CLASSICALLY MODERN

By Sarah Hanrahan

An unintentional complaint that everyone below is a classical music buff, leads to some of the older members deciding to prove the theory wrong by demonstrating some of their forgotten talents.

Rating: non adult classic, as it has Catherine in it but it's not steam tunnel stuff.

 

It was one of the older teenagers, home from college who casually made the complaint that started it all.

"It's not that I don't like classical music, but there are other kinds. It would be nice once in a while, to hear them down here, and not just the folksy ones we have at Winterfest either."

The complaint was addressed to mixed company in Father's chamber after an evening of Beethoven, not the speaker's favourite composer, and after the younger children had retired to their bunks.

Father rose to the absently given challenge with predictable, though mild, indignation, "You're tired of classical music!"

"Father, that is not what Shaun said," Vincent corrected quietly.

"I concede the point," Father huffed, "but surely no one disagrees, that classical music has - class, hence the terminology, classical. You can hardly put that description to the modern music they play Above."

"How can you say that?" Shaun asked, sitting upright from the lounging position he'd been in. "When, was the last time you listened to anything that wasn't classical? Besides it doesn't have to be 'modern', there's plenty of scope, stuff that's become 'classic' without a full orchestra or violins. Come to think of it there's even a lady who plays 'classical music' on an electric violin."

"It must sound awful," Father croaked.

"That's where you're wrong, it doesn't, it just brings the old favourites to a younger audience."

"Classical music is more than just music," William protested.

"So is some of the so called modern stuff. What about, jazz, or bebop or good old rock and roll."

"E.L.O!"

"Pink Floyd!"

"Meat Loaf."

"Oh yes! And talking of skill, what about Jimmy Hendrix?"

"Who," asked Father, "is Jimmy Hendrix?"

"Jimmy Hendrix," Vincent provided, "is a man, famous for highly skilled playing of an electrical guitar."

Father gave Vincent a strange sideways glance, "Ah, then I see why you've heard of him," he murmured quietly.

"Why should Vincent have heard of him any more than you have?" demanded Tracy, one of the younger members.

But the question was overlaid by another comment from someone else.

"I'm surprised even you haven't heard of him, Father. I'm a bit surprised that Vincent has, but then he does hang around us a bit more often, and he does go Above, so I suppose he must hear something other than classical."

Vincent held down an amused smile and quietly raised his eyebrows, as he carefully stared at a spot on the table.

"Yes, but Vincent still only appreciates 'classical music'," another insisted.

Vincent's smile threatened to get loose, "As has been pointed out already, I do listen to other music," he said softly.

"Not because you like it."

"You're making an assumption," Alexander, one of the adults protested, "We don't play modern music down here, so we don't appreciate it. That's unfair. Some of the modern scores need electrical instruments, and electrical instruments need electricity."

"And I'm not encouraging non essential electrical usage," Father chipped in firmly, "Besides, you can learn to play without the extra noise created by those electrical instruments."

"There's plenty of good music that doesn't need electric's."

"Why can't we hold a concert of our own, not classical stuff, not folk stuff, but real rip roaring, foot stomping -"

"Hip swinging."

"Sing along."

"- stuff?"

"It is, a long time since we last had a modern concert," Vincent reminded Father softly.

"Long time? Don't you mean never?" Shaun demanded.

"What's the use?" Tracey moaned, "No one knows how to play the electric versions, they take practice, and no one knows any of the tunes."

"If our old fogies even agreed," sighed another wistfully.

Pascal who had been sitting on the other side of Father and keeping very quiet, leaned forwards, "Are you saying that we, 'old fogies' don't know how to play? And that even if we could, we wouldn't play any other music than classical?"

The younger adults and teenagers looked at each other until one of them became brave enough to answer, "Yes, I suppose we are."

"Patsy can play, so can others we know," Tracey stated, "but they're all folk or classically orientated. None of them can play much else, or would want to."

