Today was music exam day for 15 children. Well, for many more than 15, but that was the number that I was scheduled to accompany.
Mostly they were doing their first ever exams; a flock of flautists all negotiating the intricacies of "Greensleeves" and "Hot Chilli"; a clutch of clarinetists puffing through "Andante" and "Funeral March" and a - well, a group of violinists wrestling with "Mattachins", "Daisy Bell" and "Dvorak" - not the composer, but a national dance. I hadn't thought of Dvorak being the name of a dance - like having the surname "March" or "Round", maybe.
I might be playing the accompaniment for the same piece over and over again, but each candidate plays it differently. Mostly they get the timing and the notes right, but you have to be alert for idiosyncrasies. One of the "Daisy Bell" players had no sense of three-beats-in-a-bar, so I had to be ready to accompany whatever she was playing at whatever moment she decided to play it. I needed a mixture of lightning reflexes and telepathic anticipation of what would happen next.
In between, I accompanied some more advanced players, with accompaniments that are far more taxing. One was playing a contemporary piece called "Paradise Stomp" which is demanding for both player and accompanist. I'm not sure what happened at the bottom of the third page. I'm fairly certain that in the stress of the moment she cut short a couple of top notes but I had my too hands full, literally, to be sure. Further chaos ensued throughout page 4 as we tried to get back together. I had her part written above my music, and every time I thought I knew where she had got to, everything changed and I had to search again, while continuing to keep the rhythm and play something approximating to the right notes. We did manage to find each other, and stick together, for the final page.
I have no idea what the examiner thought of our rendition (have you ever noticed that the word "render" has two meanings; to give, and also to tear into pieces?). I smiled encouragingly as I left the room, and hoped for the best.
I found that piece going round and round in my head when I was in that half-awake, half-asleep state the next evening and morning.
We had good news; my mother has been transferred to the stroke rehab ward in a hospital about 10 miles closer to our home. The round trip of 40 miles through tangled traffic has been very taxing, and the shorter journey time will be most welcome.