Timpanists and trumpeters

Suddenly, everyone's home officing. Including those with noisy professions.

Our son holds great promise as a trumpeter. Although he isn't too far advanced yet, having begun only just over a year ago. The thing with this instrument is the inverse relationship between musical prowess and volume of sound. Which is to say, a novice trumpeter plays very loudly indeed. And gratingly, too. But what do I really care? I too play the trumpet and also enjoy playing it off-kilter on occasion – which bothers nobody around here. We are a country-dwelling family, after all. Some call it contemplative, I call it the back of beyond. The hard-core urbanite's nightmare, to be sure. We have no neighbours within earshot. Heck, we have no neighbours within sight. OK, we do have some neighbours within smelling distance – that is, when they spread their manure. And yet, we are now having unexpected problems with neighbours: our son's trumpet teacher's neighbours. You see, I am spending this spring at home with my family. Sheltering-in-place, just like everyone's doing. So here we are, exclusively within our own four walls. No club meetings. No cultural gatherings. No outings. No cinema. No sporting events. My cabaret performances are suspended; our children don't attend school any more.

We do home officing, home schooling, home music lessons even. Via videotelephony. The music teacher sets the tone, the child copies it. Each facing a computer screen, linked together through the internet. Thus, thanks to cutting-edge technology, an abrupt end to our son's nascent trumpeting career is averted. The trumpet teacher, moreover, is an orchestra musician and aficionado of experimental jazz music. And since he began teaching our son via computer screen, I also know that he has a house plant. Neighbours as well. You don't see them during the video call, but the trumpet teacher has told me about them. In fact, he expressed concerns about giving music lessons from home: fear of upsetting the neighbours. Trumpet lessons are normally held on school premises and the neighbours tend to be out at work. But now everything comes together: classes taught in living rooms, neighbours stuck at home. I'm also assuming a back story or two here. It could well be that the neighbours' patience has been previously tested by occasional strains of experimental jazz music – in any case, an escalation scenario cannot be ruled out. I speak from experience: in my youth I once spent a week in Paris with some friends – six of us in a two-room apartment, making music all day long. Our downstairs neighbour would knock on his ceiling with a broomstick, while our upstairs neighbour used to stomp on his floor, and neither of them in time with our music. They vocalised, too. My French may not have been very good at the time, yet it was still clear that their vocalising wasn't genteel. So, in my mind's eye, I was already imagining the poor trumpet teacher confronted by his knocking, stomping neighbours. Of course, I could have suggested that he temporarily teach our son something quieter. Like juggling. Yet that wouldn't further our son's trumpet career. And why presume a trumpet teacher can juggle as well?

Animation: Jamie Oliver Aspinall

In any case, the teacher has meanwhile rescheduled all of his students' lessons on a single day. So the neighbours can now be driven seriously bonkers through enforced listening to musical exercises, albeit only once a week. Maybe he brought them the glad tidings in an elegantly handwritten letter. Together with a box of earplugs. Or perhaps he procured an industrial quantity of egg cartons and soundproofed his apartment by fixing them to the walls. With glue, of course. Not nails – creativity counts. That trumpet teacher is by no means the only person now stuck with ever-present neighbours. There is more to lockdown than living in permanent proximity inside our own four walls. Even within an apartment building or a neighbourhood, there is the sudden and unaccustomed stress of being crushed together. Which demands tolerance all round. And forbearance. Which, I hear from various quarters, isn't so difficult as one might think. Knowing that we're all stuck in the same mess, through no one person's fault, brings us together. We develop a feeling of shared destiny. We band together to do shopping and errands for elderly and sick neighbours. We bury trivial disputes for the duration to aid peaceful coexistence. And who knows, new friendships may even develop. I think it would be wonderful if we could thus gain something positive from the present crisis. Meanwhile, certain issues resolve themselves: one of the trumpet teacher's neighbours – the one with the most sensitive hearing – just moved out a week ago.