The Music Problem
I was woken early one morning by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs to find Alun in an excited mood.
"It's my symphony, Jed," Alun said. "I've finally finished it - I've been working on it all morning."
"All morning, but it's only 6.30."
"As late as that. Quick, make haste, the orchestra are arriving on the morning boat."
"The orchestra are arriving already?"
"Music is all about inspiration, Jed. You can't muck around. We'll have a few hours to rehearse before the audience arrive."
"Who's in the orchestra?"
"The finest Jed, the very finest. Maestro Maurice Marmot, the greatest exponent of the duck's quack in the known universe, Rufus Spoons, the genius spoon player, Benzine Bobcat on kazoo and Basher O'Brien on drums."
"It's an unconventional orchestra, more a quartet."
"Quintet, Jed, I'm accompanying on plinky-plonk piano."
"If you're playing then who's conducting?"
"You are, Jed. After all, you're the narrator, which is effectively the conductor's role."
The meeting of the maestros started well. Alun's new symphony was universally well received.
"A masterpiece," said Maurice. "The perfect piece for my duack."
"For your what?" said Alun.
"My Drake's duack. It's like a duck's quack but a semitone lower. Just perfect for this piece."
"I never commissioned a duack," Alun said. "I wanted someone who could quack."
"I sir am the master of the duck's quack. I have played quacker for the Berlin Duckpond Unharmonic, the Prague Quacking Quartet and the London Sillynoises Orchestra. And I say that this piece demands a duack not a quack."
"And I sir am the composer and I say that the Drake's duack is entirely wrong for the piece."
"If that's your view then you must find someone else to quack their way round your work." So saying he stormed off.
"Looks like you've have to join the orchestra after all, Jed. We need you on ducks quacks."
"Very well," I said. Luckily I'm a more than adequate performer on duck's quack.
The first rehearsal went well, or so I thought, but Alun wasn't happy. "Have you cleaned the spoons?" he asked Rufus. "They sound rusty."
"Rusty! How very dare you. I am always complemented on the quality of my cutlery. My spoons shine out, the most brightly polished in the Royal Cutlerium Orchestra."
"I'm sure they look beautiful, but they sound like they've spent two months at the bottom of a muddy ditch."
"Nobody insults my spoons. If you don't want my spoons then you can't have me. I'm leaving."
Benzine Bobcat got up to join him. "No ducks quacker, no spoon player, the entire orchestra has become a joke. I can't carry the entire silly noises section on my own." So saying both Benzine and Rufus stormed out.
"You'll have to play the kazoo, Jed," Alun said.
"But I'm already playing duck's quacker."
"It's perfectly possible to play both at once. And you can play the spoons as well?"
"I've never played spoons," I said. "Though I am proficient on the spork."
"Jed Wood on spork it is. You're still happy with the piece?" Alun asked Basher.
"Yeah, I don't mind, as long as I get to bash me drums. I likes bashing me drums."
The rest of the rehearsals passed without incident. Alun's new symphony was undoubtedly a masterpiece. The audience arrived on the afternoon boat, Alun not wanting to waste an entire day on one symphony. In spite of the walkouts by the silly noises section the performance was sold out. Although the orchestra was makeshift, the piece was greeted rapturously by the audience, who applauded every note. When the orchestra stopped playing there was a thunderous standing ovation after which the audience rushed to the stage and carried Basher O'Brien out of the arena on their shoulders in triumph.
"But that wasn't the end of the piece," Alun protested. "It was just the bit where the orchestra stops playing for no particular reason." It was too late however, Basher had been carried away.
"We'll have to continue without Basher," Alun said, "Just tap your foot on the floor or something."
"But we haven't just lost our drummer, we've lost the audience too."
"Not the whole audience Jed, look there's a duck sitting in the front row."
"It must have been attracted by the quacker," I said.
"We have an audience so we play on," Alun said.
We played on. In spite of the practical difficulties the orchestra faced the duck seemed to enjoy the piece, as we continued more and more ducks joined, until the entire auditorium was full of ducks, who must have come from every duckpond in the archipelago.
Finally we reached the end of the symphony. However, we weren't greeted with the applause we had been expecting, in fact the ducks reacted angrily, dive-bombing the stage and quacking furiously.
"They don't want us to stop, Jed," Alun said. "Play on."
"But we've finished the symphony," I reminded him.
"It doesn't matter, the ducks clearly love the sound of the quacker, play anything, anything at all, even Brahms."
Which is how we came to introduce the Happy Island ducks to Brahms, which would have unexpected consequences.