My night as a musician began in an ordinary enough way. The thing is I had no formal musical skills other than perfect pitch. I’d never held a guitar, never moistened a reed, never pushed down on the pedals of a piano. The air was thick with smoke, the chatter deafening, the women loose, the men rumpled and charming.
I stood in the alley looking in as people arrived and chose their perch, preening and screeching like macaws in the bush. I dropped the butt, embers scattering on the oily blacktop near the dumpsters and quickly stamped on it with my new leather shoes. I downed the last of my beer and took a place in the second to the last row of the orchestra, on the end. The girl sitting next to me was wearing a red satin shift that floated around her ankles. Her skin was the color of a glazed donut and she smelled like the gardenias in my mother’s garden.
The conductor stood up, nodded his head and began waving a stick around. I sat up straighter in my seat, a tambourine at the ready, trying to remain motionless so I didn’t screw this up. My auntie was dating the conductor and she badgered him into letting me sit in, without an audition. Since I had no idea of what music was to be played or where the tambourine fit in, other than a pointed finger and a wave at a page of musical notes by the boyfriend, I was a tiny bit insecure, but I was sure I could handle this, I had been in band in high school hadn’t I. I knew about beats, although I couldn’t read music and this was written by some foreigner, a Russian I think, many decades ago, probably when he was drunk, so it was harder to anticipate the breaks.
The amphitheatre was full, hundreds of people, and there were about 70 musicians so when we started the sound filled the space beyond the rim and shot out into the night. The sun had just gone down and the sky was glowing red. “Red sky at night sailor’s delight, red sky at morning….) It was warm and the air was heavy with heat stored in the concrete structure after days of 90+ temperatures with just a hint of the ocean breeze. To be continued
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