Friday, December 5, 2008

Mangler of music

When we pass a busker in the street, we are typically likelier to drop a coin or two into his cap if he is producing lovely music. But there's this old fellow who occasionally appears at the train station nearest our place, who upends that rule: He's so bad, we wonder if there's a way to pay him to go away.

Just last night, for instance, he was doing terrible things to his harmonica (going by the jangling discordance issuing from that instrument) and abusing the very notion of rhythm. He was mutilating a well-known Taiwanese number, the lyrics to which refer to the pretty damsels of a certain hill - most of whom might have preferred being sold into slavery had this mangler of music tramped up to their lofty eyrie. As Pa scuttled past, the thin monster in darkly-tinted glasses didn't seem to be receiving a stream of pennies. Had he perhaps put out a cardboard sign to say he would head home once he received ten bucks, chances are Pa and sundry others would have dug into their pockets for change, as our little good deed for the day.

Unfortunately, our station is sometimes preyed upon by a second busker whose musicianship is equally bad and his shtick more bizarre. He plays his harmonica one-handed while the other juggles a tennis ball; he often tries to shuffle his slipper-shod feet to eke out a beat, but the reedy tunes are so appallingly hatched that the tapping's main merit is in slightly obscuring the shrillness.

All of this has led us to the certain grim promise to ourselves. Pa and Mum may both hope to introduce Sonny to the piano and perhaps other musical instruments, by and by. But if the little fella's talent turns out to be severely limited, we are not going to insist he continue his studies - and indeed will gently guide him into some other stream of learning (perhaps tennis lessons, eh?). Sure, you might argue that the musician plays for his own enjoyment in the first instance, but there's something too cruel about visiting hideous sounds on the defenceless world that we couldn't live with the guilt.

Of course, it's always possible that we will somehow become embarrassingly rich and become able to sound-proof one of our rooms. More plausibly, it could be that anyone who is willing to spend some time mastering the rudiments of music will be able to strike up a tune. Not everyone can be Chopin, in other words, but anyone can tickle the ivories or puff at the mouth organ without ruining the neighbours' day. We will carry this optimistic attitude about with us until it is proven wrong in Sonny's case. But with those two manglers of music harrying commuters at our train stop, you can't blame us for nursing a seed of doubt.

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