Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Keeping the beat

Mr. Cantwell taught my junior high school band, and he did it very well. As you might imagine, junior high school bands frequently stray from the beat, generally by attempting to read the music without ever glancing up at the conductor.

To compensate somewhat, Mr. Cantwell developed a commanding and infamous ability to stomp his foot on the short, wooden podium where he stood to conduct.

As a flutist, I had the good fortune to sit in the front row when a thumbnail-sized scrap of paper found its way onto the podium, entirely by accident. I don't remember who spotted it first, but Mr. Cantwell struck up the band and began stomping, and the shard began to leap and dance enthusiastically alongside the stomping foot. Somebody noticed, and surreptitiously pointed it out to her neighbor, and soon the whole front row was giggling much too hard to sustain anything like an embouchure or a good tone. Mr. Cantwell stopped the band, waited for the front row to calm down, and then he started the music and the stomping—and the giggling—all over again.

Eventually, he regained some control. Then the scrap danced all the way off the podium and the giggling started all over again. I think we put the scrap back up several times that week, and even made a new one when it went missing one day. Mr. Cantwell never figured out what was so funny.


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