The Solo teaches that an encounter with the Master motivates us to live life naturally and to the full. It is a story based on true life.
I played the French Horn in the Auckland Junior Symphony Orchestra for several years as a teenager and did eventually play professionally in the Auckland Symphonia under conductor Juan Matteuchi and others at the young age of 20 years old. The essence of the story is factual in that I did indeed have opportunity to play an orchestral solo in the Christchurch Town Hall and indeed was congratulated by those who noted the passion and expression in my musical rendition. I did indeed sell my horn and pass-up a musical career, preferring to “go with the flow” in music privately, for which the piano has been my preferred instrument. The spiritual aspects of meeting the Master however is best understood in this story as an amortisation of experiences rather than literal fact. The messages contained in the story have validity and huge importance in today’s world of doing things for show, when the Master teaches us that true magic flows from a natural expression from the love He has placed within us, rather than forcing others (or being forced) into moulds. Indeed if we look at Jesus’ life, we see that He accomplished the task set before Him in tremendous style, a true Master at living the journey, and without losing the destination.
The young man picked up his horn and turned the music to his favourite page. This was going to be his big moment. The concert was approaching and the entire orchestra had been practising hard to put on the best performance that they could. The end of the year was fast approaching and this was the big one – all their supporters, family and friends would be there.
Whispers were that the music critics would also be attending, so nerves were on edge.
He read the music in his mind although he could do it in his sleep by now . . . quaver-guaver-crotchet . . . quaver-guaver-crotchet . . . oh the composer must have enjoyed writing this music. He was sure that the composer knew how he felt, for the usual um-pah um-pah that the horns played bored the socks off the young man and now suddenly, in the midst of all this cacophony of sound it would be his turn to play the tune!
Yes, this was his solo . . . this was his turn to take over while the rest of the orchestra bowed to his leadership. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, yet an enormous responsibility at the same time. Other horn players could probably do it better than him but in a quirk of fate, he was there first and this time, the solo was his.
He played the music again and was pleased with himself. He turned the metronome on to get the timing absolutely perfect and it was. He did it again, and again and again. He played it from memory with his eyes closed. He played it standing up and sitting down, Eventually tiring of it all he went to sleep – tomorrow would be the last rehearsal before the concert and he wanted to be ready for his best performance.
During the rehearsal he was proud to play the music oh so loudly and strong. The rest of the orchestra played the lead-up to his solo and he did it – perfectly. He was now ready for the concert on Saturday night sure that he would again turn on a perfect performance. “My, they could probably set a clock on my perfection!” he thought to himself as the orchestra packed up and went home.
He took the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of the town hall for one last time before the concert. He walked right to the back of the hall and up the stairs to the back of the balcony from where he could survey the entire stage. He looked down such a long way away and picked out his seat in the orchestra within the dozens of others. Yes, tomorrow night the entire audience would be looking at him in that very seat while he played the tune.
His head dropped into his hands and he thought about how it would sound . . .quaver-guaver-crotchet . . . quaver-guaver-crotchet . . .
But something was different. He could hear his solo so clearly but it wasn’t loud. It was as if the whole world had stopped to listen, and they could all hear it no matter how loud it was being played. That caught him off guard, because he realised that people don’t make a noise when they want to listen. Even from the back at the top where he was sitting, you would be able to hear a pin drop on the stage with a full audience if they were quiet!
He listened more, but the music wasn’t a perfect “quaver-guaver-crotchet”! No, this music had expression to it. The horn player was ‘pulling’ the music around to give it a feel. It seemed alive and not mechanical like he was so used to. He listened in awe as his heart was touched and his mind confused. This music was beautiful . . . it had soul . . . it had expression.
Thinking that he was dreaming, he forced his eyes open and looked up. A long way in the distance on the stage on his seat, someone was playing his horn. “Who could it be?” he wondered. The man finished playing the solo and looked up, directly at him in the balcony then smiled and winked at him.
Stunned, confused, curious and excited all at the same time, the young man raced back downstairs to meet this master musician. He wanted to know more and to learn how he did it and why he was there, alone with him in the hall when everyone else had gone home.
He reached the stage puffing from running but found only the cleaner. “Did you see where the man went?” he asked.
“No I didn’t, sorry”, the cleaner replied, then added, “His music was beautiful though wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but I wish I could have spoken with him, all the same. A shame we couldn’t talk.”
The cleaner understood and invited the young man to sit down. “I know that man well”, he started. “You know, on the way out, he winked at me! I think he wanted me to talk to you.”
“What did that mean? Why did he wink? What did he come here for? Who is he? What does he want you to tell me?” the young man asked of the cleaner. He was excited that the cleaner knew this master musician.
“You noticed that he played quietly I’m sure?” the cleaner started.
“Yes he did! It was amazing wasn’t it? Even at the back of the hall I could hear him clearly!”
“When you are in the limelight, there’s no need to shout, is there?” the cleaner asked applying simple logic.
“Yes of course, I can see that now, so clearly too!” the young man agreed. “I can let the music I play speak for itself when they are all listening can’t I?”
“Of course. Go on!” the cleaner was encouraging the young man now to speak for himself.
“And his music had soul to it. Mine is always so perfect you could set a clock to it!
“There was something so magical about the way that he crafted those notes, wasn’t there? At some times they just hung in the air with an inch of anticipation, and at others they just flowed like a snowball rolling down a hill, unstoppable and so predictable you could almost hear what was coming before he played them. It truly was a lovely experience listening to him play!”
