Tuesday, December 22, 2009

169. Bernie Landstein

Contest winner: Dragonic
Runner-up: TWZRD

The rehearsal of the Blastburn Philharmonic was not going well even before the guest conductor called a 30-minute break and stormed offstage, muttering and clutching his head. The musicians dispersed, some to take a nap in the green room, some to have a smoke outside the stage door, a few to throw back a quick drink at the pub around the corner. Two or three viola players (it was never easy to tell for sure) stayed onstage, trying to get their instruments in tune. The stage manager loitered near the snack machine, unable to decide between a vacuum-packed sandwich and a bag of crisps. The horn players played a quick hand of rummy. The backup conductor, whose primary income came from a secondary school teaching job, put his feet up in the sound booth and began correcting a stack of algebra papers.

So no one observed the purple light that flashed from under the door of the guest conductor's dressing room. No one heard the muffled "whuff" sound caused by a stunning spell; nor, if they had, would they have been able to identify it as such. No one even noticed the thud of Bernie Landstein's body collapsing on the floor. Even the fact that the maestro kept the orchestra waiting ten minutes past the end of the break did not raise much concern. The violas were still trying to get tuned. The piccolo player was having a case of hiccoughs. One of the horn players, who had a habit of cheating at cards, was still applying direct pressure to a nosebleed when Landstein reascended the podium.

The musicians' chatter and practice riffs gradually died. This, in itself, would prove to be the first sign that something unusual had happened to their conductor - when the players had leisure to think back on it. Bernie Landstein was usually such a commanding presence. For a few moments, however, he seemed reluctant to assert control of the situation. He seemed, in fact, to fade gradually into visibility - though he had walked quite openly out of the wings.

Just before silence fell, one of the oboists muttered: "My, Bernard, but what a big baton you have!"

"All the better," Landstein purred, "to beat... er, time with."

"Black and blue," a horn player mouthed behind the bell of his horn.

"Let's pick it up," the conductor said, scanning the score with what momentarily looked like a glance of desperation, "at Rehearsal Number 61. A-one, a-two, a-one two three..."

The musicians gamely plunged into an extremely brisk march, which caught them off guard because the passage in question was usually played as a graceful lament.

"Keep it together, trombones," the conductor said, much to the confusion of the clarinettists he was looking at. "Look alive, there, timpani," he added in the direction of the xylophone player. "No, no, no! That's an A-flat!" The cellists looked at each other, wondering what clef the conductor was reading. "All right, stop! Yes, Mister... er..."

"Frogbourne," the concertmaster piped up. "Just a question, sir. Do you want us to hold the crotchet in bar 211 for its full value?"

"Absolutely not," Mr. Landstein exclaimed, looking deeply affronted. "Any other questions?"

Another musician put her hand up and said, "Would you like the bassoons to double the basses in bars 198 to 206?"

"What does the score say, Miss..."

"Boing," said the bassoonist.

The maestro rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Boing? Where does it say Boing?"

"The name is Boing," said Miss Boing. "The score says como sardini, avido, senza ginocchia..."

"And that means...?"

"Er... like sardines, greedily, without knees?"

"Exactly!" the maestro cried triumphantly. "Therefore, the answer to your question is...?"

Miss Boing hung her head. "No, I guess."

"At last, we are communicating. Mr. Cheesedanish?"

"Hasenpfeffer, Herr Direktor."

"Yes, yes, what is it?"

"Your score is on fire, sir."

"Oh, dear! How did that..."

"A spark from your baton, sir..."

"But that's..." Bernie Landstein looked at the stick in his hand and suddenly giggled: a sound no one had ever heard him make before. "Well, how silly of me. Agua."

The baton squirted water at the singed sheet music, dousing the flames with a hiss of steam.

"Whoops-a-daisy," said Mr. Landstein. "I seem to have picked up somebody's joke w-... that is, baton. Carry on, then, from Molto moderato assai ma non troppo, with feeling now!"

The next portion of the rehearsal was, if at all possible, even more chaotic. While Bernie Landstein, eyes closed with rapture, waved his baton in a broad, swinging 6/8 time, the orchestra struggled to reconcile his gesture with a rigorous passage in 2/2. "That's the ticket," he said, oblivious to the fact that one of the bassists - a dumpy, pock-marked creature with curlers in her hair - was struggling to drag her instrument through the middle of the orchestra and colliding with two out of three musicians in her way.

"I say, there, Madrigal dear," Bernie Landstein said, opening his eyes and looking straight at her.

The ugly bassist froze in her tracks. The music, like the baton, went on.

"Your solo isn't until the next movement," said the jovial, dissolute face under its swirl of prematurely gray hair. His eyes, however, locked on hers with a steely force that, for once, reminded the band of the conductor they knew and hated.

