Scott Joplin owes me an apology
Upon encountering the local woodwind quintet, my first, and least important, thought was that they’re not all woodwinds. The ensemble had a traditional line-up: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and the rather brass French Horn.
The more astute observation was those instruments each have a lot of, shall we say, character, that masters can channel into inspiring aural tapestries, but that less-skilled musicians may only shape into a rough, ragged pile of shag.
OK, let’s unpack all of that euphemism: A bad oboe squawks like thirty-three goats in a mosh pit, and the rest have nearly the same destructive capability.
The performers seemed to be aware of this, at least. I arrived as they were setting up for a casual concert on the library’s front porch, and introduced myself and explained I’d be taking some photos for library publicity.
“Oh,” the group’s leader and flautist said. “I’m so sorry.”
She began the concert by informing the assembled crowd that they would be starting with a new addition to their repertoire. “It’s a piece by Scott Joplin called ‘Soulatchie,’” she declared.
This didn’t strike me as a word, but I’m a sucker for earnestness, and I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. It was easy to come up with justification. I grew up in Minnesota, and we all know Gitche Gumee is Lake Superior, even though no one’s actually read the Song of Hiawatha. My working hypothesis was that Soulatchie was a place name similarly derived from an indigenous language that had inspired Mr. Joplin, even if I hadn’t heard of it.
I became less charitable as they played, however. While the musicians hit notes nearly fifty percent of the time, their performance also produced the dazzling array of squeaks one would expect from a xylophone made of rodents. (Even the flute contributed, despite lacking the reed most musicians find necessary to produce such a sound.)
But worse than the tone was the rhythm. The performers each meandered through the song at their own tempo. (Or tempos, in the case of the bassoonist, as he adopted a new one each measure.) Ragtime has never been so ragged.
The flautist took the lead in the race through the tune, although she at least recognized the disparity in pacing. Every time she reached a new section of the song, she lifted her flute and held her note until the rest of the group caught up, so they could all enjoy a moment of blissful synchronicity. These convergences were much like the bloom of a corpse flower: Highly anticipated, short-lasting, and stinky.
The song eventually ended. I applauded politely, as did the four or five people that had gathered to have the music inflicted upon them. (People passing on the sidewalk wisely chose not to be drawn in.) Another song began. I took pictures—static and uninspiring ones, but they at least demonstrated that the library offers the community opportunities to experience art.
There are not many different shots you can take of a musical group that sits in a small circle and is bounded by brick on two sides. I got as much variety as possible, about a half-song’s worth of pictures more. Then I left and enjoyed the blissful solace of a quiet ride home, until I realized…
So lay chee.
Wikipedia confirmed it. The song was called “Solace,” and much like the song itself, the flautist had guessed wrongly at how the title was meant to sound.
I’ve been granted dispensation against ever having to take pictures of the wind quintet again.
Greg has written for a variety of obscure trade magazines on topics such as cabinet-making, metalworking, libraries, civil engineering, and minor-league renaissance faires. He currently writes Free in the Break Room, which shares (fictional) stories about the (real) things left in his office's break room. He currently lives in Ohio, for some reason. Follow him on Twitter.