New Quarter Note Tales

Overview

New Quarter Note Tales presents a collection of three new novellas featuring Axel Crochet, peripatetic professor of music history.

"A Faculty Affair"-As the new professor of musicology at Rochambeau's Fleur de Lis University, Axel stumbles upon a colossal cover-up when he discovers a letter suggesting that the efforts of his predecessor to move the School of Music from the Faculty of Arts to the Faculty of Letters may have had fatal consequences.
"The Music Man Mystery"-As ...

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New Quarter Note Tales: Axel in Québec

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Overview

New Quarter Note Tales presents a collection of three new novellas featuring Axel Crochet, peripatetic professor of music history.

"A Faculty Affair"-As the new professor of musicology at Rochambeau's Fleur de Lis University, Axel stumbles upon a colossal cover-up when he discovers a letter suggesting that the efforts of his predecessor to move the School of Music from the Faculty of Arts to the Faculty of Letters may have had fatal consequences.
"The Music Man Mystery"-As director of a production of The Music Man in Rochambeau, Québec, Axel has to make changes when the leading man dies a few days before the performance. Although the police rule it an accident, cast members mutter about suicide. Then, some information suddenly appears that makes murder seem much more likely.

"Fire and Ice"-When fire breaks out at the tiny Galton School, claiming the life of one of its students, suspicion falls on a known pyromaniac. Then, the bursar breaks her neck on the icy front steps. Axel, the school's music director, discovers financial records-stuffed inside a hymnal and concealed in the chapel piano-indicating that these accidents may have been murder.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781450254779
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/23/2010
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Table of Contents

Contents

A Faculty Affair....................1
The Music Man Mystery....................101
Fire and Ice....................187
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First Chapter

New Quarter Note Tales

Axel in Quibec
By Arthur Wenk

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Arthur Wenk
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-5477-9


Chapter One

A few months shy of my fortieth birthday I found myself teaching music history at Fleur de Lis University in Rochambeau, Quibec: a new country, a new culture and a new language. Especially a new language. Memories of my initial visit to the university, six months earlier, remained something of a blur, so concerned was I with trying to make a good impression on the Search Committee members who served as my hosts and guides, so in order to orient myself I asked a student to direct me to the library. "Pouvez-vous me dire," I asked, "oy se trouve le bibliothhque?" She kindly and subtly corrected me by saying "La bibliothhque est l', aprhs la tour ' gauche."

I half-expected her to exclaim, "Le bibliothhque? Le bibliothhque? Send for the grammar patrol and take this poor idiot away. He can't even keep his articles straight, for God's sake! What are they letting past the border these days anyway?" And were I to confess that I was Axel Crochet, the new professor of music history, I anticipated a disdainful response. "Professor? You? Don't kid me! What can you teach anyone here and say le bibliothhque? Yes, here he is, officer. I'm glad you arrived quickly. He's already contaminated the language enough. Take him away and deport him." Even my prematurely gray hair wasn't going to save me from an ignominious fate.

Eventually I traced a path to my office in the Icole de Musique, located in Pavillon Desjardins, the most distinctive building on campus, a Monty Pythonesque version of a chapel, built during the 60s to hold hundreds of Jesuit priests in training, then sold to the university at fire sale prices in the late 70s after the Quiet Revolution saw the decline of church influence in the province. Students graduating with advanced degrees in musicology went on to teach in music departments across Canada; those in music education taught in secondary and primary schools; no one knew what happened to the performers. My office on the fourth floor had been constructed by tearing down the wall between two cells in the erstwhile seminary, providing ample space for several bookcases and a fair-sized desk under high windows admitting sunlight but no distracting view.

Rochambeau being a tourist as well as a university town, I encountered a variety of responses to my efforts to speak French with the Quibecois:

They spotted me as a foreigner from my first sentence, addressed me in English, and refused to budge. This happened only in the tourist district and felt rather insulting.

Their English was better than my French. If I made even a simple request to repeat a remark, they switched immediately to flawless English and refused to budge.

They maintained French no matter what. This produced the best learning environment for me. They'd repeat their remarks more slowly if necessary and would help me with vocabulary, but always in French. This happened when I opened two bank accounts and purchased a mattress. I couldn't pretend to understand everything the salesman was saying, but when you order Sears' best you have a pretty good idea what you're getting. Renting an apartment also took place entirely in French, requiring a fair amount of patience on the part of the locataire.

They spoke English but returned to French when I persevered. This happened while getting directions on which bus to take. The number eleven bus ran to the university from an intersection near my apartment. On several occasions I heard passengers remark on the approaching vehicle, "Bon, v'lb la onze." This bothered me because the noun autobus is masculine: surely it should be "le onze." Finally I checked this out with my colleague Valiry Turgeon, a musicologist from Geneva. He simply shrugged and said that Quibeckers thought that the word "bus" was feminine.

I just plain chickened out. In the tourist district everyone spoke English anyway, so I just made like another dumb American. I can't say I was proud of this strategy but sometimes the burden of living in a different language simply became too heavy to endure.

