The Flute of Sorrow

I was clearing out some shelves when I laid hand on my old flute. The silver-plated instrument in its narrow, rounded box. How I loved that professional aura it expressed; the box. The flute – if it was a friend or an enemy I couldn’t always tell. I can’t even remember whose idea it was; me or my mother’s. I was the musical member of the family and I needed an instrument. So I was told. My mother orchestrated it all. As usual, my father kept himself in the background, while my sister was busy being a rebellious teenager.

I was in my very early teens, but far too old to ever become good. My teacher was a young woman, I don’t remember her name only her long blonde hair. The fact that she was married, or whatever relationship they had, to a somebody, a musician with a certain bohemian aura, made this venture somewhat exciting. But she wasn’t really a teacher, she was a woman who could play the flute and she never really expected much from me. Every week I came to her home, only a ten minute walk from my home. The young couple lived in a tiny house, almost like a cottage, in somebody else’s garden. Sometimes my best friend G. trotted along, once she was there when my class ended. She sat in a swing and made no attempt to leave. She told me her mother was ill. Something in her stomach. Before that, I didn’t know anything of “somethings” that made wounds so deep they could kill. Her grave attitude created a completely new fear and suddenly life had changed. We went through a big and unacquainted sorrow.

I played on. My teacher said she had nothing more to teach me. Not that I had become very good, she might have realized she had reached some sort of a limit to what she was able to pass on to me. But I must have bored her anyway. My mother sought up a new teacher. He was no more than 4 or 5 years my senior but seemed very grown up, the sound of his flute was celestial, like his soft curly hair – I fell in love the very instant I saw him. And that always helps. I attacked my scales with a new vigour, the enemy once more turned into a friend. I was given a new flute for Christmas; I stepped up from the beginner’s Yamaha to the intermediate Miyazawa. I now had a flute with holes in certain keys and, oh that slim, rounded box. I felt transferred to a different league. For a while I must have enjoyed it – before the enemy came creeping back.

As a grown-up I once told a friend about my miserable attempts at the flute. I told her I had no real talent, but most of all – my little fingers were too short, almost out of proportion. She thought I was so terribly hard on myself, and then we compared fingers. Years later, we only met occasionally, she told me my story had stuck to her and for some time she had been scrutinizing people’s finger sizes – wondering if they could run over instrument keys at high speed. Which mine couldn’t.

In my late teens I was asked to teach beginners at the local music school. I said yes to a small bunch of 10 year olds; and went through a year of agony. It was my responsibility to enable them to get a decent sound out of their instruments that seemed far too big for their little bodies. Now I was the teacher with absolutely no educational skills. I had become that young, even younger, woman who could play the flute, and for that reason only I got students. The expectant mothers and fathers confronted me one year later; Does he have any talent? Should she play on? I was at loss for words, thinking about the 11 year old girl with a complete lack of rhythm. Play on, I said. As long as she enjoys. And I fled the scene.

When her children were small, my friend G. always told me; when my daughter grows up I want her to play the flute. Just like you. I promised myself that one day my flute would be hers, if she finally decided to keep it up. It seemed right to pass it on. But unlike me, her daughter turned the flute down after a few attempts. Then came yet another “something” and took my best friend away just like it had taken away her mother.

I left my hometown when I was 20, but I didn’t leave my flute behind. Parents have this inevitable fate; they must take care of their children’s memorabilia in the form of old toys, old school books, favourite clothes from bygones… Leaving my flute behind seemed like an insult although I rarely touched it. So it has been travelling with me ever since. I guess I could have sold it, but the flute holds so many memories, and some memories are not for sale.

By Anne-Trine Benjaminsen