Vincent glanced at Father, his eyes flashing, "It seems we have a complaint that needs rectifying," he said, "A suggestion and request for next month's entertainment."

"Next month would be too soon." Shaun protested, "You could never find the people in time, let alone practice."

After a quick gauging glance at Vincent, Father blandly looked across the table, "August 11th is free," he suggested. "I can't have it said we've ignored the needs of our younger members and all the council are here apart from Mary. Is it agreed?"

"Agreed," Vincent answered promptly.

"Agreed," Pascal quickly seconded.

"If it's going to be done it needs to be done well," William pointed out worriedly, "You can't expect the children to learn all those new melodies in such a short space of time, or the techniques for playing electrical instruments."

"The children could learn some of it, certainly," Pascal replied, "but I thought the challenge was aimed at our older generation."

"And Tracey has a point," William continued, "We don't have anyone who can play electrics, and besides we don't have any such instruments. Do we?"

"We do have the instruments," Vincent informed him.

"We do! I've never heard any. What about players? We know most of our musicians."

"You know those who play it as a job or a duty." Pascal corrected, "There are others."

"There are!

"Who?" Shaun asked pointedly, "I've been here since I was five, and I think I know most of those who play and enjoy mainstream music."

Pascal smiled as Vincent answered, "You'll have to wait and see. Leave it with us William, we'll organise something sufficient."

"Then go ahead," William agreed, "I have to admit you've peaked my curiosity now."

As talk welled up, Pascal leaned across the front of Father and murmured softly to Vincent, "The 'Tunnel Dwellers'?"

Vincent leaned conspiratorially back, "As pipe master I doubt you've lost your touch."

"You need Devin," Father, softly reminded the two heads in front of him.

Two heads twisted to regard his forgotten presence.

"He's right," Pascal murmured.

"I can get hold of Devin" Vincent assured him.

"What about Sandy?"

"She's thinking of visiting about then, for two weeks."

"Tell her of the challenge and she'll be here for practice soon enough."

"So I would think. Maurice is unavailable."

"Ask Alexander, I've heard him playing the right kind of music, it echoes faintly down his pipe."

"Good?"

"Good enough."

"Mary will do her bit I hope."

"That just leaves -"

"Hey," the two heads quickly parted, "What sort of music are you thinking of having played?"

Vincent and Pascal traded glances, "Fifties to modern day suit you?" Vincent asked.

"Remembering it's harder to get hold of the music for some of the modern pieces," Pascal reminded them.

The younger members looked surprised.

"Sounds fair enough," Shaun replied, bewildered at where his chance remark had led.

 

 

Two days later Vincent and Pascal slipped into a little known cavern of circular design and large size, and Vincent held up his lantern. The air was cool but dry, fine for preserving instruments and the chamber was perfect for practicing louder music without disturbing the other inhabitants. The only reason it had never been utilised by the children's orchestra, was that it was too far from the main tunnels. Here many years before, fifteen to be precise, the chamber had been set up by a very select group, the first children of the tunnels. Memories of the place skimmed the surface of Vincent's mind and Pascal's 'Oh my' suggested he wasn't the only one thinking back a long way.

"Has anyone been here in years?" Pascal asked.

"I come here occasionally and make sure the instruments are still undamaged," Vincent answered absently.

Pascal glanced at him in surprise, "I never realised you still came here. You never said anything."

"Someone had to maintain their safety, in case of discovery."

"You think one of the children might have started up the generator? They know that's an adults responsibility."

"Some of the older ones are capable, and there is the possibility of Mouse thinking they are here for the taking."

Striding over to a cupboard to one side, Vincent opened one of its doors and with the press of a switch and single smooth pull, started the generator inside.

"You've kept it ready," Pascal observed.

"If we had needed the generator in an emergency there would have been little time to prepare it later," Vincent pointed out.