Valiry Turgeon, as a non-Quibicois Francophone, proved to be an excellent friend for a stranger in a strange land. A shock of silver hair, brushed straight back in the style of conductor Herbert von Karajan, gave him an air of masterful authority, frequently undercut by a boyish grin. Each morning Valiry would wander into my office with an infectious "Hey, man!" (in English), would listen sympathetically to my latest tales of woe in wrestling with the French language, and then ask my advice about some arcane English metaphor that he wanted to incorporate into a paper he was preparing to read at the November meeting of the American Musicological Society.

I would exclaim in disbelief that the only way to say "what we need" in French is "ce dont nous avons besoin." He would just smile and say, "That's the way it is." Then he would proudly show me a sentence using the phrase "run with the hare and ride with the hounds" that he'd found in his French-English dictionary, and refused accept my insistent opinion that no contemporary English speaker would ever use it. The closest substitute I could come up with was "kill two birds with one stone," which he found unappealing.

Musicologists probably have no monopoly on the sadistic practice of assigning whatever courses nobody else wants to teach to the "new guy." They typically excuse the practice by saying, "Perhaps he'll be able to make a go of it," a breathtaking exercise in wishful thinking. In the fall term my teaching responsibilities included the exquisite frustration of "La Mithodologie de la Recherche." Masters degree candidates in performance—that is to say, most of them—were required to submit an essay. Some students were better equipped for intellectual activity than others, and one imagines that the negotiations in writing the requirements rather resembled the haggling between Abraham and God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You remember the story. God got so fed up with all the wickedness and corruption in the Twin Cities—they had pornographic movies and massage parlours and child molestation and people coveting their neighbours' asses and idol worship and punk rock and toxic waste and drug addiction and MTV and who knows what all else—that he decided to destroy them. Abraham pleaded with God saying, "What if there be fifty righteous in the city?" (They knew how to use the present subjunctive back in those days, so Gomorrah University must have had something going for it.) "For fifty righteous, I will spare the city," was God's reply. "But what if there be only forty-five righteous?" Abraham kept at it and finally got God down to ten righteous people.

I imagine that the Curriculum Committee must have functioned somewhat along these lines. The original requirement called for all instrumentalists to write an essay of some length illustrating their ability to present and solve a research problem. Then the violin professor, let us say, thought of his star pupil and asked, "What about students who can't write an essay?" So a second option was added—an instrumental recital thirty minutes long accompanied by a brief essay explaining the choice of these pieces, their interrelationships, style, historical context, et cetera. But the clarinet professor still had his doubts. "What about students who can't write even a brief essay?" So a third option was added—an instrumental recital accompanied by an oral presentation. But even this requirement was found to be too stiff—what about students who can't express themselves orally? So a final option was added: the student would play a thirty-minute recital then answer questions posed by the jury.

After reading the first disastrous essays, the committee added a further requirement—the semester before undertaking the essay, a student must submit a projet d'essai explaining the historical context, problimatique, objectives, methodology, outline, calendar, and bibliography for the eventual essay. When students turned out not to be able to produce even a projet d'essai on their own, the committee invented a course to teach them how, for good measure made it obligatory, and gave it to me to teach.

Whether my conjectural history was accurate or not, the requirements were exactly as I have presented them. No one seemed to mind that students got the same degree whether they chose the most difficult option or the easiest. Some students understood this right away. One young woman in my class proposed to resolve the question of apparently anomalous fingerings and bowings in Fritz Kreisler's violin works by comparing the written scores with the composer's own recorded performances. Of course, this student already held a master's degree in performance from Yale and came to Fleur de Lis University only in order to get her teaching credential. Another student planned to contrast instrumental and vocal ornamentation in Baroque music. Other students had more difficulty, including one South American chap whose heavily accented French I had trouble understanding. (He also stammered.) It would have been far easier to lecture to ninety students in the undergraduate history survey than to change the manner of thinking of ten instrumentalists, many of whom weren't into thinking to begin with.

"La Mithodologie de la Recherche" brought me in contact with the most annoying student of my career, a young violist whom I came to call Screaming Annie, after one of the more flamboyant characters in John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire. The moniker seemed appropriate for the student who came to my office early in September to deliver a ninety-minute harangue to the effect that the work-load in my course on Methodology of Research was more than she could handle.

How much time did she devote to completing the assignments, I inquired? Six hours a week, she replied. I suggested that six hours a week seemed entirely appropriate for a three-credit course on the graduate level, whereupon she produced several pages full of calculations offering conclusive proof that she could not give that kind of time to this course and still practice her instrument, play in an ensemble, cook for her husband, and maintain her health. She couldn't drop the course because she planned to graduate in December, so the only solution was for me to reduce the workload.

The foregoing suggests the content of our conversation but hardly the tenor. The Quibecois speak exceedingly rapidly and Screaming Annie was easily the most voluble person I had ever encountered. Whenever I tried to raise a question or offer an explanation she would redouble her efforts so that my participation mostly confined itself to stunned silence with an occasional inutile demurral. When Screaming Annie showed no signs of tiring after an hour and a half I decided that waiting her out would not likely succeed. I suggested instead that her argument lay not with me but with the Icole de Musique who required even instrumentalists to write a graduate essay and take the course preparing them to do so. I encouraged the young woman to plead her case with the Director himself, and with that ploy managed to get her out of my office.

