driving and hauling
It was such a relief to learn, during a recent conversation that, in the early days of The English Concert, Simon Standage frequently drove the bus with the harpsichord through rain and slush. I sometimes feared that this luxury was only reserved to me, harpsichordist in Sweden.
Of course, I asked for it. After taking my share in carrying two gorgeous kids in a slendang until they could walk by themselves, I had, at age 32, developed the necessary muscles to carry pretty much whichever end of a harpsichord or fortepiano for quite a while (during my twenties, this had been quite impossible). Then, I went in the market for a suitable station waggon, invading various used car shops with the outline of my longest harpsichord in hand, cut out in cardboard. My first question would be to take out all the cushions and to flatten the right-hand front seat. I ended up with the cavernous Volvo 700/900 combi model. A sturdy choice: they say that this car never gets tired – it is the owner who does. The last stage was the construction of a collection of dollies of various sizes – after that, nobody could help me any more: since then, I am doomed to hauling my instruments, alone, right from the living room onto the glamorous stages of West Sweden.
Drives can be lengthy in these parts: for example Hjo, a small place beautifully located at Lake Vättern, with an enthusiastic concert organization that has been joyfully persistent in booking our ensemble for many years, is almost three hours of a straight drive away, in good weather. A concert day in such a place will begin with a forceful effort to sleep at least until ten in the morning (normally an easy assignment, but – of course – not on that day); packing starts at 1:30; drive at 2:00; arrive at 5:00;
drive again at 9:30; home 12:30; unpack. In the course of two concert weeks with, say, 12 concerts, even the logistics of shorter trips than this one eventually tend to wipe out the sensation that one is actually playing concerts at all. I’m the guy who drives the harpsichord around.
At that point, the piccolo flute makes its glorious entrée: wherever I arrive, the man with the key has his first question ready: “hey, why don’t you play the piccolo flute instead?” If I was to collect statistic proof for the existence of morphic fields these jolly door openers (most of the time in fact genuinely nice people) would provide fantastic material: there are thousands of them and I’ve met them all. None knows of the existence and specific wittiness of the other. Nevertheless they all come up with the same brilliant joke (of course, there is a danger that my silent expectations influence the experiment’s outcome).
On the way back, finally, it has happened several times that I, within 20 minutes from home and after midnight, had to brake hard for moose or deer. They always wait until the last minute.
All this sounds like a solitary keyboardist’s complaints. Not at all. Anyone who has, in a comfortably warm car, driven through a crystal-clear freezing-cold Scandinavian night, inch-wide ice crystals dancing and glistening in the headlights, meeting a car every half hour at most, knows that I am just telling fun stories here.