A short story about the power of the violin with just two characters but a grand orchestra at the back holding it all together. For me, the conductor is and always will be Lord Jesus.
A very long time ago, in my late teens in fact, I wrote my first ever short story about a humble little man who played the violin in an orchestra specializing in the background music for some of the big blockbuster movies. As so often happens with early and tentative scripts, I cannot remember ever completing it, and I certainly never kept it, not even in a bottom drawer. However, as the years went by, and sentimentality set in, I must confess that this simple premise for a story never left me, so many years later I tried again. This time, I had the advantage of time elapsed and experience gained.
This is not primarily a story about me although I guess all stories do contain a little something about the author? You be the judge of that, and yes, there areone or two pointers. Such as (in my case) being old-fashioned, happy in my own company, grateful for what was and for what I know will be, dedication to the work and generally happy. This is a story with just the one main character though he is well supported in the background by an orchestra full of friends, as indeed I always feel I am. And so, this is my thank you to everyone Margaret and I have come across during our 10 years in Caldicot and who might ‘happen across’ this tale during the week leading up to the last day of July when I officially retire and shall stop all my website writing and videoing.
It has been a real privilege to be able to write and video to you ever since the pandemic broke out, but now is the time to say my goodbye with a story which I pray may appeal to some and which starts my collection of short stories that I hope one day may be published? We all have our dreams and memories – even Old Stradivarius to whom I now hand over – whoever he may be? God bless you all and thank you for 10 fantastic years in your midst! And oh yes, if you are a literary agent or publisher, do get in touch! There is plenty of material ready to peruse already and even more milling around in my head. Roll on retirement.
Have you ever wondered when you go to the cinema and settle down in your comfortable seat with your enormous box of pop-corn and giant bottle of coke at ridiculous prices, how, depending of course on how early – or late – you arrive, you may be fortunate enough to sit back with nothing but a white empty screen before you? And no noise whatsoever, just blissful silence? You do need to be settled half an hour before kick-off to benefit from this, I tell you.
Then, seemingly from nowhere, quiet tinned music starts up, still quite bearable if it was not so tinny, and still with nothing happening on the screen.
After about five minutes of this come the adverts. And this is when the trouble starts. For at this point you do not just get the pictures, and the curtain moves right back, but the music is not quiet any longer but right there in your face. And you sometimes feel like you are suffocating with all the noise.
After at least twenty minutes of this, the music breaks for maybe half a minute, and with your ears still ringing you nib out to the shop to buy what you did not already buy before, and to stretch your legs and get away from it all for just a moment.
And when you get back, the film starts. And the music is just as loud, but at least this time you feel more prepared for it. After all, this is what you have paid for and what it says on your ticket. Your ears have attuned themselves to the noise level, and you know it is not going to change anyway for the next couple of hours.
How different this experience is from the actual recording and rehearsals, and I should know, for I am one of the musicians who provide the background music on my violin. In the old days of the black and white (and silent) movies the orchestra in a movie theatre used to play live and sit in the pits, deep down, in front of the screen, and look at the pictures passing by, and follow the conductor and play the music live as the action took place, but no longer. Now we meet in a recording studio with the film on a DVD and with someone to stop and start it until the conductor is happy that we have got it right. And although I guess we are still part of it all, it does not always feel like it. We can feel both secluded and excluded.
The violin was always my instrument. I always felt you could express every sentiment in the world on a violin, from the deepest melancholic moods to the greatest elation. Mind you, some unkind people tell me that the violin sounds like someone pulling a cat by the tail, which I think is a very cruel thing to say. I enjoy the instrument, and living on my own in my little flat as I do, it is company, in fact almost like having a human being there at times, to whom and in and through whom I can express what I feel.
I never was the marrying kind, always the bachelor type, shy, little old me. Except when it comes to the music and the recordings, then I come alive. And the conductor tells me that in all the years he has conducted his film orchestras, I am the only one who has never missed a rehearsal, not ever. And I am hardly going to start now.
Sometimes the films are not my cup of tea, but as a musician in a big orchestra, just one spoke in a very big wheel, you do not get much if any choice about what you would like to play, and what film it is for. You just go when you are called and do your bit. So, over the years I have played for westerns, romantic comedies, musicals, thrillers and shockers, the lot. Sure, I have not always enjoyed the pictures flicking across the screen in front of me but I have played the violin long enough to still keep going even with my eyes shut for short periods of time. My favourite film of all times was “Gone with the Wind”. I was young then, and it was one of the first films out after they stopped having the orchestra sitting in the pit.
