Measures Of Rest

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Tuesday night I finished another year stint playing with the Metro State Community Concert Band. Although the band is considered a class for students who don’t make it into one of the audition-based ensembles, it is also an open opportunity for members of the community to join in, thus filling out the ranks with wind players, many of whom don’t have any other outlet for reading and performing music.

Despite the odd combination of young collegians, working age adults, middle agers, and a handful of geriatrics, it works in a charming way. Some are better than others, so the quality can be inconsistent, but we have a good time reading. Our director is a hoot to work with and picks music that is challenging and entertaining. Twice each semester we perform in the King Center on campus.

The other tuba player is an octogenarian named Virgil, the oldest tuba player in Denver as noted at a recent Tuba Christmas event, and he is a collector of rare instruments, an enthusiast of Civil War era music, leader of the Denver Ophicleide Association, a fine woodworker, and a music historian among other things. He’s a delight to play alongside, even though he’s more a tuba hobbyist than a player (he told me once his principal instrument is the clarinet).

This semester, Virgil put together an ensemble of hurdy gurdy players and commissioned an arrangement to have them play with the band at our end of year concert. It was called “Hurdy Gurdy Fantasy,” but I referred to it simply as Measures Of Rest.

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Measures Of Rest is a collection of folk tunes meant to invoke the spirit of the lirnyky buskers of 19th century Eastern Europe, so naturally our performance would have been incomplete without folk dancers, slide whistles, funny hats, wood blocks, and other silly shenanigans—not to mention the almost-but-never-quite-completely-in-tune droning of the hurdy gurdys themelves. It was an odd performance and a trial to sit through.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had there actually been something to play. Instead, it was an exercise in patience as I counted out measure after measure after measure of rests.

In fact, it was customary for me to tweet about Measures Of Rest while we were in the middle of performing it, as there was not much else to do. One time, I actually worked out the finer details:

* There are 229 measures of music, none of them up-tempo.
* I actually play for 20 of them, broken up over three sections that are nowhere near each other.
* At its longest stretch, I have 116 measures of rest in a row where section G repeats three times (prime time for tweeting).
* By the end my participation equaled a staggering 8.7%, meaning I was doing nothing for 91.3% of the piece.

Measures_of_rest

[Please wait one more minute before continuing. Feel free to use this time to check your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and catch up on the news.]
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I’d like to be able to say I used this time to ponder the mysteries of the universe and its message about patience, the importance of slowing down to smell the roses, or some such psychobabble, but the hard truth is I spent it being bored. Heck, it was all I could do to stop myself from tweeting a photo of the concert while we were in the middle of the song. I can’t even find a way to tie it into its deeper meaning and broader implications in this very intellectual blog post.

And to top it off, with Virgil playing hurdy gurdy mastermind, he wasn’t able to play tuba, which left me as the only tuba player for the entire evening. Sure, I was happy to show off my new Jupiter (for our fun finale song, the tuba section—in this case only me—had to stand and play for a minute), but it felt awfully lonely.

Still, the concert was another fun romp with the concert-band-that-could, and I hope I’m able to make it out next year, even if there are more measures of rest.

[Please wait one more minute for the rousing ending to this story.]
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Oh, there is no rousing ending to this story. Like the hurdy gurdy tune, it just sort of … ends. Oh well!

 

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3 thoughts on “Measures Of Rest

  1. Michael St. James

    Wow! over 100 measures of rest. Great post. Anytime I see the use of hurdy gurdy I am pleased.

    Reply
  2. Manisha Shahane

    Bravo James! I had a good laugh! Great post and thanks for sharing. I had a colleague in Boston who said he studied percussion at Juilliard where he learned to count measures LOL

    Reply
  3. ModernTuba

    I neglected to say a few things: * most of the hurdys were actually made in Virgil’s woodshop and sounded great, even if not completely in tune with each other. I think there were six of them? * Had a chance to play one after & really enjoyed it – and now I want one!* The piece itself is a nice arrangement, and some of the theatrical flair (whistles and dancing, etc) were enjoyable.* My favorite contemporary use of the hurdy gurdy is in the Sting/Alison Kraus song "My Ain True Love" from the movie Cold Mountain. I remember him playing the hurdy at the Oscars and loving it.Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Reply

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