Updated: Jan 8, 2021
On Monday, I played on stage in Heinz Hall for the first time in just over nine months. Nothing for music lovers to get too excited about; there has been an engineer studying aerosol dispersion. Getting a handle on how far droplets travel from various wind instruments is part of assessing the risk of having winds and brass on stage — how many and where. My job wasn’t so much to perform as it was to emit clarinet aerosols for the sniffing equipment. Good thing; my reeds were a bit naff, which is what happens when you don’t open a new box of them for nine months. Two or three boxes of reeds a week used to be my pace, between bass and soprano. Or more — I might have gone through three or four boxes for a big bass week or a recording. I’ve always done whatever it took to have the best reeds possible for rehearsals and concerts, and practiced at home on whatever was left over. I still have plenty of leftovers.
You might be expecting me to say how great it was to hear myself in the hall again, and I guess it was, sort of. Let's say you’ve been on a diet of rice and bananas for nine months. You're not starving, so it could be worse. Unexpectedly, you are offered a bite of superbly cooked and seasoned filet mignon. But just that one bite, and as soon as you swallow it’s back to rice and bananas. A perfectly evolved person could probably live totally in that moment and completely enjoy that bite without feeling the future breathing down his neck, but I’ve never claimed to be perfect. If I go any further trying to unpack and sort the thoughts and emotions of returning to the hall for half an hour and then leaving again for who knows how long before the orchestra can play again we’ll be here for a while. A full-time orchestra is insulated, a little like the circus — your schedule is the opposite of a normal job so you don’t see much of people outside the circus/orchestra while you spend a great deal of time with the people in it. Which is generally a good thing. My colleagues are highly talented, motivated, and sharp people, and very stimulating company. And the hall is . . . it's hard to explain, it's . . . home. It was such a long journey getting there. I've missed it.
That’s all the moaning I’m going to do, though. Placed in the spectrum of difficult years that we’ve all had, my year has been, well . . . I’ve fared much better than many, and in large part I have you to thank for that. My friend Neill Roan once told me that people don’t succeed unless other people want them to succeed. I’ve thought about that a lot, not in terms of my success as a pipemaker because you could argue that one either way, but in terms of the support and goodwill that you have provided.
You all have been great. Making (more) pipes has helped replace both my loss of work and loss of community. Reconnecting with old friends and connecting with new ones has been a real bright spot. Anything that draws us together is a very good thing.
It’s two days until Christmas, just over a week until New Year’s. Already through Hanukkah, coming up on Kwanzaa, which pretty much exhausts my holiday cultural awareness. Different traditions aside, for most of us it’s a time of summing up and taking stock, if only for tax purposes, of wrapping up the old year and looking toward the new. Since March 29th, I’ve made 80 pipes. Funny, it doesn’t seem like that many, but that’s 80 points of contact with other people who, regardless of nationality or political leanings, share a love of pipe tobacco and craftsmanship. Some of you have become repeat customers and correspondents. Some of you have been friends/customers/correspondents for 16 years. Some have written in appreciation of this blog, which, more than once, has kept me writing it. It’s a good community. You're good people.
Thank you, all of you, who have followed and encouraged me. I wish you health and happiness and the very best of holidays. I hope you can be close to the ones you love and I hope we all emerge from rough seas into fair sailing beyond.