Monday, December 11, 2017

The Baton of Death

—by Julie Ann Giroux

I collect antique conducting batons. Some are purely decorative, ceremonial or commemorative. Occasionally I find one that actually may be usable. I bought this particular baton hoping to use it. Good length, 13", didn't look to be a bad baton in general. Truth be told, this silver handled and tipped weapon of mass destruction turned out to have been sired by Satan himself. Never has there been a piece of wood more cursed or feared.

The Baton of Death
It is very slick and offers no point or area for secure grasp. I dropped it twice just getting it from my briefcase to the podium. The rehearsal room was hot, like 90 degrees hot, thermostat set for real winter cold but instead frying its participants in their own globally warmed juices. An hour into rehearsal, the baton took flight on a vigorous up beat, successfully destroying an expensive overhead stage light with a red lens cover. The area behind me was showered with red crystals, bringing to mind the High School Gym Scene from the movie Carrie. (‘They are all gonna laugh at you!’ Why yes, yes they did.) I continued to use it...

It is black and hard to see, only giving slight whispers of leadership from its tiny, unpolished solid silver tip. My beat became more implied than factual; a rarity, in today's climate, an alternative fact. Beat patterns were in step with Big Foot as he walked across the film footage; questionable as to its authenticity. It slipped beneath the waters of precision like the Loch Ness Monster, forcing many to question whether they had actually seen something or not. Reports of clear beat patterns became as rare as UFO sightings but less reliable. Cues were almost mythical. I stubbornly continued to use it...

The weight of the baton is extremely heavy for its size. If it were made of petrified wood it would be lighter than this. The solid silver tip and handle add weight, yes, but not that much. An over exuberant beat 3 of a 4 beat pattern sent the black missile off stage right with tremendous velocity and strength, successfully launching out of the sweaty, greasy, menopausal, perpetually hot flashed hand (mine), striking a lectern microphone out of its cradle which loudly bounced on, then off, the lectern, striking the floor with huge thud, then rolling off the end of the stage, meeting its demise on the cold, concrete floor with a sad clink. (Talk about ‘drop the mic…’) Damn it! I paid a fortune for this civil war period baton and I'm going to use it.

Concert—8:00. Formal Dress—The Black Baton with the Solid Silver Tip— Fear, Apprehension and Cause for Alarm —Final piece on the Program—hell of my own creation—VI. ‘Hakone Pass’, Book marks from Japan, 200+ Odd Meters at Tempi Di TearAss.

Seventy plus measures in, Satan's Stick launched on its final mission into space straight at a percussionist holding a chime mallet. Quick to react, he leaned backwards, knocking over a suspended cymbal as the Baton whizzed by him. Like the slow motion scene with Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, I watched with horror as it narrowly missed the percussionist and hit the gong dead nipple center, creating a resounding gong crash. Thanks to the speed of the piece, both the Suspended Cymbal falling to the ground and the gong crash fell on musical pulses and neither stood out as unusual occurrences. I was forced to finish out the finale using my index finger as a baton, though had the band chosen, it would have been my middle finger because we did just fine without the baton. Up yours, Silver-Tipped Weapon of Mass Destruction.

The Civil War era Black Baton with the solid silver handle and tip now permanently resides with the other ‘unusable’ Batons in my collection and like a battle returned veteran has a respected spot up front. I give it wide berth as I pass it. I am certain that place in my house is cooler than it should be. I feel eyes on my back when I leave the room as The Black Baton with the Silver Tip & Handle whispers ‘Petrificus Totalus’. This is what happens when you mistake a Wand for a Baton.


Julie Giroux, one of the finest and most prolific composers of music for wind ensemble, was born in Massachusetts, but by the time she graduated from high school, she was already a southerner, and studied music at LSU. Concord Band audiences have heard a number of her works, including Boston Liberties, commissioned by the Concord Band in 2009 and performed again last season. This brief story exposes a humorous facet of Julie that audiences may not get to see. It originally appeared as a Facebook posting earlier this year. Reprinted with permission.

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