The Royal Conservatory of Torthonton is an institution of ancient lineage, dating back to the earliest settlers of Cagaga, who, upon their arrival, chopped down the oldest tree on the shore of Lake Oshinskio and made it into a piano, and then chopped down the tallest tree on the lake shore and built a hut in which to place the piano.
The hut and the piano still exist today, but only the People’s Front for the Liberation of Old Cut Down Trees (the PFFLOCDT) knows where it is. The reason they know where it is, is that in the year 3034, the PFFLOCDT raided the Royal Conservatory at 4 o’clock in the morning and liberated the hut and the tree, as well as 25 other trees on the premises, 56 chairs, 389 tables, 2004 pencils and the cane of the then Dean, Sir Aspactarlashus Smith the Ninth. The PFFLOCDT accidentally made off with Sir Aspactarlashus himself, who slept with his cane, but needless to say, only the hut and the piano were missed.
That aside, the Royal Conservatory of Torthonton is and remains one of the finest, most impeccable institutions for music in the Northern Hemisphere, second only to the Glassblower’s Filigree Orchestra Clubhouse Tavern, located in Glassblow, Sockland.
It was at the Royal Conservatory that my best childhood friend, Dunland Ring, and I were to be educated in the infinitely fascinating subject of music theory. As you can imagine, the two of us, full of salt and vinegar, not yet ten years old, were thrilled at this prospect (not). Thus, chained and sedated with tranquilizers, we two were physically deposited at the lobby of the Conservatory by my own mother, where, when we had sufficiently revived, we resolved to weather this storm and live to fight another battle on another day.
We had only begun to discuss plans for next week’s baseball card trading session, when the giant oak doors to the Conservatory Lecture Room opened. There stood an unusually tall, unusually thin lady, past middle age by a few good years. Her eyes were Ashtrick Sea blue, piercing, yet clearly mad. Yes, mad. I could tell by the first sight of her. Her gray hair was pulled back tight into a jarring bun. Her brow was creased.
“I,” she stated, “am Miss Jameson. You are my students — come.”
Miss Jameson pivoted and walked back into the room. I looked at Dunland. Dunland looked at me. A quick understanding passed between us: We had no choice.
Cautiously, we edged into the Lecture Room. There were a number of small desks, a few odd chairs, a portrait of Yoho Seveltian Botch on the wall, and a table, on which our teacher sat, surrounded by sheet music. We instinctively sat down on the two chairs nearest the table.
“I don’t favor little boys,” said she, “before noon.”
We had no idea what she meant by that.
“Which of you rascals is Eli Belly?” she demanded.
I raised a timid hand.
“What in the hell kind of a name is that?”
Startled, I tried to respond, but she cut me off. “Eli Belly! You will sit on the side.” She indicated a corner in the back of the room. “I will eat your friend Dunland Ring first. Excuse me! I mean that I will teach your friend first. I always say what I mean, that is why I say it!” she insisted vehemently.
I crept off to the corner, where I sat quietly, looking furtively at my poor buddy and the lunatic who was about to instruct him. I noticed that Miss Jameson didn’t seem to blink. Every half a minute or so, she would pull her lids down with her fingers and hold them there for a moment, obviously in an effort to compensate.
“Music,” she was saying to Dunland, who sat there trembling, “is like cheese. Most people like it.”
Dunland looked at her in awe.
“Music theory,” she continued, “is like a cheese factory. Nobody really cares what goes on inside it. Do you understand?”
“Y-y-yes,” said Dunland.
“I don’t think that you do, my fine-feathered friend. I am now going to put you to work at the cheese factory!”
For the next forty-five minutes, Miss Jameson put Dunland to work copying out notes from an exercise book onto blank pieces of paper. From time to time she would criticize his copying, but for the most part she let him be. She seemed to be reading from a Bible, a St. James edition. At the end of the forty-five minutes, she stopped Dunland in mid-note.
“Halt!” she barked, “Now, after you have toiled in the cheese factory, do you know the meaning of labor?”
“Well, all I did was copy notes. I don’t see what good I did,” said Dunland.
“Aha!” said Miss Jameson with zeal. “You have learned your first lesson.” At this, she took up her Bible, turned to a random page and exclaimed, “ ’Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’! That’s Ecclesiastics you know.”
Neither of us had heard of Ecclesiastics.
“Now it is time for me to instruct your friend. Switch!” she shouted.
We switched places.
“Eli Belly,” she mused, “you are probably thinking to yourself, what am I doing here with this crazy old woman. You are probably saying inside, ‘Where am I?’ ‘Where have I landed?’ Well, I’ll tell you exactly where you have landed. You have landed in a pot of DUCK SOUP!”
Looking into that quivering face, with it’s set of cold blue Ashtric Sea eyes, I believed her completely. I must have paled.
“Now, I will give you a choice, since I see that you are smarter than your friend over there.” At this she made a scoffing gesture at Dunland, who could hear everything. “You can either work at the cheese factory for the next forty-five minutes like your friend, or you can let me take you on a trip, a voyage if you will. I will unlock for you the secrets behind the notes, behind the mystery of the chords. When I am finished with you, you will UNDERSTAND.” At this last word, my teacher’s eye’s bulged out of their sockets.
“Now, decide!” she commanded.
“I-I think I’ll take the second option,” I said. There didn’t seem to be much choice.
“Good,” said she. “Then I will let you live- this time.”
She then began to instruct me in the very basics of music theory: scales, octaves, clefts, chords. I must admit that she wasn’t such a bad teacher when she decided to teach. Also, despite the boring nature of the subject matter, she had so freaked me out that I dared not avert my attention for a moment. By the end of the forty-five minutes I had made some real progress. Finally, when it was done, she called Dunland over, and took us both by the hands (icy cold, they were) to the giant portrait of Botch.
“Now do as I say, both of you. Put your ears up to the picture. Do it! Do exactly as I say!”
“Tell me what you hear!” she barked.
“We hear nothing,” we both said.
“That is exactly what your parents and your friends will hear about me!” she shrieked. “Now SCRAM-E-VOUS!!”
Although Dunland and I had never actually heard pig-Fretch, we easily understood this final instruction, and scuttled out of the room to my anxious mother (who had heard raised voices from within), who took us back in her car to the relative safety of our homes. On the way home, we chuckled in our sleeves about how nuts our teacher was.
“What are you two all giddy about?” my Mom wanted to know.
“Nothing,” I giggled.
“We can’t tell you about it, or we’ll be in Duck Soup!” said Dunland. We both guffawed.
Needless to say, we couldn’t wait for our lesson next week.
Back in her lair, Miss Jameson, munching on a fried squirrel as she lounged in her bathtub, clad in a polka-dot scuba diving suit, chuckled to herself. “Neither can I,” she grinned, “Neither can I.”