July 01,2014


"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.

This month's entry continues the tale.


"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

William Congreve

"People who don't like classical music just don't listen to it loud enough."

Mark Hahn

"Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune."

Frank Hubbard

Perhaps the venue that produced the largest bragging rights for us however was our third London concert which was staged in one of the television studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Although it was the early days of television and it was only in black and white, we were nonetheless in show biz, the concert being broadcast live throughout the entire British Isles! Moreover, having advanced to the outside of the last row in the second violins, I was actually visible in full form to the world rather as merely a violin bow sawing away on an invisible instrument from a position obscured by someone to my outside and between me and the television camera. At the end of the tour, when before returning to Canada I was to visit Scotland to meet some of my relatives for the first time, it was with considerable pride that I was told by them that they had already seen me on TV!

It too quickly all came to an end in a blur of travel, billeting, rehearsals, receptions and concerts, the details of which, excepting the contents of this essay, have long left me. While the vast majority of the orchestra was to return directly to Canada at the tour's end, there were a few members, me included, that did not directly return. Instead, I journeyed north by train to Cambuslang, a small village, at least then, near Glasgow in Scotland to meet for the very first time my Scottish relatives, who in this case were all on my father's side. Within the village of Cambuslang was a district or hamlet, if you can imagine such an entity being within such a small village, said district be called Kirk Hill, or literally, "the hill upon which stands the church."

It was there, on the hill, not the church, that I was to meet amongst other relatives, my ninety-nine year old grandmother, mother to my father. A fine woman, she was to live another three years, proving that a life-long diet of no vegetables, fried bread and other foods, plus of course a wee dram of Scotch when (often) warranted might be, along with a life of hard work, the formula for longevity. After a week or so in Kirk Hill I travelled northeast to the village of Stepps where I again met and spent time with more of my father's relatives, including one of his brothers who was caught in the fall of Singapore during World War ll. Surviving the brutalities of Japanese imprisonment, upon the Allied victory he emerged a free man at a svelte ninety pounds weight or so. That he survived at all was something of a miracle, but what I remember of him was a warmth and graciousness that belied the horror he had experienced. After a visit to Edinburgh, it was time to head back west, in this case back across the Atlantic Ocean and home again to Montreal. It was on the same SS Atlantic that had brought me to the British Isles and the start of my first great life adventure. Typically, of the journey home onboard I remember little except the food!

I lasted a few more years in the Montreal Junior Symphony but not long enough to embark on the orchestra's tours of continental Europe in 1961 and Scandinavia in 1963. In any event, I suspect that the orchestra had rotated much of its membership by that time and few members of the 1954 tour would have remained. Separately, by the end of high school graduation I had been offered music scholarships by several prominent institutions, but had rejected them. I had determined that although I was a very proficient violinist, I was not nor would ever be of a calibre that would allow a career as a successful soloist. I did not feel I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a professional member of an orchestra, which in any event would not return sufficient remuneration that might preclude other more practical employment. That decision made, by the late 1950's I had moved on to university and given up the violin, partly from the time restrictions that a field of study not being music imposed on practice time, and partly because my musical tastes had changed and the classics were no longer the focus of my musical interest. More than fifty years hence, I have literally never played the violin again. Unlike the ukulele or guitar, or perhaps piano, the violin is not an instrument that can be casually played from time to time, like strumming a ukulele or guitar, or coaxing out a simple piano melody. Arguably, the violin and its immediate relatives, and along with the trombone for similar reasons, are the most difficult musical instruments to play adequately, never mind to master. Some twenty years or so ago, I picked up my "fiddle" and attempted to produce some music of listenable calibre. The results were disastrous but also served to put a cap of finality to any thoughts I might have of casually picking up the instrument from time to time.

Instead, I turned to my true love instrument, the guitar. Not the modern electric rock guitar, but instead the classical guitar in which the instrument is played not with a pick but with the thumb and three fingers of the playing hand. For some reason that must surely conceal a particular genetic inheritance, not having visited Spain until I was well past middle age, I have always been in love with flamenco guitar. For several years I took some flamenco guitar lessons but the pressures of work and the production of paintings once again did not allow adequate time in which to become at the very least proficient at the instrument or style. Perhaps age had also dampened the discipline and dedication that is required to not just achieve but to succeed.

Music has never left me however. As I write this, I do not do so in an atmosphere of silence. I wonder why?

-on hearing a famous violinist...

"Difficult do you call it, Sir? I wish it were impossible."

Samuel Johnson

"The majority of people who keel over dead at concerts are killed by a long trumpet passage."

Garrison Keillor

Copyright 2014 Ian de W. Semple

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