Monday, 24 May 2010


On saturday I woke up early in the New World community centre and dashed round to the Blind Peoples House where the Blind Orchestra practices. I am a member of the orchestra but dont worry, my sight is still fine, people with good vision are invited to join to make up the numbers. There are only about 5 or 6 fully blind people and a few more with other sight problems but most of the rest tend to be pretty wacky characters, even though yours truly says so himself! On Friday we had a last rehearsal before the big recording session due to take place the next day in a church in Nomme, the leafy suburb of Tallinn.
During the rehersal the pecussionist, a wild looking man with a huge beard and beady eyes, made more beady still by his telescopic spectacles, had me in stiches. For one song there was no music for the second clarinet so I just watched and listened. For this song wildman on percussion has to play maracas. He started off sitting down but gradually worked himself up until he was standing next to the conductor almost turning piruettes and all the time puffing and panting through his toothless mouth. The thing is no-one really notices because they are looking at the sheet music and he is hilarious in the tiny movements and gestures and facial expressions. I chatted with him in the break and he told me in Russian that he knew the conductor from playing 30 years ago in the Soviet Army band. Back then he played euphonium but since he lost his teeth he could not play that any more... I cant imagine how he was on the euphonium.. something like a Red Army version of Thelonius Monk I expect! It must have been hilarious!
Triin slept in very late so I cycled with her to Nomme through the forest and past the graveyard. At the top of one hill there is a great view over Tallinn, the soviet appartment blocks, the industrial port and blue sea behind them. The clouds were beefing up in the sky. The fir trees had been cut down to allow strollers to look out over Tallinn but without them the hillside was eroding into a huge sand pit. In the small centre of Nomme we found the orchestra in the Pitbull pub. It was the sunniest day imaginable and they had somehow once again chosen to gather in a dismal basement pub. Anyhow, there was one cool thing, they had old receiver telephones on each table and you picked it up and ordered your salad. My vegan option was so complicated the cook came out and got it in person! I think the bar was based on some kind of Sherlock Homes theme but the huge mini cinema screens showing motorbike racing and tennis detracted a little from the mood. Anyhow, I saw some cracking womens tennis finals on the TV before Triin and I pottered off to the small church behind the station where the recording was going to take place. The mikes were being hung and chairs put out and since we had woken late for the rehersal and there was so little seating room anyhow the conductor asked if we minded supporting the audience. I can understand why on such a sunny day so few people had turned up to sit in even such a pretty little church. It was good to be outside. The few who had come looked like they did not have much choice... old ladies who had been wheeled there. One old lady was so small and shrunken and skinny that she could have passed for a 8 year old girl... she wore a coloured dress and stockings and her feet dangled from the pew a few inches from the ground while I squeezed into the same sized pew nearby. She had a shaking condition which meant she was eternally rubbing her hands like Shylock but she seemed very happy and spirited. When all was ready the unshaven priest made a little talk about music like a man talking to himself down a well. Triin told me it was nice what he said but not worth translating in detail. The music kicked off with some rousing polkas which were great fun. The little lady started rubbing her hands even faster like Shylock in the finals of the last round of 'Who wants to be a millionaire'. We should bring her round to New World community house kitchen, put her in front of the sink full of dirty dishes and turn some Shostakovich and the water on ... everything would be rubbed clean in minutes!

The action was getting more and more exciting and I was sketching away like mad! The maracas maniac was on a roll... hands in the air like he was a Russian soldier waving on the top of the Reichstag. The conductor tried in vain to get his AWOL pecussionist to stop shaking. He emphatically shook his head and glared at our rattling hear who in reply nodded affiably and started dancing around even more! Since he was at the back of the room there was nothing the conductor could do especially since the two sitting next to him in the corner were blind and unable to confiscate his maracas and since the whole place was all miked up to the gills for the live recording, words like 'put down those bleeding maracas' or 'won't someone disarm that cat' could not be spoken even in whispers! Meanwhile I was trying hard not to burst out laughing.
Luckerly for my bladder attention was drawn to the organ balcony where the blind girls (this time almost of all them blind) sang songs about happiness along with a cheesy cassette recording. The soloist was a young woman with sunken black eyes and a lovely soft voice. Quite moving. They were filmed from the balcony by the tenor player who was off musical duty today... I think he is a bit of a liability too. He was almost falling off the balcony to catch them on video.
The action returned to the nave where the blind clarinet player took a solo. He played very nicely indeed, such a beautiful tone and deft touch. I dont know if I sound like that but there is something lovely and soulful about the long clarinet notes. I can never tell if it is the musician the instrument or my mood. The accoustics were certainly very good. It is also amazing how different a clarinet sounds when you are not behind it but a little distance away! Totally different in some ways! He looked a bit like Bunyap Bluegum's uncle Wattleberry from the Magic Pudding, but without the sideburns. I sketched a few more of the other musicians, especially those with what I consider characteristic faces, very Estonian looking or special. The kind of faces that are too real to be ever shown on the telly!
I really enjoyed the music and would love to buy a CD. Even so, I was relieved they announced the last song, it had been a long concert but the drama was not quite all over yet. A gray haired and stern looking lady stepped up and presented some flowers to the conductor who bowed to the microphone. The lady said a few hefty words of praise and then said the priest was going to talk. I got the impression the priest was her son by the way she seemed to direct him. He hooted a little about this and that and how it was all down to god and then everyone stood to say the lords prayer but there was some confusion about if everyone should stand or not. By the time it was said most people had popped up and sat down a couple of times and then found they should sit down again. Just a bunch of yo-yo-ing to the Lords prayer! "Our father (boiingg) who art in (boiinggg) heaven... etc... etc..."
The grey haired soviet lady led the action out of the church into the lovely sunshine. I lingered by the doorway outside the locked toilet. A couple of minutes later two big musicians came out of the single boys cubical, both of them very chunky brass players. I was a little curious but as I locked the door behind me I smelt the sharp whiff of vodka! I think they had been having a little urgent communion in the boys' loo after a grueling hour long recording!
Triin and I cycled home in the lovely sunshine, stopping to pick marigolds by the railway track which she says she can make honey out of. We filled a whole plastic bag with marigold heads and came home in fine spirits.

one woman cant come... looking away
cant afford to come practicing at home
estonian government put in new pig flu vaccine for free go and vaccine yourself 
young... NOOOO!
not like the tartu orchestra they drink vodka we play instruments
give bottle of vodka to 17year old birthday boy
where is the cake that Ed promised to bring
his brains are sharp he invented a new note stand... he is a great chequers player, not chess, that is too difficult! chess
He is the captain of the blind team but he is not actually blind

Tallinn May 2010

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