass section joins in and a cacophony of aural artistry is bestowed upon a captivated audience. The chorus was truly worth the wait, what a payoff. Surely the musicians can’t live up to that for the remainder of the performance as the mood, after such a high, now becomes one of sombre anticipation.
The musicians as a whole almost come to a stop, the music only continuing by the swift tone of a piccolo. The solo piccolo is shortly joined by accordions and the unusual presence of a chiming clock. The clock only adds to the sense of anticipation, the audience sensing that the musicians are preparing for something really special.
A key change. The second chorus. The audience rises to their feet in appreciation as each and every musician on stage contributes to a wall of sound. Streams of confetti explode from corners of the auditorium, showering the unsuspecting audience. This is what the musicians have worked for for the last year of their lives. A true musical celebration. This is it, their moment, their time to shine. Nobody wants to put a foot wrong. This is amazing, incredible, a true sight to behold. The musicians are in their element, each one trying to outdo the other, attempting to be the star of the show, the one the audience will go home remembering. Quietly, one of the violin players is removed from the stage by the ushers. An auto-tuning device was found in his instrument case. But this doesn’t perturb the remaining members of the orchestra who remain defiant, still eager to please each and every jaw-dropped member of the audience. The Bretagne dancers wait in the wings, who were not invited last year, and to their disappointment, will not get the nod to perform this year either. The music slowly builds to a crescendo, the climax is upon us. The audience cries out for more, loving each and every note that is chimed, but alas, it finishes. The second chorus is over. The audience slump back into their seats, the musicians beam out at them, each one of them proud of what they achieved and that they were able to get through the entire chorus unscathed.
But what more can the musicians produce? They must be exhausted, the previous chorus having been as much a mental drain as a physical one. And yet, they continue. The woodwind section leads the audience through the languid and somewhat monotonous tones of an apathetic mazurka, before a Spanish guitarist enters, the melody he is playing sounds familiar. He’s soon joined by half of the orchestra as they play what sounds like the chorus again. Yes, it is the chorus. But the audience is confused. This chorus sounds nothing like the first rendition, although the melody essentially sounds the same, it is dull and hollow. It is an insult to the second chorus, which was so full of life and movement. This chorus is slow and predictable, and yet, it still leaves the audience wanting more.
We are jolted back to life again by the sudden introduction of the bodhrán. The rhythm steadily builds as the percussionist is joined by fiddle, then banjo, then tin whistle. The Irish Dancers emerge and the crowd is re-invigorated. The old men in at the theatre bar watching the All-Ireland football final poke their heads in to see what all the fuss is about.
As the jigs and reels ring out, we are brought back to South Australia by the returning sound of the didgeridoo, where we started our eclectic journey. We start to hear an epic guitar solo so powerful and intriguing that we paradoxically want it to end, just so we can listen to it all over again. But then it does begin again, layered over the first solo, eight perfect bars behind. And here’s another solo, a further eight bars behind. We can’t get enough, as solo after solo come one after the other resulting in a rainbow of sound that shouldn’t work but sounds so beautiful. And as the first solo comes to an end, and all of the subsequent ones die out also, we’re left with one solo, only one, which cries out triumphantly, alone, and victorious.
As the last of the guitar’s harmonics dies off, the didjereedoo returns with a return to the original motif that started it all as the sun sets on the Australian desert. One violin takes over, the instrument crafted by Stradivari, the violin maker from Lombardia, and plays us out with a beautifully melancholic ritornelle and we finally descend into silence. We sit back and reflect at the extraordinary journey we’ve just completed. We take deep breaths, wondering how such a melée of genres can be sown so fantastically together. We gather ourselves, take one last moment to muse, then we find ourselves already counting the days down to next year’s performance…