Victor Borge once explained that the main difference between a violin and a viola is that it takes a viola longer to burn. For my part, I’ve concluded that the main difference between the opera stars I heard this morning and an automobile is that an automobile will usually fire up when needed. But the starter on the operatic howler is unreliable.
A miserable drizzle coated the highway when I left San Antonio at 3:30AM Monday. It was just enough to form a layer of slime that was dutifully picked up by vehicles and thrown onto the windshield, where it enlarged the glare of the headlights. Trying desperately to make an early morning appointment in Houston, I chased down a bear claw pastry with some robust coffee before reaching for the touch pad on my smart phone. I have the phone wired into the truck’s speaker system so I can enjoy good music. Since the sun would not make an appearance for a few hours, screaming metal guitars would not work. Jazz and Cajun music seemed a little too nerve-wracking for a night time run, so I gently tapped the little section on the touch pad menu that said “J. S. Bach.” This would be soothing, I thought, and would allow time to reflect quietly in the hours before I reached the madness of Houston traffic.
I had never heard Liebestraum played on a harp before. For that matter, I had no idea that one could play as many notes simultaneously as can be played on a harp. It was beautiful and put me in a mood to anticipate what the sky might look like in a few short hours when the sun would work its magic, changing the horizon first from an inky black to rich hues of deep blue and purple. I knew the very edges of dark clouds would then take on a reddish tint that would slowly spread, turning orange and brightening the landscape. The world would awaken and I would be invigorated. This is how music speaks to me at times, by helping to illuminate with the mind things that the five senses dismiss as routine.
Soon a harpsichord struck up a strange tune, sounding rather like a group of skeletons doing the tango. I was stuck on that uncomfortable visual when the next number was announced by violins that sounded like a soft breeze. So light and soothing until, …until it happened. A soprano entered the concert hall with a pocket full of vowels she had evidently purchased from Pat Sajak, and began dispensing them freely. It could have been a foreign language I suppose, but I doubt it. Is there any language that prohibits consonants? At inconsistent intervals our soprano would pluck out a vowel she was particularly fond of and take it for a tour. From one end of an arpeggio to the other she would haul it, up and down. There was no end to it. She dragged that thing through every scale in the neighborhood with an “ah ah ah ah ah ah AAAAHHHHHHH!.” Or perhaps it was stuck to her shoe. And, oh the heights she could reach. I’ll take my oath on a stack of Bibles that there’s not a dog whistle between San Antonio and Houston that can stand the competition. This is what too much starch in one’s shorts can do to a person. But clearly she was having difficulty bringing this project to a conclusion. So presently, a ’57 Chevy cleverly disguised as a baritone came in to assist. He went to work on the problem from a different angle, but his tool box had no more than the same collection of vowels the soprano had employed. His starter was stuck. Confusion reigned until they both seemed to lose interest in the project altogether and the violins sounded intermission.
Next, a full chorus belted another round sounding nothing less than magnificent. I’ve no earthly idea what the commotion was about, but they were singing boisterously and making a strong and majestic racket until, …until you know who came back on stage. The chorus receded and made way for Madam Starchy Drawers herself. Only this time she toted a few “R”s with her as well, which she rolled all over the place. She seemed a good deal more confident this time around though and didn’t need further help from the baritone. But he showed up anyway, and with his starter rebuilt. The brass section got into the act. The chorus was thoroughly energized, the kettle drums rumbled like thunder, Chevy and the Drawers howled one for Old Glory, and the cymbals smashed the whole thing to bits.
On second thought, Imus in the Morning wasn’t such a bad option, as the sun came up and Houston came into sight. Ultimately it turned out to be a good day, culminating with the house special at the truck stop tonight: Chicken Armageddon.