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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Wings of Song. By John von Daler

                 The band had invited wives and girlfriends to come to the Danish provinces. As if in response the summer had turned friendly and gray skies and choppy winds had rolled back out to sea revealing quiet, blue and yellow days. The land was covered with deep red poppies and bright golden mustard, the two colors of saffron.

                We had been playing concerts for about a week, but now we had a day off we celebrated by ordering a banquet at a good, small restaurant I had found in a provincial town. On one of my perpetual walks through the cities we played in, I had passed a little Italian place one afternoon. Inside in the red, green and white decor five or six men had been sitting at separate tables. I got past the place by about fifty meters before the question hit my mind. What are five men doing in a Danish provincial Italian restaurant on a Tuesday evening, alone and wistful? I just had to go back and become number six.
                The answer came immediately. I walked through the door and entered a light Vivaldi-filled room with the pleasant scent of baking bread. I was immediately greeted by a beautiful Danish girl who looked as Italian as the music sounded. Her amiable and straightforward sexuality lit up the place and kept the heads of the men slanted towards her movements like spectators at a tennis game. If Sophia Loren had had a daughter with Scarlett Johansson, this woman would have been the result. Every once in a while a man stuck his head out of the kitchen and she would confer with him, her hand lightly touching his shoulder while the other men stared.
                As it turned out there also were other reasons for eating a meal here. The man was as good a cook as his wife (yes) was good-looking. The combination was irresistable.
                So we had invited our ladies to join us for a great meal and then to go on the next day to our concert at a festival in the middle of the large island called Funen.
                We ate six courses chosen by Franco, the great cook. Tender veal, garlicky langoustes, fried baby artichokes, soft tiramisu, sharp pecorino and a lot of other delicacies downed with an intense Amoroso, a young Frascati, vino santo and grappa all served thoughtfully and beautifully by Mrs. Franco. That night we slept long and well.
                The following day we drove in separate cars to a large festival on Funen.  The lead singer and I with our wives got there quickly and manouvered our way through the guards and the sign-in. Shortly after the drummer and bassist arrived with their wives. The piano player and his wife were nowhere to be seen.
                We found our dressing room behind the stage where we were to play. Michel Camilo was playing before us and we listened a while from the wings. About five thousand people sat quietly listening to his incredible performance. Somebody quipped that maybe we could use him if our pianist did not arrive. But F, this tour's composer and keyboard specialist, could not just be replaced even by this genius. We had a special rapport with F and his playing had a way of swinging that made our audiences get to their feet. Besides he was my special, very good friend and after a while I started to worry about him.
                We went back to our dressing room and tried to figure out exactly how many numbers we could play without him. Out of our twenty or so songs composed by F to poems by Hans Christian Andersen maybe there were two we could play without him - and one was a violin solo for me with delay pedals and other effects where he often played an extra drum just to liven things up. We tried not to think about where he was at this moment or of what could have happened to him: the drive was not a long one, the weather was good, but still his absence seemed strange and worrisome.
                Finally we decided to add some numbers from another repertoire that we often played. Camilo had finished his set and the audience had had its break and we could hear them talking and laughing in their seats.
                The stage manager came in to tell us to get ready to go on stage. As we filed out of the dressing room and up the stairs at the back of the stage, F and his wife came rushing in. We all started talking at once, some complaining, some questioning, some saying that we should get a move on. As we entered the stage we must have looked agitated and disorganised, but I guess that was not unusual for us. At any rate we were met with cheering and clapping from the huge audience as we found our spots and got plugged in and ready to play.
                This is the strange and miraculous part of the story. The band had always been very, very good. The quality of its performances stayed at a very high level. What happened now was unheard of. With our concentration all messed up, our usual quiet preparations eliminated and our program thrown into a state of doubt we never had felt before, we played with a new intensity. It was as if all the love we always had felt towards each other had been focussed and released just for this performance. We shook that huge tent up.
                I have two memories of the afternoon. My usual electric violin playing position has always been to perch on the edge of a high stool, half standing, half sitting, bent over, eyes closed, concentrating on the music. Feeling that something was quite different in the middle of a solo this day, I opened my eyes abruptly to see the crowd peering up at me as I flew in the air above my place on the stage. My bow was plunging across the strings, my back was arched and my fingers were pounding across the strings. Only the wire to my electric violin connected me to the ground. From that vantage point I could see F pounding away at his piano like his keyboard colleague on The Muppet Show. The music sounded new, intense, re-born. It seemed like minutes before I landed on my feet.
                After our set, some four or five encores and finally a cold beer, I went back on the stage in the empty tent to pack my stuff away. On the other side of the wire fence separating the audience from the stage, a girl was sitting on a chair all alone. She got up as I came in and motioned for me to approach the fence. She took a little emblem out of her pocket, kissed it and, handing it over the top of the fence, told me to pin it on my shirt. I looked at it first. It was an eye in a cloud against a blue background.
                As she turned and walked away I was thinking, You got that right. I did open my eyes in the sky. I pinned it on and thought, Now how did she know that? How did she know to bring along a picture of what had not yet happened? I hadn't even know myself that we were going to fly today. In music you just never know when or why you might take off...
                I kept the little emblem for years as a sign to remind me that I had flown at least once in my career. You never know with a symbol like that when it might come to life and mean something again.


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