…a tale in retrospect…
I am so often selected for random airport checks- security and customs that I am beginning to ponder whether I exude an aura which screams-“please pick me!” Or perhaps it may also be attributed to the brightly clothing or my inability to resist smiling at people…
The Houston, Texas department of borders and customs by a random flick and focus of the eyes chose me as their subject. But this wasn’t just your average bag check for foreign items.
If you’re a musician you may be familiar with the eager request from friends, family and even strangers to hear you play a little tune on your instrument. But it’s a bit different when the customs officer asks you to demonstrate your instrument to prove that you can play and that you are not some imposter causally accessorised with a flute and piccolo travelling to Knoxville.
“Play a tune- something that I’ll recognise.”
I laugh a little thinking that perhaps this is in jest.
There I am fumbling at my case, body weary and quite unsure if my lips would be up to the task of forming an embouchure. But I knew that I shouldn’t take their request lightly. Their uniforms seep with the air of authority, badges, rifle on the hip and a tone of command, to pass or not to pass, it all is in their hands.
What to play? Something that he’ll recognise? Well, perhaps something local? Beyoncé is from Houston as is Kenny Rodgers, Hilary Duff and Destiny’s Child. But with my brain feeling not so ready to play Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it) in customs I decide to take to something safe that my fingers know well. So I take my flute out and play Paganini Caprice No. 20, a tune I doubted that he would recognise and whistle along to as most folk only know the 24th caprice. After the first few phrases of the slow lullaby section he smiled, said that was enough to prove that I was not a possible black market instrument sales-person attempting to sell a few flutes to Knoxville folk and said that I could pass (without the need to open my suitcase).
There are several unusual places I’ve played at– from carparks, garages, balconies to public bathrooms. More recently I did I recital at a nursing home that so happened to be scheduled during their lunch hour. It was Cageian bliss of crashing plates and televisions turning on, seasoned with wheelchairs squeaking. The most inconvenient part was that I needed to get a recording out of it to submit for my performance study. But I think the most heart-warming aspect of these unconventional performance spaces is that music visits and enters the space, which is different to us the audience visiting the music in a concert hall. Both at the retirement village and in customs I could see people’s eyes light up, smiles dancing across their lips. This is why I love bringing music away from the concert hall even in the most unsuspecting and spontaneous of performance spaces.