No time to breathe, hardly, with Alexander to look after all day—for 10 hours at a time during the last three days—but now that he's asleep tonight I must seize the opportunity to write about the 11 o'clock performance by Fred Piston and his 7 Trumpets in the Panorama Room of the National Arts Centre, last Sunday. As French was the man's first language, I suspect it may have been even livelier in French; we heard the English version.
Adults and children sat on the floor on mats or round the edges of the room on chairs, with Fred and a small projection screen at the front, a treasure chest packed with visual aids behind him and a rack with hooks to hold his seven trumpets to one side. (On the other side was his computer equipment which did not let him down). Seeing the number of children coming in (mostly aged between 3 and 8 years old) and gauging their anticipatory noise level, it struck me that the man would have to have a highly developed teaching skills to cope with this audience.
The first piece of magic that he showed was a proto-trumpet. Pretending to be a caveman, he flourished a shell in the air, asking the children if they thought that was a musical instrument. When they all yelled "NO!" he promptly proved them wrong. Then came the didgeridoo (which grand name young Alex still remembers... he's been blowing down a roll of brown paper all week to pretend he's got one).
Fred asked the children how to get a sound out of a trumpet and when several of them said, you blow down it, he obediently tried and made no musical sound at all. Then a bright spark at the back told him to vibrate his lips, after which we were all encouraged to blow raspberries. Then he made it work, using the mouthpiece alone.
He told us that his father had taught him to play and that his father's trumpets were all in that large, mysterious trunk he had dragged into the "studio lab." On the first trumpet, sporting a pennant, he played a medieval fanfare (invisible trumpets joining in). On the screen, key words and cartoon characters were projected. The children were by now all ears. He gave us his credentials, saying he has a doctorate in trumpets—"I can cure sick trumpets!"he said.
On the cornet he played a virtuoso piece that "sounds like two cornets" (with double and triple tonguing), then came a demonstration of the cornetto. The Flügelhorn trumpet gave rise to a jazz improvisation and he told us that "[his] father charmed his way into [his] mother's heart" with the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo that we also heard. As well as some other schmoozy, Latin American numbers we had blues and some salsa, and (on the Wedding Trumpet) Mendelssohn's Wedding March, as played in churches. The piccolo trumpet made a high-pitched noise which made the children giggle, as did a variety of mutes including a toilet plunger ("Do not do this in the bathroom.") At the end of the show, following a medley of Disney World tunes lost on me, Mr "Piston" picked a volunteer from the audience: the little girl who'd called out "I'm not shy!"and because she had a well developed sense of rhythm (had been on her feet dancing for all the jazzy numbers), he gave her a pair maracas with which to accompany his finale, and everyone got moving to the music.
Alexander was shy but appreciated it thoroughly; he finally took to dancing on the vacated mats when most of the other children were departing.
We then used up more energy in the leaves of Major's Hill Park.
The spectacle that made the biggest impression on him was The Violins, beforehand, for when we arrived in the NAC foyer, we were in time to see some children from the local Suzuki school in performance on the podium, all in synch, very well rehearsed. In the pauses between items we asked Alexander what they were doing and he said they were playing guitars with sticks, but he no longer says that now. The sulky faces he made at the time made us wonder if he disliked the experience, but it turns out he liked it so much he was disgusted that people interrupted by clapping when he did not want the music to stop." Alexander didn't clap until the End.