With the generator now running, bright little white lights had come on across the room on a low natural stage. The lights gleamed from music stands each with a stool behind them. Pascal stepped up onto the stage and ran his hands over the nearest stool while Vincent flicked switches. A noise drew their attention to the crack that was the hidden doorway. Mary had ushered Alexander into the cavern.

Vincent smiled, "Mary, Alexander."

"Alexander," Pascal added, "Welcome to the Downsider's club."

"I can hardly believe this place is here and I never knew!"

"No one's been here in years," Mary explained, "We all found other demands in life and it fell into disuse."

"Vincent's been here," Pascal informed her, "keeping things in order,".

"A generator, a box to plug the electric instruments into and even electric lights to read the scores," Alexander exclaimed as he looked around, "I take it we have the instruments too?"

"We do," Vincent confirmed.

"I think my second surprise, after Pascal explained and asked me to join this group," Alexander said, "was finding Mary was a member. Finding out you know about this place isn't surprising, but, are you a member too?"

"I am."

"Amazing, all these years…"

"It takes us all back," said a new voice from behind them, "Childhood memories."

Alexander turned as Vincent greeted the new member, then gave his own greeting, "Sandy. Our singer I take it?"

"Hi Alexander, yes I'm one of the singers."

"One of the singers?"

"Sure, Mary can carry background harmonies and Dillon can manage the main male voice."

"Then there's Jemima, Lily, Rudy and Zechariah," Mary added primly.

"They're members too? Of course."

"We need to begin," Vincent interrupted, "Sandy, I know you can't stay too long."

"Long enough to discuss our program. The others are just behind me."

Soon there was a large group perched on a couple of chairs, the stools, and the edge of the stage. Vincent perched on one of the stools smiled around at the surprising collection of people, of which no one was less then thirty. A group of which quite a few would never have been associated by the community with music, especially non classical.

"Welcome back to the Downsiders club - Tunnel Dwellers." There was a muted cheer from a few throats then silence again. "As you can see, a few of us are still missing, but we should have them here shortly. The younger generation have - unintentionally, thrown down the gauntlet at those of us who were first to learn music, here Below. They see us as 'old people' with no musical appreciation beyond the classical, and of little talent, unaware that many of us gave up playing regularly in pursuit of more immediate concerns. Pascal and I felt this misconception should be rectified and have offered to put on a concert, playing music from the nineteen fifties and sixties (which many of us will hopefully remember) to the present day."

"That's a tall order."

"We have just over a month to polish up our talents, those of us who need to, and those who have just adapted their gifts in different directions."

"Yes, Pascal for conductor!" one quipped.

"I veto that, he's greedy, he has two batons."

"One for the singers and one for the players," Sandy suggested loudly.

"No, no, no, the left one for the left side of the room, and the right one for the right side," insisted another.

Pascal lifted his ever-present batons, "When you are ready," he said pompously, "we'll begin."

A chuckle went around at his response to their frivolity and Vincent smiled.

"Alexander has agreed to take over from Maurice, and Devin has been sent for. Our first task is to make up a list of those tunes we're going to play and to seen how much practice we require."

"Masses!" someone cried.

 

 

Catherine opened her balcony door and glanced to one end and was pleased to find Vincent waiting.

"Vincent, you said you needed my help?"

"Yes, the - older members of our community have risen to a challenge to entertain the younger with music other than classical."

Catherine's eyebrows shot skyward, "Really?"

Vincent smiled, amused, "We were wondering if you could help us acquire music sheets of the pieces chosen, or perhaps good recordings we could listen to. Some of us know the music but don't know the exact notes to play for our chosen instrument."

"Our chosen instrument? Does this, include you?"

Vincent hesitated, "I know how to play."

Catherine chuckled, "I think you're avoiding answering the question. Am I invited to this…"

"Concert."

"Concert?"

"Yes. It will be held on the 11th August and will start about 7 o'clock." Vincent pulled out a sheet of paper, and began to open it as he went on, "We need music for electrical instruments, as well as the more ordinary acoustics."

"Electrical!"

