Arctic jam session


It’s part of the human condition

Sooner or later you’ll need a physician,

     But later or soon

     You’ll be wanting a tune,

And then you’ll need a musician.

The sun came out while I was asleep, warming the well insulated apartment to a temperature of beastly hot. 

Mondays, I was warned, are busy here at the hospital in Barrow.

Half the toddlers I saw today I was able to examine without the use of force, half not.  The set up of the exam rooms is not conducive to my system of atraumatic pediatric examination; I’m having Bethany send my pocket otoscope. 

I augmented my Inupiak vocabulary by two words today:  appa (grandmother) and akka (grandfather). My informant talked about how grandmother used to be anna and mother used to be appa.  Living languages change, which is what makes them living.  Latin lives on as Spanish, Italian, and French.

While I was working, spring came to Barrow.  The sun was bright and warm melt water ran from the piles of snow. 

After supper, one of the other physicians, Mac, took me to a band rehearsal.

The human urge to music can no more be repressed than the human urge to love or to worship.  I should not have been surprised to find a live music community here in Barrow.

 The studio is five minutes stroll from the hospital.  Mac and I walked through the gritty Arctic mud to the house of the guitarist.

He is very good at his craft.  I feel a poser next to him.  It is evident that he practices a lot.

At one time I was a barely competent rock musician, which meant that I could play at peak volume for four or five hours, but that was forty years ago when my hair was in a pony tail and I thought that my generation would change the world for the better with our music.

Mac used his iPhone app to tune the instruments; it reads out on a dial on the phone’s face.  To my concern, my horn can be an entire half step out of tune; when I go to my high register I have to “bend” the note vigorously to get it to the right pitch, meaning I have to apply muscular pressure to the corners of my mouth to alter the note.  My lips aren’t that muscular anymore. 

We tried warming up with a twelve bar blues.  I improvised with a few riffs and phrases pirated from stuff that I wrote when I thought I could be a jazz musician and a composer. 

We moved to Cuando Caliente El Sol and I had difficulty transposing what I read on the sheet from C to B flat.  The fourth time through I sort of got it.

Mac, on the trumpet, was kind and didn’t push me too hard, but two numbers later I found sweat stains on my shirt.

Playing soprano sax requires an immense amount of physical work.

We came to a song called The Preacher.  I absolutely could not make sense of what was written on the page.  Mac showed me a basic blues scale.

Basic blues scale?  I recognize it when I hear one but nobody ever taught me.  Clearly, I went to the wrong music department.

After a while I started to relax and go with the flow. I used the scale Mac showed me.  Out of nowhere I went down to my lower register and I held the notes without losing control. 

By the end of the session my lips were such mush I couldn’t seal around the mouthpiece to make a sound.  I had done well for about half the numbers.

After playing for the better part of two hours, Mac and I said our goodbyes and stepped into the long circumpolar afternoon, the smell of melting snow and greening vegetation caressing our nostrils.  Birds sang lustily.

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