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Maxed out

Tales from summers past

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Due to technical difficulties - my brain stopped working sometime during Chiliwack's numbing display of three-chord nostalgia, if you really need to know - I'm dishing up a rerun this week.

With the dog days of summer finally threatening to descend on Whistler, what better way to celebrate than with three shaggy dog stories.

In the years before I left Toronto, the city underwrote some really cheap concerts each summer at Ontario Place, a boondoggle on the lake left over from a bygone day. One particular summer, the Toronto Symphony performed Beethoven's Ninth, a swashbuckling piece of music if ever there was one. Making the performance even more dramatic was a thunder and lightning storm cruising past on Lake Ontario.

Anyway, there are to this story two important points. In Beethoven's Ninth, there is an inordinately long stretch where there is not a single note written for the bass violins. Nothing for page after page. Bass violinists hate this. They have to just sit there and prop up their instruments and try and remain attentive without grabassing the person in front of them. The second thing that's important is that Ontario Place is licensed. Just outside where the old stage used to be, there was a quasi-pub that served indifferent food and decently cold beer.

Seeing an opportunity not usually offered them, the bass players - having fiddled their parts in the opening of the Ninth - quietly laid down their fiddles and crept to the back of the stage and out to the pub to enjoy the night air and a pint.

Those of you who have sweated your way through an Ontario summer know how refreshing a cold drink can be on a sultry, torpid, summer night. The rest of you can guess. As one beer turned into two and into three because they went down so easily and quickly, the third bass said sheepishly, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It'd be awfully embarrassing, if we were late."

The first bass player, who'd planned this well in advance, quelled his fears, saying, "Don't worry. I figured we might need a little more time so I tied a string around the last few pages of the score. When the boss gets to them, he's gonna have to slow the tempo down while he leads with one hand and deals with the string with the other."

They toasted this wisdom and congratulated each other and particularly the first bass who was not only a better player but obviously a lot smarter than the rest of them. However, creeping back on stage, they found the conductor glaring at them and knew they'd stuck around a beer too long.

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