The Viol That Casts The Longest Shadow

Memory is hard to catch, for where its shadow falls, often the details and emotions that could make it a really good story are impossible to find again.

Maybe it was like this:

Around 1991-93, in a music school in southern Sweden, I was in a group of students who were rehearsing for a performance in “ensemble class” – an activity where we were supposed to try other instruments and genres than we usually studied as main subjects. In my group were, as I can remember: Jakob the Nervous Trumpeter; Sara the Energetic Singer & Dancer; Hanna the Humorous Clarinetist; Dermot the Cool Irish Organist; Stefan the Smiling Trumpeter; and me – Maria the Motherly Composer & Singer.

We had decided to perform two songs. I remember one of them was “Fever”, in a simple arrangement. We were gathered in the room otherwise used for voice lessons. A small classroom with a sturdy electric piano, a cassette deck and microphone, a mirror, some desks and chairs, book cupboards with sheet music, framed posters from musical productions, and, in a corner, a double bass.

Jakob and Stefan decided to alternate as bass players and tenor singers. Sara, Hanna and Dermot took care of the other voice parts, plus assorted percussion instruments. I sat down at the piano and tried to play some chords, with a jazz organ sound and appropriate rhythms.

We worked on it for some time, and with much of the energy spent on the wrong things, since nobody except perhaps Sara had enough self-confidence and ensemble experience to rely on for a concentrated effort, we got tired and decided to take an early coffee break. I left the piano and was about to head for the door, while the others continued to make jokes about our coming performance, and suggested ideas for how to improve it with gestures and other routines. Jakob and Stefan had been competing over who played the bass the best – or in the silliest way, and Jakob still danced around with it, but with his attention more on the discussion than on the instrument.

I can’t remember if I saw or understood what Jakob tried to do next. If it was an attempt to treat the double bass as a simple guitar, and just let it rest for a while – leaning it to a chair, or if he thought he could let go of it where it stood, as if gravitation did not exist, I don’t think he even knew this himself. Our music school’s double bass died an instant and disgraceful death a second later, when it slipped on the floor and crashed into the electric piano.