"I'm just going to fetch some rosin," the bassist said in a demure yet gravelly voice.

"I'm sure the... er, cello section here would be delighted to lend you some," said the maestro, sweeping his baton in the direction of - rather surprisingly - the cello section. The tip of the baton emitted a puff of smoke, at which the principal cellist faltered.

"What did he call her?" one flautist asked another, audibly, during a rest in their part.

"Madrigal," said the second flautist.

"That's funny," said the oboist, regardless of a solo he was supposed to be playing. "I thought her name was Erwinia Mizenboom."

"She and the maestro must have a special relationship," hissed the harpist, from two rows away.

"Enough chatter," Bernie chided. "Madrigal, love, do resume your seat."

The ugly bassist dithered, looking longingly toward the exit.

"Don't make me point my baton at you," the maestro added meaningfully. Grape pips began to fall out of the wand as he said this, forming a heap around the podium. He didn't bother stopping this unusual manifestation until one of the pips ricocheted over the viola section and struck Miss Boing above the eye. "I beg your pardon," he said in an unapologetic tone. "Keep up, people! Where are the cymbals? I wanted a cymbal crash there!"

"But maestro," someone hissed, "this passage is marked pianissimo!"

"Don't correct me!" Bernie Landstein exploded, his arms waving more furiously than ever.

"It really is him," the concertmaster whispered to his assistant principal. "I was starting to wonder if we had an impostor."

"Terrible! terrible!" the maestro screamed, waving the whole band to a stop. "That's enough existential horror for one day. Come back tomorrow, if you can remember how to play by then!"

"But maestro," the bassoonist bravely urged, "our concert is tonight!"

"Get out of my sight!" Landstein screamed. "You - Madrigal, there - stay put. We shall have a private rehearsal, just the two of us."

The bass player gulped, her eyes darting toward all the exits.

Some time later, the bass player walked very stiffly out the stage door, her hand on the guest conductor's arm. She appeared to be trying to resist his lead, but she could not let go of him. He heaved her toward his car - a black AC Frua with mirror-tinted windows.

"My instrument will never fit," the gravelly voice said in a tone of desperation.

"Nonsense," said the maestro. "It'll go in the boot." He waved his baton at the car, and the rear door popped up. Some cars have glove compartments larger than the Frua's trunk, but with a bit of coaxing from Bernie Landstein's baton (or rather, wand), the huge bass violin sank right into it.

Madrigal began to tremble as Landstein opened the left-hand door and pushed her down into the car. The door snapped shut behind her. He walked round and got in on the right-hand side, put the key in the starter, fastened his safety-belt... and suddenly threw himself face-forward against the steering column. And again. And a third time. Unconscious, Bernie Landstein sagged against the restraining belt.

The arms that had reached out of the sides of the driver's seat relaxed their grip on the conductor. One of them patted the shoulder of the frightened hag in the left-hand seat. The neck-rest turned toward her and smiled. "It's all right now," the car seat said reassuringly. "I've taken custody of Mr. Shore here. Or rather, Mr. Noir. Are you all right?"

Madrigal made a strangled noise.

"The name's Albuquerque," said the driver's seat, offering to shake her hand. "Joe Albuquerque, RMB. You must be Madrigal. I've been tracking this one, but I would be lying if I said I hadn't hoped to talk with you, too. Don't worry -- " He added this, seaing the hag was about to bolt from the car. "I won't stop you if you want to run. It's just that I know somebody who, in my opinion, is overdue for a nightmare. You wouldn't know anyone who could supply one?"

Madrigal left off trying to batter the door open. "Maybe," she admitted.

"Excellent," said Joe Albuquerque, pulling a card out of a pocket in his upholstery. "Here's the name and address. Scream for me if you need any assistance. I'll be within earshot from half midnight until dawn. Can you read that all right?"

"H. H. Harvey, Esquire," the hag read with painstakingly precise diction. "The Drains, Suite Number..."

"Fine, fine," said the seat. "You may go now. Don't forget your instrument."

+++ Double Challenge for TMQ #171 +++

You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.

SURVEY: What gift from way back in Chapter 141 should Merlin use next? (A) Karl's survival satchel. (B) Another dose of Endora's Liquid Skill. (C) Subito's Turbo Gum. (D) Boccachiusa's Peekaboo Kit.

CONTEST: Propose an entertaining alternate definition of a word or phrase, preferably with a touch of magic in the meaning.


Robbie F. said...

SURVEY: What gift from way back in Chapter 141 should Merlin use next? (A) Karl's survival satchel. (B) Another dose of Endora's Liquid Skill. (C) Subito's Turbo Gum. (D) Boccachiusa's Peekaboo Kit.

CONTEST: Propose an entertaining alternate definition of a word or phrase, preferably with a touch of magic in the meaning.

greyniffler said...