"Guitar, keyboard, drums, cello, trumpets, trombone and piano. These are the musical pieces chosen."

Catherine already struck dumb at the idea of electrical instruments Below gazed at the list, "I have my work cut out for me. E.L.O!" she cried in a strangled voice, "Meat Loaf!"

Vincent managed to look innocent, "Our abilities and reputations have been called into question. We wish to prove we can - like - and play anything."

"This I've got to see."

"Hear," he corrected her mischievously, "And if you come, you will."

 

 

Three days later they were again on her balcony.

"Thanks to Gina, an acquaintance of mine, and the miracle of computers, I've managed to acquire complete copies of the music for all your pieces, Vincent."

Vincent reached out for the wad of sheets and flicked through them and Catherine noticed that the nails on his right hand had been clipped short.

"Thank you," he said.

Catherine reached out and caught at the nail-shorn hand, "You've cut your nails,." she observed, and Vincent winced in pain. Concerned Catherine turned the hand over and studied it with care, "Your fingertips are sore."

"I have been practicing."

"Without the sheet music?"

"Most of us know some of the tunes already, or did, and we have begun to practice. The rest wait for the sheet music."

"Has Devin turned up yet?"

"He is due tomorrow."

"Well I am certainly looking forward to this event. To see Devin and you playing is going to be fun. Have you shocked many people yet?"

"Few are aware that I can play," Vincent admitted, "I believe most think I am helping in some other capacity, as part of the challenge, and we have been saying very little to anyone outside the group." Vincent laughed, "I am not sure what the children will think when they see Mary playing the keyboard."

"They assume she's helping in another capacity too?" Catherine guessed.

"I would not be surprised." Vincent's eyes twinkled, "And there is one other unexpected player in this game," he added enigmatically.

"I can't wait."

 

 

Thomas, on trumpet, held one last note, and then stopped, puffing slightly.

"Wow, that was satisfying. It's so long since I really played like that. How about a little jazz?"

"Jazz is on our list," Vincent acknowledged.

"Some unstructured stuff then, I've had enough of musical notes, they've started jumping around on the page."

Vincent grinned and checked with the others before nodding a yes. Gleefully a new tune was struck up and Thomas began to play. He had been at it for a while when a new trumpet joined in, in counterpoint and turning he found Vincent playing. Soon they were playing off each other in friendly competition.

"I'd forgotten you could play trumpet too," Thomas remarked breathlessly at the end.

"Sounds as though he's gotten better," stated Devin from the doorway.

"Devin you've arrived," Vincent greeted.

"Yep, the head of the 'Tunnel Dwellers' is here," Devin announced grandiosely.

"We gave up the band name when you left," Pascal corrected. "This is the Downsiders Club now."

"Oh."

"And you were never our leader," Vincent added firmly, "How much have you kept in practice?"

"Not as much as you, it seems, but I can still strum a tune or two."

"Vincent has put most of us to shame," Pascal remarked, "We all thought he'd stopped practicing like the rest of us, but he's hasn't. He's been keeping the electrics in trim."

"Devin will you take your place?" Vincent asked, embarrassed at his forgotten talent, and gestured towards the back.

"That's right, keep the greetings short," Devin grumbled, "put the man to work."

"We have a lot to get through," Vincent stated sternly.

 

 

Catherine walked behind Kipper and looked around the unfamiliar tunnels. They had passed the edges of the main hub earlier.

"Are you looking forward to this concert?"

"Sure, but the adults have been acting weird."

Catherine smiled, "How?" she asked curiously.

"Mary's been humming a lot, not the usual tunes to sooth the little ones either, and Vincent's been gone a lot. Devin has had Mary dancing with him, and Father keeps disappearing at odd moments too."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, Pascal's been staying away from his pipes an awful lot. Devin says we'll have lots of fun."

"I suspect we will."

"I don't know why we couldn't hold this in the great hall."

"Perhaps it has something to do with the electrical instruments, or the acoustics."

