This is the metaphoric story I refer to in the previous post.
What’s a metaphoric story? It’s like a simile for life.
I first went on holiday with Gill to Ibiza, back in the days when San Antonio wasn’t yet a 24 hour party town, just a beach resort with some good bars and only a few late night clubs. We were in our early twenties and spent much of our mornings sleeping off the night before and we’d always end up on the beach mid-afternoon and stay there until most people had gone back to their hotels for dinner. It was really peaceful by then.
After three or four days, we noticed a little Spanish man was teaching holidaymakers to windsurf. The bay is very sheltered so there’s not a lot wind but it still looked really hard. The first lesson seemed to consist of falling off a surf board and entertaining everyone else. Mind you, by the third lesson they were standing on the board, setting the sail and actually moving off into the harbour. At the end of the first week, Gill had persuaded me that it would be really good for me to try it out and provide her with a few laughs along the way. It was a disaster. The little Spanish man was very friendly and keen but I couldn’t hear what he was saying and his strong accent made it even harder.
Try as I might, his instructions were drowned out in the background noise of the beach-volleyball and jet skis. I looked like a complete fool. To make it worse, by lesson four when most people were already off into the harbour, I found myself on the board with the sail up, watching the chap who had started the day after me. He pulled up the sail, positioned his board just-so, and leant into the wind. I swear to this day that I mirrored his every move. He moved off gracefully into the harbour and I drifted sideways into the beach and fell off yet again. I sat back on the beach feeling really dejected. It seemed to work for everyone else, except me. I kept trying but it always seemed that I had to do it on my own. I could never quite catch what the little Spanish man was saying. The beach was just too noisy.
The last time I had felt that bad was when I was at school. I used to play the trombone in the school orchestra. Unusually for a school orchestra we were actually quite good and I’d just been promoted to first trombone but this was only because the previous chap had left and gone to university. We used to perform in Cathedrals a couple of times a year. It was quite fun really because the acoustics were usually good for big echoes which suits a trombone, although it can play havoc with the music as a whole as the echoes resonate differently for the different instruments.
This year everyone was really excited as we were going to play in Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, the piece that had been chosen was really complicated and the harmonies were crazy. The conductor was unfazed by our apparently poor practices, which was unusual – he was normally very serious about poor performance. He even tried to calm us down, “Just you wait” he’d say, “you’ll see”.
I was really scared because I had to start and end the whole performance on my own. Just me, with everyone listening able to hear even the slightest mistake, knowing it was me.
The big day arrived and I was petrified. In the back of my mind I kept hearing my music teacher trying to calm me down. He was always telling me stories about his daughter and how she became a famous singer. He seemed to think that tales of perseverance would help. I’ve no idea why. Apparently she had been trying to get to sing professionally for a long time but was always the one who didn’t quite get the main part in the show. She practiced and practiced and practiced. My music teacher would take her to audition after audition and she’d keep being the one who came second, well actually third, behind the understudy. He couldn’t understand it, as she really was very good.
One day he sneaked in with her and secretly filmed her audition. When they watched it back, they saw that she was being put off by the acoustics. The problem was that as always with auditions, the theatre is empty. Theatre acoustics rely on the audience dampening sound so in auditions, any external sudden noises feel really loud and distract you from what you want to feel. The effect on her was subtle but just enough to alter her posture so that her voice couldn’t project as purely as she knew how. (At this point, someone smiled). All she had to do was listen beyond the noise to hear the sounds that told her what she needed to hear and feel, that everything was back in balance. She never looked back.
My mouth was dry, the first notes somehow came out cleanly but as the piece progressed, the complex harmonies sounded even odder than when we had practiced. I don’t how but we kept going, mostly because our conductor was calmly encouraging us and was looking really pleased. I tried to listen what was making him smile and began to catch tiny echoes of harmonies I’d never noticed when we had practiced. The last five bars approached and I steeled myself for the end where I had to play the last six notes entirely on my own. This was proper scary. In practice it had always sounded out of place and incongruous and I was as nervous as ever.Then something extraordinary happened. The music began to swell as the Cathedral itself joined in. Echoes played notes we’d never heard, the deepest resonances playing along with the lightest, most delicate sounds.
To my everlasting wonder, Westminster Abbey and I played the last six notes together in complete harmony. The audience loved it. It wasn’t until later that I found out the piece had been written specifically for the Abbey. It didn’t work anywhere else.
Somehow, I knew that all I had to do was listen beyond the noise on the beach and trust that everything would come together as I had hoped. Sometimes noise is there for a reason. It distracts you so that you learn in your own time and work it out for yourself Sometimes it joins in and enhances the magic. It’s all about balance.
On Sunday we got to the beach a little earlier as it was my last session windsurfing, we were going home the next day. The breeze was up and I knew it would be a challenge. Using my new found insights, I stepped onto the board, leant myself against the wind, allowed the board to turn itself and trusted my balance as I hauled up the sail and pulled it into position. Somehow my body knew just how to keep it all in harmony, feeling the changes in the wind and the pull of the board. I sped out into the harbour, the sail singing to me and the board skimming across the waves. I was as happy as I’d been for ages. Although I had to concentrate hard, everything was working together and all I had to do was keep myself at the centre and direct all the energy taking me wherever I wanted to go
All too soon I was returning to the beach, coming in at speed and at the last minute brought the surfboard round so that it curved beautifully to a halt in a spray of sea water. I stepped lightly off it and strolled up the beach, almost ignoring the looks of the other holidaymakers whose partners were trying to persuade them that it looked like fun!
I lay down exhilarated and excited at what I might be able to accomplish next. Gill grinned at me. “I told you it would work out in the end” she said, glancing at her watch. “Come on. Let’s go for a beer and celebrate”. We sat in our favourite bar looking out to sea. It was perfect, a moment I’ll never forget. As the waiter brought our drinks, I caught sight of the clock on the wall. It was a quarter past two.