Sunday, January 22, 2012


Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.
- Maurice Ravel

IT’S A MONDAY, January 16, and we’re all supposed to be celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Hours from home, with an emptying tank of gas, I leave “Noma” with the grandchildren and head to the local Chevron for a fill up. A tiny publicly supported FM station is replaying those words I’ve probably heard thirty or more times. Although not to the “I have a dream” sequence, I know who is talking and what is to come. My pulse quickens just a bit. I drive past the Chevron intent on listening to the speech in its entirety before I conduct business. I turn into a newer subdivision ostensibly to check out what might be for sale. Hours from grandkids is hours too far.

The speech builds. Through the scratched and aging recording, I think can tell the point where Dr. King famously deviates from whatever he’d prepared. His cadence tells tale. Printed, his phrases may have begun with “I have a dream;” but spoken, they end with it. Same with other phrases like: “Let freedom ring.”

Rapt again, I listen. In anticipation, my pulse has quickened a bit more. Circling out of the development, I pull into the Chevron station to the words “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!” (The irony of my stuffing a nozzle from “big-oil” into my gas tank is lost on me.)

Back in the Nissan after the fill up, I switch off the radio. I want to think about what I’ve just heard and savor the delivery. I wonder whether the message would have survived had Dr. King simply read his notes. Genius that he was, King composed notes. But when the time was right, he left them for some other dimension.

IT IS STILL MONDAY, January 16, and we are driving the many miles between the grandkids and home. Noma is snoozing upright in the seat next to me. I’ve switched FM stations to the Bay Area’s home of classical music. The woman controlling the turntable says, “You might want to turn up your volume a bit so you don’t miss the beginning.” Dutifully, I do so.

Having played concert tuba in an orchestra, I’ve probably heard or performed Ravel’s “Bolero” thirty times. I knew its sensual build long before Blake Edwards popularized it in the movie “10” during which he introduced all young men in the nation to Bo Derek. The snare’s tap-tappity-tap-tap-tappity-tappity-tap-tap sounds just like it did when the percussionist stood fifteen feet off to my right. My pulse quickens. I know what is going to happen. My part isn’t going to start for some time. The guys in the trombone section and I joke that we could go out and start a load of wash and still be back in time for our cue.

My hands tap the snare rhythm on the steering wheel, but the musical phrase doesn’t always begin on one. Sometimes the phrase begins a half-beat past one, and ends on one in some subsequent measure. Ravel establishes a cadence simply so he can deviate from it.

About fourteen minutes into the composition, my heart rate is elevated yet again. I’m doing 68 in the middle lane, Noma is still asleep next to me, but folks on either side are whisking by in the darkness, needing to go faster. I move to the right lane and prepare to sing the bass [bAse] line.

Following one early performance, a woman patron said to Ravel: “You’re a crazy man!” His response? “Oh. So you’ve listened to my music.”

AROUND DIXON, some twenty-five miles hence, I am still drumming on the wheel and humming Ravel’s work when I dawns on me: The Bolero is never over – and neither, I’m hoping as I drive along in the dark, is the dream.

I wonder whether Martin and Maurice’s paths have crossed in heaven.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

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