Kipper shrugged, "Maybe."

He gestured her through a slim crack in the wall, "Devin said to tell everyone 'Welcome to the Downsiders club'."

Catherine gurgled, "Downsiders club? This should be good."

Within she found the circular chamber ringed with tables and chairs, the centre left free for dancing she guessed. Vincent wended his way through to her and stopped, "Are you ready?"

"For anything."

Vincent showed her to a table about a quarter of the way around from the stage where Father sat with a small mug of something other than tea at his shoulder. Catherine glanced at the snacks also garnishing the table, "This looks like an old fashioned night club."

"We wanted an authentic atmosphere." Vincent explained.

"At least you didn't opt for the modern look."

"That would have made some of our older members uncomfortable, although Devin did suggest it."

"He would. I prefer this version out of the twenties or thirties era. Besides candles wouldn't work for the modern look, although I seen some electric lighting has been used on the stage."

"Mood is everything." Vincent stated, sententiously, "You must excuse me, we're about to start. William is serving beverages if you require anything."

As Vincent hurried away Father leaned over the table towards Catherine, "He's a bit excited," he excused, for Vincent's short presence and quick absence.

"So am I," Catherine admitted.

William appeared and served up a glass of wine and disappeared again and then Vincent stepped up onto the empty, except for musical paraphernalia, stage and loudly cleared his throat for attention. The noise of various conversations stilled.

"As most of you are aware, this concert is in response to an assertion that those in their thirties, or over, have no appreciation for music other than classical. We are here to dispute that claim. I have also been asked to point out that those singing and playing here tonight have sung and played here since it was founded by the first musicians trained here in the nineteen sixties."

"That old?" someone joked.

When the chuckles died down, he continued, "Many went on to do other things as they grew older and you are in for a few surprises. Our singers are Sandy, Lily, Jemima, Rudy, Zechariah and Dillon." As he named each one, they stood up and went forward and gave a bow, before moving to an empty table awaiting them towards the edge of the room where they had access to the stage.

"Rudy can sing?" someone exclaimed.

"I said you were in for a few surprises," Vincent reminded them. "Next we have our players, Pascal, Devin, Alexander, Thomas, Jerry, Nigel -"

As he spoke their names, each stepped up onto the stage and took up their instruments and positions. Nigel however took up two ordinary guitars and walking over, passed one to Vincent "- and myself." As Vincent listed the players, there had been more than one surprised murmur, reaching a crescendo as he included himself. Vincent let the murmuring go on until it settled to an anticipatory and excited quiet. He looked around at his fellow conspirators to see if they were ready, aware of Catherine gurgling delightedly across the room and clapping with glee.

Catherine wasn't the only one clapping her hands with delight. Thomas and Nigel worked on the tunnels; Jerry was a window cleaner and Alexander the tunnel plumber. Apart from Jerry who, living above, could listen to radio, none of the others were associated with music. Rudy was a chemist of rough exterior and gravelly voice, Zechariah owned a laundry shop and Dillon was a waiter. Lastly there was Devin a jack-of-all-trades on the cello in the perfect place to stand casually and pose, or so Catherine decided. Of the ladies, Sandy was a professional singer, Lily a full time mother of three, Jemima made quilts and Mary of course, was the resident child minder. As a roll of drums enfolded Catherine, Catherine also remembered to add Pascal to her list of unknown musicians.

The band, which rotated as the music demanded, started with music from the fifties and worked it's way into the sixties, tiring many a willing dancer. After a while they switched to jazz then to slower pieces, then on into the seventies and eighties. Their selection along with the changes of era, covered the range of musical styles, soul, ballad, hip-hop, and, Catherine couldn't help grinning, heavy metal. By the end of the evening and into the modern era the hour was late, and the children had gone and those of the old who, having heard their favourite music had slowly left. Towards the end, after a few energetic pieces Vincent turned unexpectedly and had a few words with the band, causing startled glances, but quick agreement. Turning back he gestured to Father who had stuck it out.

