Ohio is one of the states caught in what's being called The Heat Dome. We're swimming in waves of exhausting heat and humidity, although it feels more like trudging than swimming. You walk outside, and suddenly your muscles can't seem to move your bones as limberly as they had moved them when you were inside, and each step becomes a deliberate act. I will step once with the left, and then once with the right and so on until I reach the mailbox. If you tried to swim like that, you'd sink to the bottom like the bag of bones you are.
Last night was band practice night. All week, I had dreaded going because we meet in a middle school band room that is not air-conditioned. The band is up to 90 people now, and even with the double doors opened and the ceiling fans going at full tilt, sitting in that packed room is like sitting on the edge of a boiling cauldron and waiting to be shoved in.
The horns sit in front of the trombones who occasionally fling spit when they play moving parts, and it's evident not all of those men use deodorant. They tell jokes between songs and laugh into their mouthpieces to create this hyena-like wail that sets my nerves on edge. Granted, sometimes they're funny, but I try not to let them hear me laughing because I don't want to encourage them.
Last night, I was counting the minutes on the clock before I could remove myself from the effects of the trombone section. We were all sitting in pools of sweat and valve spit, playing the high B-flats in How the West Was Won without revealing our weakened dispositions, holding our noses against the locker-room stench, and I swear if I hear that hyena cackle in my ear one more time, why I'm gonna......!
But then something surprising and beautiful happened. We took a break from the program we will be playing this coming Saturday and played through a piece we'll perform for the Italian-American festival that's coming up–it's a big deal in Small Town. Our resident baritone stepped forward and asked us to pull up "Avant de Quitter ces Lieux," Valentin's aria from Faust.
The transition was like this—picture a football field full of monstrous football players, all stewing in their own sweat and grunting and farting and scratching themselves in places your grandmother would not approve of. Then flip a switch and picture them all as a delicate flock of birds flying together as one unit, rising and falling with the whimsy of the wind.
The baritone explained the gist of the song—Valentin is going to war, but he is concerned there will be no one to protect his sister while he is away. His hope lies in a sacred medallion he carries with him, and he prays that if he should die in battle that he would be allowed to watch over his beloved sister from Heaven. The soloist began to sing in such tones, restraining the power behind them. And the horn part was like the horn parts you get when you play with the orchestra—soft whole notes and half notes that accompany the cellos, but this time, you're bolstering the soloist, humming base-clef E-flats that feel so great to settle in on.
There was nothing difficult about my part, or anything interesting as far as rhythms and melody lines go, but I could actually hear myself play, and what I played seemed to matter. It was all so wonderful, for about five minutes at least, and I had to dab a dewy eye.
Here is a translation of the opening lines of the song:
O, holy medal
Which comes to me from my sister,
On the day of battle,
To guard against death
Stay on my heart.
Of course, I didn't understand these words at the time because I don't speak Italian, but I was moved as if I knew the meaning of the words. And that, Blogville, is what music can do. It can transport you from a cesspool and land you quietly into the heart of a loving and protective brother, more worried for the well-being of his sister than for his own sake and willing to charge into battle if only he has assurance she will be kept from harm.
Here is the aria as performed by Thomas Hampton. Don't listen to just yet, though. Save this for the worst part of your day.