Oh, I was afraid that Joe was the conductor there. It's good to know that there are some things Black Cat--Chat Noir--cannot do. Music seems to be one of them. I think it was Rossini who wrote a fugue that has been named the Cat Fugue on the theory that it was patterned after a cat walking on the keyboard. Experiments have disproven the theory, but the name remains.

I'd say the Peekaboo kit. I have to think about the contest.

TWZRD said...

Loved the rehearsal, esp. the distribution of musicians at the break. Madrigal on the bass is great. You even got in a viola joke! As for Noir's conducting, well...
Said the back row horns to the opera conductor, "One is down!" (True story... in other words, truth can be just as strange as fiction.)

OK I think Merlin will be cautious about using up that remaining liquid skill. I'd say if he's still got Miss P in tow, he'll need the satchel. For a solo manuver, I'd go with the gum.

A phrase with magic in the alt meaning? Hmmm.

Let's see, we were just in the car, so how about a "car - burr-ator cleaning": the act of neatening up the device that traps cars with a freezing spell.

Not old enough to remember carburators? OK, how about "Ring up so-and-so" : to surround the object of the spell with hoops, possibly resulting in levitation.
I'll try to come up with some better ones.

(Greyniffler, I've heard of that fugue, but I don't think it was Rossini. Probably some composer who lived around 1700.)

TWZRD said...

PS "Bernie Landstein" Now that's a hoot!

Joe said...

Hmm I vote for C the turbo gum..

have to think about the word and definition...

Linda Carrig said...

Thought you wouldlike this chapter TWZRD! lol!

My eye keeps getting stuck on A - Karl's survival kit.... hmmmm.. I'll go with that. Who knows, they might have to rough it.

Up, up and away! Nimbus 2010!

Robbie F. said...

I don't play with an orchestra, but I sing with one. I haven't experienced any rehearsals quite like the one in this chapter, but I have seen a temper tantrum or two and, with one conductor, the chorus director's advice to the chorus was to keep one eye on the concertmaster's bow.

Dragonic said...

I'm voting C.
For the contesdt...hmm...how about entropy," a word which in science means the degree of randomness in a substance, but in magic means the degree of randomness in a spell, like the chances it will go wrong.

TWZRD said...

Yes, Robbie; a glance at the concertmaster can cover a multitude of podium sins.

How about "Food Processor"?:
noun. 1. One of a class of spells, commonly used by house elves, that causes food objects to travel in an orderly fashion. 2. The originator of such a spell.
Ex. (1) The cook cast a food processor upon the soup tureen, and it soon appeared upon the dining table. (2) The food processor failed in his duties, causing salad vegetables to overwhelm the cutting board.

Sir Read-a-Lot said...


Adulterated (or Contaminated, if you prefer).

noun. used for describing a magical tool (e.g. wand, cauldron, broom, etc), that has been used for one type of spell so often that all other spells will take on an aspect of that type of sorcery. For example, "Lumos" from a dark witch's wand will create a sickly green light, and a sleep potion stirred in the cauldron used to make love potions will cause romantic dreams.

Robbie F. said...

Say, is it just me, or did MuggleNet disappear off the face of the earth?

Linda Carrig said...

As a matter of fact, I tried to go there yesterday and it was as if it didn't exist... so you are not alone Robbie. Where did it go? Hmmmmm.....

Robbie F. said...

BTW, here's a cartoon some of us may enjoy...

Robbie F. said...

Whoa! Here's another!

Linda Carrig said...

Great cartoons robbie!

Evensong said...

I like (A).

All this cat talk has me thinking of a litter box - the wizarding worlds' misinterpretation is more like a lost and found box. Cleaning help put litter in the box (magically so they don't have to touch it), which is overflowing, because no one has ever come to reclaim the litter that they dropped. Envision: burned down cigarettes, empty candy wrappers, chewed gum... it's disgusting! But just the sort of thing you might find outside a run-down pub in Hogsmeade, or more likely... Knockturn Alley.

TWZRD said...

I bet Mugglenet was out to take down their "Christmas Decorations". They seem to be there as usual tonight, but the cheery pale green and red skin is gone.

Love the cartoons, Robbie.
Also the "litter box", Evensong. Wish my litter boxes had that sort of junk instead of...

One more definition: how about that "comforter" that lies over the bed?
Maybe to a wizard, it's full of feel-good spells, Or maybe even a potion you would drink to feel less distressed. (Interesting thought: would wizards try to puzzle out what muggles call "Southern Comfort"? Maybe a self warming bed spread? Or a really interesting tropical fruit flavored feel-good potion?)

Sir Read-a-Lot said...

The litter box wouldn't be overflowing, because of enlarging charms placed on it regularly (like Hermione's handbag).