Saturday, June 7, 2008


I had joined the Hamilton Citizen’s Band in New Zealand during my 1977 sabbatical. We were rehearsing, and the director looked at me said, “Play the third crotchet in the first measure after the double bar.”

I remember looking at him with a blank stare.

Then, in desperation, I had leaned over to the woman to my right in the second cornet section and asked, “What’s a crotchet?”

She pointed to a quarter note.

“That’s a quarter note,” I said.

“That’s a crotchet,” she said.

And the light dawned. All the notes had names. It turned out that a quaver was an eighth note, a minim was a half note, and so on. The musical notation was the same, but the names were different.

This year I had the same trouble playing with the Tallinn Tehnikal Ülikooli Puhkpilli Orkester (The Tallinn Technical University Wind Orchestra). I realized I was in trouble soon after I sat down in the euphonium section, when the director (a dynamo of a woman named Reet Brauer) asked me to play a “mi”.

“What on earth is a mi?” I thought to myself, trying madly to remember something from the The Sound of Music. Reet sensed my discomfort and asked the entire section to play a mi, and mi turned out to be an E. “Doh, a deer, a….” etc.

I have learned a few more things. There are no “flats”, but “bemols”, and measures are “takts” and so on. Just as in New Zealand, the page of music looks the same, but the spoken language of music is different.

Once the music is played and is in the air, however, it knows no nationality. And musicians from all over the world are united in their love of playing in bands, as I have again learned from my experience here. I was warmly welcomed and made to feel at home with the wind band, and even played a concert with them.

The music they have is a mix of old stuff from the Soviet time and a few purloined pieces from other bands. Most interesting to me is the music from years past. Few of these pieces have an identified composer, and none are of course copyrighted. Others are of curious parentage. We played a piece entitled “Dixie Patrol” and it turned out to be the old Glenn Miller favorite, “American Patrol” with a few bars of “Dixie”. My new-found friends chuckled when they told me that the title had to be changed to accommodate the Soviet censor who would not have allowed the band to play anything American.


Peggy-NH said...

Glad to see you are still playing, as is your band here in New London, NH. Instrumentation seems similar to ours and I like the uniform jacket color - vibrant. Interestingly, though, my eye was drawn to the roof behind the band canopy - it's unlike any I've ever seen (i.e. they don't have them like that here in NH).

Aarne said...

The band was performing at the national open air museum where they have reconstructed old farms from all over Estonia. The roof behind the band is a typical farmhouse, with thatched roof, from the mid 1800s.