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Huilunsoittaja

Faces: Chapter 11 (Part 1)

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I was 18 years old. I had tried a semester in the Moscow Conservatory, but it was too expensive, and I settled in the Philharmonic Society School. I still remember that first day when I stepped through its doors. It was late January, and I had just turned 19. The weather was as icy as it is now, only I was in better condition to handle it.
Immediately I started learning to play violin. I figured it was the most useful to learn, as it had the most career opportunities. However, I underestimated how hard it was, and since then I've never been able to claim that I mastered it. It was at the end of that semester that I started becoming disenchanted.
But I had no idea where to go next.
That summer, I visited my composition teacher, Ilyinsky. He was not much older than me, only about 7 years difference between us, and we couldn't help being great friends. I told him about my situation, that I was interested in picking up a different instrument, but I wasn't sure what.
"Well, we might as well go to a music store, you could get some pretty decent ideas," he told me. So I agreed, and we went to the largest store in Moscow.
Have you ever been to an instrument store before? They are quite fascinating. The first floor had all pianos, and the 2nd floor had strings and winds. Upstairs we went, and I looked around. The floor and shelves to the sides were covered with instruments, so that it was hard to walk. Brass instruments were only on the ground. I wondered what it would be like to play trumpet, and picked one up to feel how it weighed.
"Are you interested in buying, sir?" a rather cold voice came from behind me and Ilyinsky. The store manager was looking at us 2 suspiciously.
"Yes, if you don't mind me trying anything here," I asked him.
"I don't prefer it, but if you must, you must. Just don't scare away customers," he said grumpily.
I hesitated to try this trumpet out, because I knew them to be loud. Then I remember that in my dorm it wouldn't be a wise idea to have one, and that meant I couldn't practice as much. Brass instruments in general seemed out of the question for that reason.
I looked at the woodwinds. Some clarinets were there, and fairly well-priced, but I still hesitated. Not that I didn't like clarinets, but I just wasn't sure if that was for me. The oboe seemed interesting too, but more expensive.
The bassoon didn't even cross my mind as a possibility. They cost more than any other instrument in the whole store, except for pianos. I didn't even look at them.
But I left that store undecided. Something seemed to hold me back, but I didn't understand it. Then.

About a month later, Ilyinsky and I went to the opera to hear the latest masterpiece by Verdi. I was really impressed by the production, and it was very beautiful music too. Afterward, Ilyinsky and I were leaving, when I saw a particular musician walking out of the building.
"Hey, great job tonight! I thought it was a beautiful work!" I called out to him.
He turned around and smiled. "Thank you! Would you happen to be a fan of opera and such? What's your name?"
That began a friendly conversation I had with him. We went out to a tavern and continued to talk until late into the night. The man was principal bassoonist of the opera orchestra. I talked to him about that I was interested in taking up a new instrument, and so I asked him his advice. He responded by inviting me to his home the next evening.
The man had several instruments in his care, and talked to me about each one. He had an oboe, a clarinet, and his own bassoon of course, in its gorgeous reddish-brown color.
"The clarinet is a melancholy voice in the orchestra, rather introverted, even restrained one could say. But it has its magnanimous side. Let me play some of this for you."
He began an extremely lovely melody, almost undoubtedly by a native Russian composer. I inquired a little more into it, but kept my opinion to myself.
"The oboe is quite a different personality. It's more sunny in its disposition, but it can create tearful melodies as well. But try this melody," the man played a very spritely melody which caught my attention too. I felt perhaps this matched me a bit more though, more like a compliment.
"However, I always reserve the best for last if I'm planning to persuade," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "There's a reason I chose bassoon above all these others. I feel it has soul unlike any other, something melancholy, something spritely, but also something more. I like to describe it as... courageous hope," he grinned, and took up his own instrument. He played a melody that I was certain was Russian.
And something changed in me in that moment. A sensation I hadn't known before from the other instruments.
A sensation that left all of them behind.
"I want that," I said softly, after he had finished. "I want that," I said again more earnestly. I stared the man gravely in the face.
He smiled. "Indeed, who wouldn't? It has its disadvantages, but also its advantages. Not many play it, and you would find yourself in a position to achieve much in a short amount of time. Especially if you have the talent, and the finger-strength. It's mighty hard on the fingers, but not so much on the lungs."
"I'd like that," I said.
"But, aren't bassoons awfully expensive?" Ilyinsky frowned mightily. "I don't know if it's really worth it."
"I know," I said irritatedly. "But... I'll do anything to play it. Anything."
"I'm sorry I won't be able to help you there," the bassoonist frowned. "They are indeed expensive, but you can pay for one with a loan. Just ask the music store."
Ilyinsky and I did just that the following day, but we were turned down.
"You want to pay for a bassoon with a loan?" the manager scoffed. "How can I be so sure you'll pay for it at all? That's what all of you young people are doing nowadays, taking things now, trying to pay later! I never sell my instruments for rent or loan. I need straight-hard cash."
That about dashed my dreams. Almost in that moment, I considered quitting music entirely. It just wasn't meant to be. I prayed to God for guidance then.
"Lord," I said, "If music isn't meant to be my life, do show me what it is. I will follow a sign from you. I do not know the way forward. Please help me."
But something did happen that I didn't expect.
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