"Father," he called, "your surprise?"

Father rose and made his way to the stage where Vincent carefully helped him up, then he accepted a trumpet Vincent held out to him and with a slightly smug glance at Devin he turned to the audience, "Even I was young once," hr explained, then settling himself he began to play on his own.

Finishing to a stunned audience Father shared a snug and triumphant look with Vincent, said 'thank you' with commendable humbleness and shuffled quickly back to his seat.

While he was doing that, Devin pinned Vincent with a firm gaze, "Your turn to show off."

"Devin?"

"Do your Jimmy Hendrix bit."

Vincent hesitated.

"We insist," Pascal added.

"Go on," Devin urged, "How often do you get a chance like this? Show off! It's been agreed."

Vincent sighed and sitting down on the edge of the stage proceeded to show just how good he was with the electric guitar.

When that was finished to cheers of appreciation, all the members of the band jumped onto the stage and Vincent stood up and they began to play and sing their last piece, together, a piece made famous by Status Quo.

Catherine still managing to laugh with delight, began to sing along, as others were about the room, when abruptly a vision overlaid the image in front of her. The image could have come from a dozen television images she'd seen or even a couple of live shows. Rock music was being played on a large stage in front of thousands of people. The players where dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and jackets, fashionably torn and mended, their long hair flung about them as they played with panache and enthusiasm. Now those amalgamated images overlaid Vincent as he let himself bob and sway in time to the music, his concentration absolute, his enjoyment in the playing painted onto a hot gleaming face, in the form of a lightly fanged grin. His hair slid forward and he absently flicked it back out of the way with a sharp twist of the head, and the vision faded into the reality of the moment.

The last music of the night came to its conclusion, and Catherine cheered along with everyone else and the chamber indeed felt like a friendly nightclub. 'The 'Downsiders club' Catherine remembered. Vincent thanked everyone and the entertainment gave a last bow and the 'club' began to empty. As the silence of solid rock began to return to its native home, Catherine rose to help pack away the chairs and clean up, while the instruments were carefully stored and the electrical apparatus were turned off. Soon only a few dedicated hangers on remained as food and furniture were carried by willing hands elsewhere. Vincent turned off the generator and the last foreign sound died except for the few people remaining. The generator was replenished with fuel and the band began to douse the candles.

Vincent left them and came over to Catherine and Father, who were also dousing flames.

"Father, Catherine, did you enjoy yourselves?"

"A lot of noise," Father remarked stubbornly, "but I enjoyed myself," he added.

"It was wonderful," Catherine, answered, "I had so much fun. Tell me, do you think the club 'Downsiders', might open its doors again, sometime?"

"Oh God!" Father cried sotto voice at the thought. He was already imagining the children clamouring for the electrical instruments and the music that would result.

"It might," Vincent answered blandly, well aware of his father's misgivings.

"Vincent!"

Vincent chuckled, "May I escort you both home?"

"Of course," Father said.

"Certainly," Catherine added graciously.

"But we'll discuss the matter of the Downsiders club, tomorrow," Father insisted.

"Of course, Father."

Vincent saw Father home and carried on with Catherine to her under apartment entrance.

Catherine turned and grinned, "My long haired rocker."

Vincent dipped his head and chuckled softly, "I assume that is a compliment?"

"It certainly is. The Downsiders club is as good as any above, take my word for it."

"I do. You are tired, I had better let you leave so that you can get some rest for work tomorrow."

"Today," Catherine corrected, "It was worth it though."

"Thank you. Good night."

"Good night."

 

When Catherine returned to her apartment she began to undress and laughed as she realised she was still singing the last tune. The meaning of one line stood out with an extra twist, as she considered where it had just been played. Laughing again she slipping into bed, and was unable to resist singing the words one last time, even though the tune was to continued to roll around in her head long afterwards, "… rocking all over the world…"

 

The end