Chapter Two

Next to trying to survive in a language not my own—a language I had first encountered only in my mid-twenties—my chief activity in Rochambeau was trying to overcome loneliness. The single newsstand carrying The New York Times provided an essential lifeline to home, but the absence of companionship, preferably female, haunted my waking moments and a fair proportion of my dreams. Valiry Turgeon proved to be a sympathetic friend and frequently invited me to his house for supper, where I entertained his young children with the kinds of acrobatic games that easily cross the language barrier.

Early in the fall I asked Valiry whether he planned to take his family to Expo-Rochambeau, the Canadian equivalent of the Texas State Fair, which Le Soleil, Rochambeau's French-language newspaper, had been touting for several weeks. Turns out he'd never heard of it. When I asked whether I might take his children, six and five, to the fair he was pleased to let them go.

That afternoon I received confirmation of something I had suspected about Valiry: he genuinely considered his house to be on Swiss soil (and not simply financed by a low-interest mortgage on a family property in Switzerland). As we got into the car and the kids waved goodbye to their parents, they shouted, "We're going to Quibec!" Not the city of Rochambeau, mind you, but the nation—well, at least the Quibecois insist that it's a nation—of Quibec.

Hilhne and Reni didn't show much interest in the displays of animal husbandry but enjoyed the rides (carousel, Ferris wheel, rocket ship) and the food (hot dogs, fries, coke and ice cream).

In the afternoon came "Walt Disney's World on Ice," with all your favourite Walt Disney characters plus Linda Frattiane, a host of other fancy skaters, and what I suppose might be called the corps de ballet, which appeared in one spectacular costume display after another. We watched skaters jump through fiery hoops and sail over barrels, suffered through the inevitable dog act, and covered our faces with cotton candy, which provided the occasion for yet another French lesson.

My command of academic French enabled me to talk in polysyllables about music and literature but everyday objects, well within the grasp of any Francophone six-year-old, frequently baffled me. When the Turgeon children pointed to the large glass cylinder housing the mechanism that generated spun candy, I couldn't understand what they were saying, though I was happy to buy them the puffy confection. Later Ghislaine, Valiry's wife, explained the French term, la barbe ' papa, literally "Daddy's beard."

Sitting in the very first row, right on the ice, the children and I could practically touch Pinocchio, Goofy and Donald Duck, and while I knew that there were just ordinary people underneath all that plastic and rubber, when the French voice for which Linda Fratianne was lip-synching announced the entrance of "your favourite inhabitant of Walt Disney World," I unexpectedly burst into tears. All those childhood afternoons watching the "Mickey Mouse Club" and all those evenings viewing progress reports on the construction of Disneyland had planted deep seeds of association. If you had asked me what I treasured most about being American I might have responded in terms of my admiration for Thomas Jefferson and his ideals, but my profound, mostly unacknowledged homesickness had been triggered by an ageless mouse.

The same thing happened toward the end of the show when the corps de ballet skated out in western garb. Suddenly the house lights blacked out and their costumes lit up as they glided into a skater's version of the square dance routine that the Disney organization had designed for the Orange Bowl some years earlier. The Orange Bowl game, always scheduled on New Year's Night in that era, maintained a tradition of elaborate halftime spectacles, and the Walt Disney people had taken advantage of the darkness to put on an electric square dance. Now I was seeing it live, ten feet away, and all the associations of New Year's Day football games came together and overwhelmed me. (Clearly I'd been reading too much Proust.)

A week later I experienced an unexpected interruption in teaching caused by a surprise strike by the university maintenance workers. The union locked all the university buildings for a one-day work stoppage, with no guarantee that it might not be extended. The maintenance workers had been operating under the terms of a government decree reducing salaries for an indeterminate period of time. Now the university wanted to negotiate the new contract on the basis of the status quo. "Nothing doing," said the union, and to bring the point home, locked up the university. The University obtained a court injunction enjoining the union from blocking the doors. The union retaliated by letting students and professors cross the picket lines but refusing to admit the secretaries, who were members of the union. And without secretaries the university, for all practical purposes, ground to a halt. I guess I should not have been surprised that labour relations in this extremely liberal province might not be the same as south of the border—after all, I had had to endure a postal strike for nearly ten days shortly after arriving here—but I still found the experience disconcerting.

I tried to be imaginative in my search for a partner. I consulted a psychothirapeute with the engaging name of Marie LaBienvenue, who instructed me to spend several evenings hanging out in a small bar on Avenue Cartier observing guys picking up women. I obediently located the establishment, auspiciously named after one of my favourite Truffaut films, Jules et Jim, nursed a ginger ale for several hours and took notes on my observations. I finally decided that this just wasn't my style, and that a non-drinker was unlikely to find the woman of his dreams in a tavern.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from New Quarter Note Tales by Arthur Wenk Copyright © 2010 by Arthur Wenk. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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