Wednesday, July 8, 2009

the bass flute (12)

the bass flute

for charles “doc” austen

easily drowned out by instruments of comparable
register, the cocky clarinet, the brash bassoon or
supercilious english horn, its transverse timbre doesn’t
carry in a crowd. but standing alone or amplified, a
marvelous solo voice issues forth from that “j” shaped
head joint, & when the player’s lips brush rightly over
the embouchure hole, when the air flow is angled & true,
a deep whispery tone & woody color results that tells a
compelling story; makes the ears hear sounds &
meanings that may not even be there.

my life song could be told in that voice; in those tones –
its overture no windswept epic, but a sober hymn to the
desert-like landscapes of my life, stripped of grandeur
but lavish in the most painful kind of humilty. & yet (as
with all godly things, be it snowflake, mountain or
human heart) it is perfect. change one note & it would be
diminished; displace one chord, one phrase or one solo
run & its structure would fall in on itself.

my lifesong begins with an intense legato, its opening
theme played smoothly, with no intervening silence.
hear the bass flute insinuate, in the partials that dominate
lower register fundamentals, the blues that infuse its
sweetest tone, attack, interval leaps & phrasing,
harmonically complimented by the conflicting promises
of greatness, heartbreak, joy & profound sadness
bouncing back as echoes from life’s multiple reflecting

hear it presage & confirm my ups & downs in the
keening high notes that swoop like a diving falcon down
into its lowest, richest & woodiest tones. much like how
i fell from the sky, down into the lowermost
region/registers of addiction & despair like a hapless,
exhausted bird caught out in the cold, whose wings
became too heavy to fly; how i laid there in a whiteout
& stayed there until my whole world came to a stop.

play on, bass flute, work yr trill keys to stabilize an
unstable middle register; to trill between otherwise
impossible notes. tell them how my miracle came; tell
them through yr technique, yr timbral trills, glissandi,
flutter & slap tongue, how i was auspiciously saved by a
random cosmic dump, a proverbial fecal storm that
overwhelmed me, that covered me up completely, but
like the insulating power of packed snow, warmed me
up & saved me.

tell them again with yr pitchbending, yr whistle tones &
multiphonics, how i dug myself out, broke through,
stinking but alive, to live again, to sing again, to even
love again, though it took years for the smell to fade.
play on bass flute, play yr silverplated finish off. strain
the tongue if u must to sustain yr solo; to sustain my
song. life is good now. i can look back on it with
stopped down telescopic hindsight; with the distance
that some call wisdom. even my present is in sharp focus
& when i close my eyes i can always hear u playing -- in
the shadows of days, in the whispered secrets of night,
behind the incessant background noises -- yr soft
rhythmic darkly joyful song.

© Joseph McNair;2009

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