The wrong trumpet
A fluffed note could be the start of something extraordinary
The Circling Fin
If there’s one thing children don’t do, it’s subtlety. From the earliest age, people are ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ and things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. One of the bigger lessons of growing up, which can take a while for some, is understanding that the world is not so black and white; when we make a ‘mistake’ or take a ‘wrong’ turn, it does not necessarily mean we ourselves are wrong or stupid. Whenever I am struggling to remember this truth (count me as a late learner) I contemplate the experience of a Greek filmmaker called Costis Mitsotakis.
Mr Mitsotakis, having fallen in love with a Spanish woman, moved to the Aragonese village of Sodeto, home to some 70 households. In time, the romance that had brought him across the Mediterranean failed, but he stayed on to renovate a barn. And, later yet, his adopted home became famous as the place where everybody had won the Lotto: The town syndicate had a stake in a winning ticket that netted €120 million.
Everybody bar one that is, since the collectors forgot to call at the home of Costis Mitsotakis that particular week.
Let’s pause the story at this juncture. Imagine being the only person in town who had missed out on a life-changing jackpot. What would you do?
Live performers are among the few who prepare for the unexpected, since failing to deal with a fluffed note or a drunken heckler can quickly ruin their work. Knowing how to absorb surprises, however great, and keep moving towards your goal is the trick to becoming a successful improviser.
Jazz musician Miles Davis once observed, “There is no such thing as a wrong note.” In other words, you can redeem anything by what you choose to play AFTER the unexpected development. An accidental flat might open up a mind-expanding shift in key; blowing the wrong trumpet might mean making musical history.
And what is true for musicians and comedians is also true off-stage. A ‘fluffed note’ for us simply means something happened that was not part of our plans.
Back to our friend, Costis Mitsotakis, alone in his leaky barn, far from family and friends, with only a dog for company, and now, by orders of magnitude, the poorest man in town. What does he do when the sounds of celebration reach him? He takes his camera out into the streets of his adopted home and records the celebrations for his next film.
Now there is a man who took an unexpected note as the cue for a new melody.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM and CRC radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.