St Pancras rail station and a clarinet adventure

Normally I travel with my climbing shoes - finding climbing gyms more interesting and friendly than 
a bar while traveling solo on business (I've never figured out bar culture - usually end up sitting around breathing someone else's cigarette smoke). This time I brought along a new travel companion - my clarinet. In spite of the added burden of carrying the darn thing around it proved an excellent addition - not only did I get to play some cello/clarinet duets with my cousin (whose Lonsdale road Victorian music room happens to reverberate at a perfect concert F) but I stepped briefly out of the role of 'traveler passing through' and into that of a traveler stepping in.

London station St. Pancras is one of my favorite rail stations in the world - not only is a relative rumored to be buried beneath one of the platforms, but the architecture is fantastic. It always feels like I've stepped into some old fashioned novel when I walk through the stone arches and across the worn platforms. High ceilings hang overhead and the echo of years of goodbye's and journey's begun hangs in the air with an almost palatable air. I can easily imagine my grandfather and great grandfather walking just ahead in a building like this - just before leaving London for the last time.

While standing in line to purchase my ticket to Nottingham my ear is caught by the echoing voices and live acoustics. When played by itself, a live room is the perfect space to play a clarinet. While dropping my luggage off to do some shoping I meet Hass behind the counter. When I ask about luggage insurance, not being used to leaving my buffet with a total stranger, Hass asks to see the instrument. Hass hasn't seen a clarinet before (he called it a trumpet) - I offer to play him a tune when I come back from shopping.

Later that afternoon I come back to St. Pancras and Hass and I begin to chat. He's worked for the railway for 17 years, 12 in the little left luggage room. He has a great oulook on life - amazing to find such optimism on the part of someone who works in a windowless room surrounded by other peoples luggage every day. Hass offers to trade me a cup of 'proper Indian tea' in return for a song. "for proper Indian tea i'd play three songs" I reply, and the deal is done. Hass brews me a lovely cup of tea (the secret he says is to boil the milk with the water for a moment - then take your tea with two sugars - a wonderful cup of tea). A proper cup of tea from a real mug, sitting momentarily sheltered from the mass of humanity that fills London ,chatting about life in Rhodesia with Hass - I've stumbled into one of those rare moments that makes the difference between floating through a foreign land, and actually visiting one.

The cup of tea ends, and I have 15 minutes to catch my train. I warm up the clarinet, and head out into the alcove. Only a few people are standing around now - muted voices bouncing around high overhead. I'll play three songs as promised for Hass. I always start Send in the Clowns low - I don't care much for the vocal version - but on the clarinet it usually works. The acoustics of St. Pancras are perfect - the low notes hang like heavy perfume in the air, while the upper register flits from floor to ceiling like hummingbirds. The clowns are followed by a bit of Mozart's clarinet concerto (third movement)- nice fast peppery notes punch through the echoes and join the birds. The last song is one of my favorites - perhaps because my classical teachers hated it so - I ease into benny's version of Moonglow and let the notes fly. Finally in honor of the train station, I play the intro to Rhapsody in Blue (which was inspired by a train ride - listen sometime for the rhythm of the train in the melody).

Hass and I shake hands, and part as friends. Next time I’ll play him some Brahms.

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