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Here Comes Treble: Transcendent Friendships

"Wonderful, life-long friendships grow when musicians play together. I am incredibly lucky to be a musician, and to have forged so many marvellous musical friendships in 50 years, and counting, of playing my flute,'' writes Isabel Bradley.

Towards the end of a performance of clarinet and piano duos, the pianist, Jacob, stood up to give the audience some further information. Earlier, while introducing a transcription of an operatic aria for clarinet and piano, he’d told us of a performance given in Johannesburg’s earlier days by an amateur company. They had, mistakenly as it turned out, decided not to have a dress rehearsal.

The hero, who had rather longer legs than usual topped by a rather short and frail body, was given a Roman soldier’s costume with a rigid body-cast that made him look very muscular. During one aria, he had to fall to his knees in front of his beloved. His rigid tunic landed four-square on the stage in line with his knees and his head disappeared inside the extended body: as he sang his heart out, all that the audience saw was a headless soldier.

We awaited his next announcement with great and amused anticipation. Instead, to our consternation, he choked up and couldn’t speak. Strong emotion had him in its grip. He waved his hand toward the clarinettist, Etienne.

“Just before we came on stage,” explained Etienne, “Jacob and I worked out that we’ve been working together for over thirty years. It’s like a kind of marriage: when he slows down, I anticipate it, when I get louder, he’s ready and follows. We know each other so well, and are great friends. But I’m living and working in Germany now, while he’s here in Jo’burg. We miss each other – I wish I could take him back to Germany with me when I go back tomorrow... So, this next piece is how we say ‘farewell’ in Germany – not goodbye, but ‘until next time we meet’.”

Their closing item was a lovely little piece called ‘Adios’, by Eric Madriguera. Etienne and Jacob had put together their lovely programme of light and Latin music in one evening when the scheduled stars had given notice that they were unavailable. Etienne, in South Africa on holiday, played extremely well - on a borrowed clarinet. It was a lovely, light-hearted concert.

Afterwards, at the theatre bar, we chatted briefly with Etienne and Jacob. In the ‘old days’ Etienne and I were both members of the SABC Junior Orchestra, and though we’ve only worked together occasionally over the years since then, we’ve always had a happy and friendly relationship.

Musicians who regularly and frequently work and play together, form a particularly close bond. As Etienne explained when speaking of his and Jacob’s relationship, they learn to anticipate each other’s musical thoughts. It grows from learning to read each other’s body language, breathing patterns, talking about interpretation and musical matters and learning about each other’s preferences, not only in musical terms but in life.

This holds true for musicians of all and any genre. Rock guitarist Justin O’Reilly, understands this. In an internet interview*, he says, “Music is the expression of one’s soul and emotion and it gives you the chance to say what’s on your mind by using lyrics and instruments. It’s one of the most powerful ways to convey a message on how you feel regarding past or present relationships, social issues or any other topics in general.”

In a related article**, singer-songwriter Kevin Curtin says that ”having the same taste in music ... allows both partners to share an immediate understanding and connection”, while “playing music together you can sometimes ‘develop a connection that almost transcends human relationships’.”

Wonderful, life-long friendships grow when musicians play together. I am incredibly lucky to be a musician, and to have forged so many marvellous musical friendships in 50 years, and counting, of playing my flute.

Until next time…. ‘here comes Treble!’



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1 October 2013 by Isabel Bradley


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