THE FLUTE PLAYER
Happily carrying the flute which his Uncle Glen had given him, Weevil returned
home. (It was really a baroque system recorder, but all the family called it a flute):
For some reason which he could not explain, had he asked himself, which he did
not, carrying this slender instrument of melody made him very contented. It was
so small, and yet it could make music. It was not as big as an elephant's foot, like
a drum, or almost as large as a small room, like a concert grand piano. Nor did it
have a yard of coiled tubing like a trumpet, nor an enormous bell mouth like a
tuba. It did not make scratchy sounds like a stringed instrument. He had tried to
form a note before he left Uncle Glen's house, and although Weevil would have
much work to do to learn how to play it, it had responded with a clear round sweet
crystal-like tone. What happiness, he imagined, must lie ahead, with this beautiful
When he arrived home his mother Nancy was the only one in the house. He told
her his story and at once showed her the flute. She was delighted, of course, but
wondered "why do you want to play the flute when we have a piano?"
"I would leave that to you" said Weevil, "I can almost put this in my pocket and go
off to the woods and play on it. You can't do that with a piano."
"But," said mother Nancy, sitting down at the piano, "listen to these beautiful
chords. You could never play those with a flute."
"No," said Weevil, "That's right, it plays a tune one note at a time and I think that
is something I can learn to do. I know I will be very happy trying. But please don't
tell my father or Felicity until I have practised and can play some proper notes on
"All right, then," said his mother Nancy, "And I will try to help you learn the
Weevil persuaded her to go out right away to the local music store, where they
bought a book on flute playing. That very day, until the others came home, Weevil
was busy practising the fingering and trying all the notes, each in turn. It was hard
work to begin with, and some note he could not play at all. This went on for weeks,
and then months. Mother Nancy had thought that before long he would tire of
trying to play, but it was not so. Every day that Weevil was alone in the house, or
with his mother, he practised for hours at a time. And so the winter passed, and
before long came the spring again.
Weevil was ready now for spring, because he could play, quite passably, a number
of tunes. By agreement between Weevil and his mother, at breakfast one morning
she announced to the family "I think I should tell you that Waverley was given a
flute by Uncle Glen."
"A flute!" said father John, "Well at least I'm glad it's not a violin; when people are
learning, they scrape the notes so horribly. "
"That's too bad" announced Felicity, "because I'm going to learn to play the violin.
Just you see."
John, ignoring this bravado, turned to Weevil "Have you started to play it yet?"
"Yes he has," answered Nancy for him "and he can play several tunes quite well
Weevil, encouraged by the somewhat mixed reception which was at least not
negative, went away, excusing himself from the table and came back with the flute.
"I see it's a plastic flute," said father John. "More, I would say, like a recorder.
Flutes always used to be made of wood. It's only recently that they have been
made of metal:
"That's generally the transverse kind, meaning you hold it sideways. The kind
pointing straight forward when you play is the older style, although there's a modern Japanese one made with silver and bamboo"
"That's called an endblown flute. Those made with silver can cost about $4000."
"You're exaggerating" said Nancy, "I'm sure Waverley's is a very nice flute."
"And," said Weevil "I bet they don't sound as good. How could metal sound as
good as wood, or even plastic. Listen." He blew a note, round and clear and
beautiful, and the family looked at him approvingly.
"Can I try?" asked Felicity, quickly reaching out, and Weevil gently passed the flute
to her. She held the little instrument pointing forward, just as Weevil had done,
with her elbows raised a little, and blew in imitation of the way he blew, but the
sound that came was faint and quiet and small, more like wind whistling, and
indeed it sounded a little off key, just like Felicity's singing, if you can say that three
or four hollow sounds played quickly, as she moved her fingers on the stops, could
be said to be off key.
"That's very good," said John, not wishing to discourage her, but cutting short any
thoughts she might have had of giving an impromptu recital. "I think you had better
give it back to Waverley now." And Weevil, who did not wish to be parted from it
for one moment, was quick to take it back into his possession.
Felicity, who had finished breakfast, left to go about her own affairs, and Weevil,
taking his precious flute, set out on this fine spring morning, down the road and
across the bridge to his favourite tree overlooking the river, where he sometimes
fished. Bird song was all around him, and he sat without having even lifted the flute
to his lips, gazing out over the gently moving stream with ripples and eddies
drifting past. He looked at the young green shoots of leaves just catching the
sunlight, as they swayed gently back and forth in the lightest of winds. Then he put
the little flute to his lips, crossed his legs, and blew a low, sweet, round, mellow,
long, echoing, tender, note.
To his surprise, the birds stopped singing as if to listen. Weevil had noticed in the
past that when his father John was at the cabin hammering nails, or sawing, or
using noisy equipment, birds would completely ignore this activity because when
it stopped he could hear them in mid-song. They obviously paid no attention at all,
unless the noise was so close as to cause them concern and to go further off. But
this was different. It was as though somehow he now belonged with all these wild
creatures, and so he came to blow another note, and then another, and gradually
a little series of ascending notes, and then a pause, and then descending notes.