I do wish I had been around when they all sat in the pit. It would have been so much easier to disappear oneself from time to time, or sink a bit deeper into the chair, there in the complete darkness, rather than sitting as we do now in bright spotlights in a high tech recording studio with no particular atmosphere and feel to it. But it is no use grumbling, one cannot halt progress.
I am the old-fashioned type and most of all this modern technology simply passes me by. I belong to a different era. I never even bought a second violin. The one I’ve got here is the one I had when I was first taught to play the instrument at school, which is a very long time ago.
I have no friends to speak of, no pets. It really is down to me and my violin. At night after rehearsals, back at the flat with a cup of cocoa, I hardly ever put on the wireless or the TV. Wireless, or is it radio they call it now? I am happy with my own company, as I reflect on the day that came and went.
People call me a loner and I guess I am, but the music keeps me going. It is all I need. Sometimes the conductor asks us to play separately on our instruments, and then he and the sound engineer puts the different parts together later, but I do prefer it when we all play at once, in harmony as one. The big orchestral pieces, and there were plenty of those in ‘Gone with the Wind.”
My demands and expectations of life are few. I am not one of those who sit there waiting for the phone call about the next film, and I am not worried if weeks go by without a new one to play for. I am happy in my own shell. I don’t talk much to anyone. For me, the only sound really worth listening to is the music speaking. The many different shades, feelings, emotions, that only music can express, and on the violin best of all.
Sometimes people say to me jokingly that I must be a ‘second fiddle’. I never answer them, and I know deep within myself that I am second fiddle to no one. OK, I may just sit there quietly and get on with it, and people may not always even know that I’m around, but I know what I am doing, and I know I do it well. The conductor tells me so.
I am one of those who will often disappear into the shadows, but I always believed it takes people like that in this world too. We cannot all be high-flyers or play the drums and tambourines! The quiet moments are for me and they are what I was made for.
I never hurt anyone and never pretend to be someone I am not. When you look at me, a little old, balding man with a slight moustache and big black glasses, and yes, an aching spine which often makes me bend over forwards (but never backwards!), I cannot blame you for walking past quickly or avert your eyes, and I don’t mind. I think I would too if I were you. Still, I manage, and I manage well. I have my music. I always did.
There in the pit – or should I say recording studio – there are many who only play their music when they have nothing better to do. They have their ordinary and separate lives away from the music, doing jobs that pay them more, much more. I don’t. The music is all I seem to have and all that I need.
I recorded one tape once, a long time ago, with just me and my violin. And I called it ‘The Long-Forgotten Tunes’. Most of them were from ‘Gone with the Wind.’ It never really sold, perhaps a couple of hundred copies, if that. The conductor bought one, or offered to buy one, but I never accepted any money for it. He says it is special to him, and he says I am special too. I can ask no more than that. At 79 plus you do not ask a lot anymore.
Music is what makes me tick, and should I end my days in my humble flat with my violin under my chin, I would die a happy man. If that be not the case, then all I hope is to quietly pass surrounded by the music of others playing on my tape recorder. I never could get to grips with CD’s. The old vinyl records had a much better sound quality anyway. Yes, yes, I know – a bygone age.
There are not too many modern movie scores I like these days. But thankfully many of the old musicals are now being filmed, and while the actors may not be the same, or as good, there is only so much you can do about the music. So, I get by and make do and stay happy.
I do wish I had had the opportunity to be there in a real pit in a movie theatre, especially in the days of the silent movies when only the music could tell the story. How I would have loved to be part of that. There is one such film they recently wheeled out, “The Artist” I think it is called, but I was not needed for that one, more the shame. I think it got several Oscars too. All in black and white it is, with no dialogue, only subtitles, but lots and lots of music.
Anyway, it is getting late, enough of my reminiscing. It makes no difference anyway. Tomorrow is another day. But now you know. When you go to the cinema next, and before it all gets very loud and bewildering, especially when the music is quiet and pensive, then in all likelihood I had a hand in that, and certainly I am there when you hear the plaintive tones of a violin.
I am never alone. The sound of music is my companion, always has been, always will be. Not much of what you pay for a ticket goes to me or anybody else in the pit, that’s for sure, but I would do it all for nothing, and sometimes it feels as if I do.
Listen, there’s the phone. I must run though chance of another job would be a fine thing. Thank you for listening to my ramblings and God bless you.