Earlier this summer, back in the “cooler” part of the heat wave, my grandmother said this year was reminding her of the Dust Bowl days of her childhood. In the evenings, she and her siblings would lie by the window in their room while my great-grandfather sprayed the outside wall with the garden hose. The mist came in through the screen and the water pattered over them, as cool as a tune. When it gets so hot the sweat makes the flute slide right out of my hands, I selfishly want to go listen to other people play or find somewhere cool, drink something well iced and read about how music can change the weather.
The drums, of course, are thunder. They can call it up or back it down. They speak to the sky in its own language, murmuring and rumbling or pounding and rolling. The flute is the lightning. Its melody line climbs up to the sky till it touches the clouds with one clear high note. Then in one sharp flash that lights the world up as bright as day, tumbles down upon itself into its low dark register. The two together make an old, powerful mix. Even when they try to out play each other, the rhythm and melody never quite leave each other behind, though they may overwhelm the dancers and audience. But what else would you expect from a musical storm?
The violin’s strings and bow meet and cross, building up energy. The sound leaps out, fierce as any breeze from clashing fronts. Played to add water weight to clouds, those tense little strings draw out rich soothing tones and flashes of color, bright as lightning. The hollow body echoes as long as any thunder clap.
The tambourine, now, is a mini storm front all by itself. The tap, tap, tapping and the rattle and crash of the jingles builds up to wilder patterns, calling in the wind front that pushes all the dry thirsty leaves out in front of it. It’s a dancer’s instrument, meant to be played by hand strikes and body movement equally as they spin, leap and work themselves into a moving trance.
Whistling can call up the winds, especially outdoors. All those little skipping tunes make the wind want to show off its own skill. Meanwhile, a flute played indoors can cause rain. And once the rain tumbles down, I think, how sweet it will be to settle down and play a tune with the most unruly accompaniment in the world chattering away on the roof. Each tiny note from the wind chimes makes me long for just one more, and just one more…The leaves are rattling like Halloween on the trees, applauding each breeze with a standing ovation worthy of the finest virtuoso ever to grace a stage. Demanding just one more encore.
The cicada singers have taken over the chorus role, like they do every year. But even they wouldn’t mind being spelled a day or so by the voices of the rain barrels bubbling and filling. A long soak and their voices will be fresh and ready to go for the last month of their touring show. One lone Surprise Lilly has bloomed this year, out of the double rows that line the walk. All those sweet scented stage lights have gone dim, anticipating some dramatic event that will come along any moment now. They're just waiting for their final cue. And this weekend the meteors played hopscotch in the rain clouds, waiting for the overture to begin. They added their little trills and turns to the, still too distant!, harmony of the thunder, lightning and rain.
The rain cancelled its performance as it was starting last night. But the worst of the heat has broken and I taste less dust when I walk about, following song lines in my head. My ticket is still good, I'm sure. Maybe, maybe, maybe, I think as the birds and I whistle our way through the woods and watch the shy little clouds in the bright blue sky.