And again, the birds stopped singing as if to listen. When he stopped they started
again their own song. It was amazing, and in some way he felt as though he were
part of them.
When he took up the flute to play again, it seemed that somehow he knew all the
stops and notes, or else the flute was almost playing by itself, because with great
skill and dexterity he was able to play quickly and slowly such melodies as he had
scarcely ever heard before. They came pouring out from this little flute, just like
bird song, which is so high and fast, and full of meaning, but if you record it and
play it back at slower speed, it sounds more like a human voice. And as Weevil
continued playing and listening, and joining in the chorus of birds, he found that
he could not quite imitate, but more respond to, the call of first one bird and then
another, so that he was able in a way to join in the harmony that was the world of
nature on that bright spring morning.
But that was not all, because it seemed as though it had always been so, and as
far back as lives went, and humans were, there were those who walked on their
own to sit among the wild things in the forests to play upon a flute, which was one
of the oldest of musical instruments, there to become a part of all things in such
a simple way, with but a single line of melody, yet touching the very roots of life
in its purity of sound and clarity of tone.
Had he known, but he did not, scholars of his day had already found what they
thought was the remains of a bone 'neanderthal flute' at least 43,000 years old
and possibly even almost twice that age. The spacing of the four holes shows it
used the diatonic scale (Do, Re, Mi).
it might have fitted like this:
But Weevil was ignorant of all this past history, though as he played he saw an
ancient boatman ferrying souls across a river. On the far side danced strange
creatures. Some were goats with human heads, and some were unicorns, and
there were fast horses tethered by golden chariots waiting for their god-like
masters to appear. And still he played and still the sweetness of the sound that
filled the air caused time to unfold its mysteries.
As he played he saw the battlements of a walled city. Nearby in the water lay long
black ships with masts, all sails furled, and powerful men clad in armour, with
bronze swords and far-shadowing spears. Overhead flew eagles. And still he
played, as the river divided and became two rivers. He saw great temples and
heard the bells jingling upon the high priest, and many scenes came and went as
he played, as though an ancient tapestry was being unwound before his very eyes.
Upon the further shore of the other great river he now saw a group of men
standing beside a caravan of asses, and one of them, who was caused to fall into
a pit, wore a coat of many colours. And as he played the rivers rose and became
a vast flood. Great gaily painted boats went by with high pointed prows and
pointed sterns and many rowers, while noble folk were seated in the amidships of
these proud vessels. And still he played. And then the sky darkened and on the
river there came floating sounds of other music, antiphonal, and the seven
stringed lyre and the lute, and still he played. And then there stood by him a mighty
man, clad in gold and armour, and in his hand a throwing spear, tall as a young
tree, and leaning on it, he looked down at the small flute player and he said "What
do you play, my son?"
"I cannot tell," said Weevil in a strange, unusual voice, "I play as the wind blows,
lightly now, and then with sombre notes, as is the destiny of man."
"Strange words," said the conqueror, as he was, "at whose bidding do you play?"
"At no man's" said the player, "but as the sun shines and the night begins and the
stars glisten, so do I play."
"And whose story do you tell?" asked the man, but now, in the darkening light he
had changed form and looked as though he was half a bull with half of human
form, and he paced up and down.
"They should be here by now" he said, muttering to himself, and still the flute
played on. The strange creature paused and looked at it. And Weevil saw a likely
lad approaching. Well armed he was, and by his side a maiden of rare beauty who
unfolded as she went a ball of thread, then disappeared behind a maze of walls,
and still the flute played on.
And now the river had become a giant stream where nearby were many standing
stone trilithons, bowed in their centres and brooding in the quiet vale. Strange
people stood, dressed in white and green and gold, and they called to him from
across the stream and said " Go back, go back to where you came from, these are
dangerous times, and many things we do you should not see; for some there are
whose lives are forfeit." And still the flute played on.
Then last of all the visions that the flute called into being came a giant cave beside
the water's edge. Close within the entrance could be seen in reds and blacks upon
the walls of rock, bright creatures daubed in flowing form leaping or poised on
sloping ground, and bowmen near at hand and men with spears. Then the cave
began to fade and as it went the music died. The flute fell silent in his hand, and
Weevil looked at it and marvelled at how so small a pipe had called such magic
into being as he blew. Now the birds all sang their songs. Such harmony was in
the air he could not but be thankful he could hear them call, and see again the tree
he loved so well, its nimble leaves just freshly opened, dancing in the breeze as
the sun shone down upon the rippling waters and the scent of newly opened
flowers wafted past. Sadly he rose to go about his way, slowly home, and as he
went he knew he never could again play with such rapture on the little simple flute
he held so dearly in his hand.
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