Once upon a time, there was a boy. The boy really loved music and musical instruments. You see this boy’s grandfather was a great musician and left quite an impression on his young developing mind. So the boy would occasionally sneak into his granddads bedroom, slowly pull the cover off one of the finely crafted wooden instrument therein, and quietly push, tap, shake and pluck away to his hearts content. All this, in an effort to expose the hidden treasure of notes, beats and tones trapped within the beautiful machines of music…
The boy grew up and somehow maintained his curiosity for music enough to say ‘yes’ one fateful school holiday when he was offered harmonium lessons with a small group of locals in his home town. “Amazing! I’ll finally be able to play a musical instrument!” thought the boy as he opened an ancient storage cupboard containing
his late grandfathers’ pride and joy. He blew off a dust layer before carefully placing the instrument onto the carpeted floor. The click that he hears as he releases the bellow catch instantly takes him back to when he sat next to his grandfather tapping his feet and clapping his hands in time to old, yet timeless and familiar songs. He can barely contain his excitement and his fingers shake with anticipation as he begins pumping air into the magnificent organ. Curiosity overcomes him and he gingerly tests a few keys.
A Harmonium (pump bellows at the back with one hand while playing keys with the other)
waa. wwaaa. wwwaaaaa. wwAAAA (umm yeah, you may have some trouble imagining the sound of this instrument if you’ve not heard one before…it’s kind of like a living bagpipe monster…being fed on a diet of chilies)
The sounds send goosebumps up his arms and the back of his neck. “Amazing!” he says to himself. That is, after all, the only way one can describe the sensation of music creeping from your ears into your body and limbs. The notes he chose didn’t hold a tune yet were powerful enough to have such an intense effect. The music bounced around inside him like particles under the effect of Brownian motion. He slowly pulls the cover back onto the bagpipe monster before setting off to bed in anticipation of the first lesson.
The first lesson: Enter Mr Colin Munsami, A name the boy would not forget in a hurry.
The sun rises on a fog covered little town in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. It’s glow wakes the boy from a night filled with musical dreams and ambition. He gets dressed gives his grandfathers harmonium a good dust and shine before packing it into the boot of his dads car. They drive slowly to the community center where dad meets Mr Munsami before saying to his son “Okay Ebrahim, I’ll pick you up in an hour. Have fun. Salaams”.
(Yes the boy was ME! SURPRISE! …switching to first person story mode NOW!)
So I stood there holding the heavy harmonium waiting for instructions from Mr Munsami. “Hi” he says “I’m Colin, let me introduce you to the other trainees…”. I smiled and introduced myself, all the while longing for the formalities to end so I could start my musical journey. Finally Colin dropped a bombshell
“Guys, I’m really sorry about all this but our bookings for a room inside the community center have not worked out. I’ve spoken to the priest at the temple next door and he won’t let us use one of their rooms either. On the plus side I have found a room we can use, please bear with me. This is only a temporary arrangement.”
So the group and I (around 7 people) follow Colin into a room around the back of the building. And when I say room, I mean a men’s room… We all just stood there in silence for a few minutes afraid to put our treasured instruments onto the floor. Colin thoughtfully opens all the windows and turns on all the lights before laying some blankets onto the floor and inviting us to sit down…
AAARGH! This was not what I had pictured in my dreams…
After a number of the other students sat down I reluctantly followed suite, surely the skills I’ll learn will outweigh having to practice the harmonium in a toilet. I’m sure my grandfather was turning in his grave after he saw me soil his beloved instrument by playing its oyster-shell keys and pearl inlays in the armpits of the devil.
So began my first harmonium lesson. I must admit trying to learn a new skill with a potty in the corner staring at you was quite difficult. So Colin, seeming quite unperturbed with our surroundings, commenced the lesson with yet another bombshell.
“Class, before you can learn to play you must learn to SING!”.
I didn’t think it was possible but my heart sank even lower than it already was. In fact, were it not for our location I may have requested to be excused to relieve the immense strain being contained within my bowels. Let me put things into perspective.
I CANT SING!
I DETEST SINGING!
I HAVE A CRAP VOICE!
MY VOICE HAD JUST BROKEN!
I JUST WANTED TO PLAY SOME FRIGGIN HARMONIUM!!!
So I bit the bullet and went along. I can imagine the confused look on some poor member of the public on his way to the loo when he hears a terrible, loud and off-key singing emanating from his destination. Needless to say the first lesson ended without me even hearing the sound of a harmonium.
The second lesson:
I waved goodbye to my dad hoping and praying that Colin had booked a venue…he hadn’t (I’m guessing he saved some cash by not renting out a venue and just using the toilet for band prac…besides, it worked last week… the cheapness of some people never fails to amaze me). So we laid down some blankets in the loo (again) and bloody well started singing for 15 minutes before Colin said “I think we can move on to the next section”. Queue bombshell number 3…
“You must now learn to keep rhythm, you can only play after you know how to sing and keep rhythm.”
The next 45 minutes went by very slowly as we clapped and sang together to Colins playing …in a toilet. I went home a broken boy that day.
The third lesson:
I wore my old clothes in anticipation of sitting on the floor in the community center toilets for a third time. I almost didn’t even take my harmonium along. Luckily I did because Colin had finally decided to let us actually play today. Now we could finally sing, clap AND jam together…in the toilet. We started with basics and quickly realised that Colin was an AWFUL teacher.
The fourth lesson:
I had learned a bit and had practiced more than enough to know all the basics without having to look at crib sheets. Colin had a different look on his face today, we all knew something was going to be announced.
“Class, I want you all to accompany me for a junior harmonium concert in Pietermaritzburg”
(I’m being dead serious! That’s what he said…after FOUR lessons!).
“I assure you that you will all get trophies for your efforts”
(Is this guy kidding!!?? Trophies! Were we up against a bunch of farm animals with instruments?).
And that was all I could take. I told my dad that harmonium was just not for me and I wanted to give up the lessons.
Up yours Colin!