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Of birds and a tuba

MEMORY occasionally fetches up a lovely morning at Assisi when there should have been birds a-twitter to set the orient sun to music, and there were no birds. We had noticed a lack of feathered songsters at Italian matins, but at Assisi there should always be birds. St. Francis had preached to the Assisi birds, as just about every art museum in Europe had reminded us, and here we were in birdless Assisi. Later that day, Assisi itself gave us our answer - in the public market we saw the songbirds displayed along with sausages and smoked fish and other delicacies of the high kitchen, and if you're going to eat your birds, you won't hear them sing. Memory in this matter was just now jogged by the recent effort in Belgium to save the songbirds and keep them out of the gastronomic stewpot. There appeared a considerable group of bird-protection advocates to demonstrate against capturing birds that twitter. For some reason the dispatches failed to explain that these people put on a welter of noise and clatter to attract attention to their cause, possibly a contrapuntal effort to accentuate extremes. Anyway, the police came on the double and made these demonstrators quit shaking rattles, beating pans, scraping washboards, and making what was termed a cacophony. Naturally this put a crimp in the demonstration, and the bird lovers retired to think things over.

Anybody who loves birds can't be all bad, and we must all feel good that these demonstrators soon resolved their problem and returned to pursue their purpose. There is accordingly some likelihood the songbirds of Belgium will be diverted from the menu and allowed to sing their little hearts out for the embellishment of the future. The demonstrators simply went highbrow.

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If beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, dissonance lingers in the ears of those who prefer dissonance. The cacophony that offended the police has now become a ``cultural experience,'' and the demonstration has become a ``program.'' Those who made all the noise are now ``musicians.'' These musicians no longer render a proscribed hullabaloo; they ``perform a symphonic diversion.'' The gent with all the tin cans on a string is now a percussionist, and the lady who strangles the musical saw wears a spangled evening gown and has a boy who turns the sheet music for her. The premi`ere (under new management) was described as ``an expression of disharmony in the implementation of European Community songbird protection guidelines.'' The conductor wore tails, a tall hat, and plush earmuffs.

There wondrously appeared, at about the same time, a duly registered charitable organization titled ``The Society for the Rights of Musical Performance and Mechanical Duplication.'' This society hands out press releases and explains that the so-called clatter in requiem for the songbirds is really a performance of music worthy of copyright protection. Scores are offered so the selections can be played by other orchestras anywhere - Vienna, London, New York. The society rejects any suggestion that the horrendous oratorio is not serious music and points out (with considerable justification) that the opus is far better in many ways than 117 percent of contemporary music, which, it asserts, is strictly for the birds.

The police are baffled. They well know how to respond to antinoise complaints but have no official brief on what to do about suppressing music. Not too many demonstrations in our bewildering times have enjoyed this protective aura of culture and respectability, and there is no rationale about police brutality and musicology.

For some reason I'm reminded of the time Pete Robideau brought his tuba to the PTA meeting and played Rubinstein's ``Melody in F.'' The school board bought a tuba for the band, and somebody objected that the school board didn't buy fiddles and saxophones, but each student brought his own, so why should the boy who blows the tuba get a free ride? The explanation was that the tuba is not a solo instrument, and Pete came to PTA to prove that it is.

I'm also reminded of the Scot who had a room at the Glen House and told how rude everybody was to him. They pounded on his door and shouted, jumped on the floor overhead, beat up under with a mop handle, and just ruined his stay at the resort. He said he'd never encountered such vulgarity and was disgusted. People said they never heard of such and didn't blame him - what did he do about it? He said he didn't do anything about it, he wouldn't acknowledge such rudeness - he just sat there in his room on a chair and quietly played his bagpipe.

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