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My uncle is a musical pony. When he is here, there is always music. We always hear him. He plays and singing so much, it’s like when we hear a concert on the radio. Every morning, he wakes us with melodies that drift through our minds all day long. After supper, we get together in the living room. We all sit on the sofa while he sits on a chair and serenades us. I always stay until I am tired and mother sends me to bed. I sleep with music in my ears, as it brings me beautiful dreams.
Uncle plays many different musical instruments. He plays the trumpet. I hear strength and honor. I imagine seeing kings, castles, generals, and years deep in history. My heart runs and I want to march. He plays the piano. I imagine seeing aristocracy -- lords and ladies. To me, it is a bit boring. But that's not all. The piano in the corner is a versatile tool. Sometimes, it is happy. Sometimes, it's sad. I don’t know how he gets such beauty out of when. When I practice, my little digits are slow and clunky like they’re made out of cabbage. But his hands are fast and graceful, flying over the keyboard like phoenix. He plays the cầm, which is sorta like a big violin, only it’s a board with lots of strings stretched across. I’ve tried it once or twice; it’s too big for me and it’s hard to play. It can sound melancholy, but sometimes it’s mysterious, but never silly. I think it's okay. He still plays with the guitar. I like this, as he often sings in Zebrican or in Gresski, the Griffon language. The songs are almost never in Equestrian, but I can understand them a little bit. I some sing along with him, but because I don’t know the languages, I often use the wrong word or end up saying total nonsense.
When we sing together, the room always comes alive. His accent is kind weird; it’s like a Baltimare accent with a thick layer of Griffon over it and some Zebra influences, like how he’ll sometimes pronounce words that start with st, like street and student, as shtreet and shtudent. He also sometimes pronounces e like it’s got a y in front of it, and sometimes his y’s sound a bit like a splice between u and i. He pronounces deli like dyelui. He doesn’t make too many “uh” or “ih” sounds, either, and sometimes, he instead of making a t sound, he makes a click sound against the roof of his mouth.
However, there is only one favorite instrument for us. It is the balalaika. He seldom plays the balalaika. I hear it perhaps only once or twice a year. Whenever he plays it balalaika, he changes. He seems to smile and laugh less. He is serious. He only ever sings Griffon songs when he plays it. We are often alone in the room when he grabs the balalaika. He always handles the instrument with care and caution, like it’s really important to him.
The songs are not all the same. Some are loud. His chest swells as he roars a bit. Some are quiet. He whispers the song. Some are rough. Some are gentle. Some are sad. His hands shake as he croons. Uncle always has tears in his eyes when he sings and plays on the balalaika. He never cries, but instead always sounds a little sad, but at the same time, he sounds very proud while he sings this one song about the little blue beret he always wears.
I know I do not really listen to them, and I do not sing. My father advises me, "My son, you shouldn’t be listening to this stuff.”
"Why," I ask. "What is so bad that they warn me?" He thinks, brushing the bald head. After several seconds pause, he tells me these words. His voice is completely serious, which is rare for him. I remember the words perfectly.
"I’m not the one to ask about these things. If you want to know, then ask my brother. You're a big boy, you can handle it. "
I wait three months for uncle to come back. I want to ask him what this was about songs and what they meant. One warm summer’s night, I find him on the porch, strumming his balalaika. I approach carefully and sit by him. I can see the pronounced muscles flexing carefully. His tattoo reads “Grazny ‘06”. He looks at me and in front of me. "Well, patsan, guten Abend."
“Good evening,” I reply.
I wait. "Uncle, what are you singing?" At this, he lowers the balalaika and rubs his eyes.
Silence. We hear the cicadas. "A song," he says. He’s not angry, so I ask more.
"May I ask you some questions?" He nods. "What are you singing on the balalaika?"
He sighs a bit and he answers me, "I sing about friends, battles, people, and life. My songs come from the hearts of soldiers.
I reel back a bit. "Uncle, you're a soldier?"
He laughed heartily. "Yes, a soldier. Well, you might say contractor, but that was pretty much my job. I was a Grollen company mercenary. Turbulent times, bad job, and the most fun I ever had. Most of the guys weren’t too bad, either,” he chucked nostalgically. "I can’t tell you everything yet, but I can still spin a few yarns.
Uncle had stories to tell? Yay! He always had the most interesting ones. “Can you tell me a story, Uncle Breeze?”
“Sure can,” he smiled as he composed himself. I listened intently. “Okay, Clopson, there was this one time in training where we were at the shooting range.” While he is telling his story, he’s always making these big animated gestures. “So anyway, this guy named Sheffield was firing away with an M60. Suddenly the gun just seized up. He tried cycling the action, reloading all that stuff, but it was still jammed. Another guy, Haye, handed him a cleaning rod to clear it out. Our instructor caught on and started watching the whole thing with this crazy look on his face. While Sheffield’s still trying to get that rod down the barrel, he accidentally hit something and he ended up taking the whole barrel out. Crazy, huh?”
“Yeah,” I reply. “Sounds totally hilarious.”
“Everything’s funny in hindsight, nephew. Sheffield tried to put the barrel back in, but didn’t have any way to grab it without burning himself, so our instructor yelled at him to just put in a new one. Sheffield did. Let me tell you, the barrel change procedure on the M60 is the most needlessly complicated, convoluted, easily botched essential function on any infantry weapon -- figures that Equestria got it from the Americans. It took a while, but the poor stallion finally got the weapon ready again. He pulled the trigger and only got one shot. He cycled the action manually and fired again. The same thing happened. Our instructor’s face was getting redder and redder this whole time. Despairing over what to do, Sheffield turned to our instructor and asked him, ‘Sir, this weapon isn’t working right.” To that, our instructor shouted, “That’s because you’ve put it back together wrong!” Uncle Breeze breaks down laughing.
“What happened to Sheffield, Uncle?”
“The poor guy spent dinner that night practicing M60 operations, cleaning, and barrel changes. Anyway, the next time we went to the range, Sheffield had his M60 taken away and he was given an M240B, specifically so he couldn’t possibly mess it up.” He pauses. “I bet your father has a ton of stories, too? Has he ever told you any of them?”
“You know, he used to be a soldier in the Equestrian army. Did he ever tell you about that?"
I nod. “Yeah, he sorta made it obvious, I guess.”
“You should ask him about his experiences.” Silence comes again. "Skazaj, Komerade, you want to try the balalaika?"
"Thank you, Uncle!" He gives me the balalaika and shows me how to hold the instrument. We do not play any song that night, or the next day either, because he wants to make sure that I get it right when I do play those songs he loves so dearly. I already have some experience on the guitar, so it’s not too hard for me.
The next night he asks me, "Are you ready?” I am ready to play the instrument and we will both sing the accompaniment.
"Yes. And off we go.” My arms lift the balalaika. “One, two, three, four!"
I gently pluck and strum the strings with my bare fingers. "Raspleskalas' Sineva, rapleskalas' tel'nyashkam razlilas po ', po beretam, dazhe v serdtse Sineva zateryalas' razlilas' svoim zamanchivym tsvetom." In Equestrian: "Blue spilled, it spilt onto the telnyashki, and onto the berets, even in the heart, the beautiful blue color spills outwards.”
We play the whole song. At the end, we laugh and then play again. Truly, this is the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It is now just a few weeks later and I begin my first day at the Canterlot Conservatory tomorrow. Thank you, uncle, for thanks to you, a treble cleft is now emblazoned on my flank.