The cleaner was silent and left the young man sitting there in thought.
Eventually he called out, “Lights out!”
The young man didn’t want to leave but the cleaner was closing the hall.
They walked out together and as he was locking the door, the cleaner asked a rhetorical question casually, “You know what the man has taught me son? It’s that the journey, not the destination is what really matters. He has a point doesn’t he?”
The concert came and the hall was filled as predicted. The young man was excited beyond comprehension for this was the culmination of the entire year, and he had his solo about to occur in front of the entire community. This solo could make or break his career and he knew it, as did the rest of the orchestra, and the music critics too. One harsh word against him in the newspapers and he’d lose his position to the others keen to step up and take over. His career as a professional musician could be over.
He ran through his solo in his mind as he always did. He had to, for the horn is a tremendously difficult instrument to play, indeed many claim THE hardest of all instruments in the orchestra. He had to hear it all in his head so that it would come out perfectly when the time came, and he’d developed his own routine that worked really well and that he followed religiously.
The orchestra was now playing the introduction and he looked at the music as he prepared.
Then he did something quite unusual . . . he leaned forward and closed the music book. Even to this day he doesn’t know what made him do it, but he seemed to want to be free from the dots on the page. The quaver-guaver-crotchet thing seemed to be an unwelcome noose around his neck. He just felt the urge to play music, from his heart.
Then he closed his eyes and inhaled. Something was different this time but he didn’t know what.
The conductor looked up at the young man as the music came around to his solo and was mortified to see the young man with his eyes closed. Could he be petrified of the performance and locked up? He’d seem this before with young people under pressure and worried immensely for the young man, but could do nothing except continue to conduct the rest of the orchestra.
Eventually the conductor was relieved to see the young horn player take a breath ready to start the tune.
But something was different this time. The young man took a natural breath not a huge one like he normally did. Sensing the difference from years of leading musicians the conductor instructed the orchestra to play quieter – down, down, down, he commanded them all and they responded.
The audience waited in anticipation of the tune, many of them experienced musicians in their own right and knowing that this was a huge moment for the young horn player.
The music came gently and carefully from the young man, and the sound of his horn carried through the hall and right up to the back of the top balcony. But the music he played this time was different. Gone was the perfection of before with the quaver- quaver-crotchet in mechanical order. There was now a minuscule delay on some notes as the young man pulled the music around, then slipping his way down the scale naturally and even offering a slight pregnant pause briefly before others as he allowed his natural expression to take over the music.
The conductor was alert and on edge. Used to a strict time from this young man, he suddenly had to listen attentively as he was instead led by the young man with the horn. A man as skilled as he, knew that it was the orchestra that needed to fit in and around this soloist as he played, not the orchestra fitting into the mechanical clockwork result of reading the dots in the page.
The horn player was now leading the conductor who was in turn leading the orchestra, and they meshed into a beautiful and unique rendition of the music. The conductor had to work hard and the rest of the orchestra too was on edge, ready to respond in time. They all had to listen so carefully to the music the horn player brought forth, and the audience was spell-bound as for a moment, the orchestral unit performed a little magic.
As his solo concluded and the music continued, the young man opened his eyes and saw the conductor looking at him with curiosity. The young man smiled at him and winked. He carried on conducting the orchestra as he needed to, but you could see that there was a tear in the conductor’s eye, if you looked. He knew that he’d just experienced a special moment.
The applause on conclusion of the piece was long and strong. The conductor beckoned for the hornist to stand and take a bow. The young man did that and the applause increased in appreciation of the beauty that had just been created.
People came up to the young man at the end of the concert and congratulated him, some even pushing their way onto the stage just to make positive mention of the whole experience.
“Such expression!” “So natural!” “Beautifully played!” the compliments came thick and fast. Some of the more mature musicians in the orchestra too gave their positive appraisal of his performance and he was touched. As the people dispersed, and the young man was packing up his instrument, the conductor who had been watching and waiting, wandered over to the young musician.
There was no need for words, for the interchange between the two had occurred in the music. They both knew that when the young man had breathed his first breath, that things were different. When the music first came from the young man’s horn as a gentle sound and the conductor responded by hushing the orchestra, the horn player knew that he had a conductor who was sensitive to the real music. As he had played the tune, he was aware that the orchestra was following his lead and he knew that this teamwork was because of the conductor’s experience and professionalism.
No words were necessary between them, but the conductor reached over and shook his hand. “Nice one!” he said simply, with a tear in his eye.
“Thanks!” the young man said simply in reply. “It’s the journey that matters more than the destination, isn’t it?”
The conductor smiled knowingly, and noted, “You’ve met the Master, I see!”
The young man thought back through the concert and was sure that the musical Master was probably in the audience. Most likely at the back of the top balcony if he had a guess. He didn’t see him because of the lights, but he was sure that he would have been there.
The critics were indeed at the concert and they did mention his performance, some of them in glowing terms, but it meant little to the young man now.
He graduated to a professional orchestra and gained great kudos for doing so at such a young age. He played the dots for a while, but he was done. His heart wasn’t in perfection any more. He simply wanted to enjoy the journey. He sold his horn shortly thereafter and never played it again. The people from the orchestra tried to get him back and to reconsider a couple of times after that but he never did.
Life moved on for everyone with other horn players keen to step up and make their mark, and the memories of the special performance have faded in time but every now and then, the young horn player recalls the day that he first let it all go and started to enjoy the journey.
That was the day after the day he met the Master musician. He’ll never forget it.