Theo Pam


The school bell rings, Theo and I barely hear it in the backstage hall.

The backstage hall looks like any other hallway near the music wing. The tiles are the colour of dark coffee, and the oddly shaped trapezoidal-prism bricks that line the walls are the colour of slightly spoiled cream. The hall leads to a side door at the front part of the school, and continues into the rest of the music wing. What makes the hallway different from others is its position — jammed between room 101, the main music room, and the stage in the cafeteria. The two doors on either end of the hallway lead to the backstage.

We dont have much time until the flood of students interrupts the lesson Theo is set on giving me, but he acts as if crowds and noise dont apply to him.

Let me tell you about Theo Pham. The five-foot-five, soft spoken Asian guy standing in front of me.

Theo Pham doesnt need sleep. Theo Pham doesnt need food. All that Theo Pham lives on coffee and awesomeness. Theo Pham is a Mathlete, speaksGerman at the champion level, and stars as the premier solo saxophonist of the Woodlands School jazz band. Theo Pham scores at least ninety fivepercent in every class he takes, and is bent on getting into U ofT life sciences on a scholarship. Most impressively, Theo Pham wears blue, woollen old man sweaters and pulls off the look so that he still looks cool.

Theo Pham is teaching me about the sound board.

The sound board controls the audio equipment on the stage during a performance. It can channel and amplify specific frequencies, cut off or turn on the hanging microphones, and in the wrong hands can make an audiences ears bleed. Its not so much a board as a slab, a black plastic slab easily the size of a two-year old, and just as heavy. Spindles, buttons, and LEDs crowd its surface, sometimes moving or blinking by themselves.

Amir? You understand?

Not a chance. Theo has — apparently — just taught me how to deal with feedback. I remember the words destructive, awful, and for Gods sake dont let it happen, but nothing beyond that. I pray for a feedback-free concert tomorrow.

Students start to trickle into the hallway. Theo ignores them, but they dont ignore Theo, or the soundboard. One guy — he looks like a seventh grader, only a seventh grader can wear that look of smugness and not get beaten over the head — gives us an appraising look, like hes commissioned the entire concert tomorrow and wants his moneys worth.

Youd better explain it to me again, I say slowly, just to be sure.

Theo nods, approving of my apparent thoroughness. Okay, well these spindles over here control the frequency input for —

The sound boards cool, laid-back, party-hardy cousin, the light board, stands next to its sombre relative. I can lift the light board if I want to. I could put it in my backpack without too much trouble. I could probably break it if I had some time and a hammer. If I tried that with the sound board, itd probably hit me back.

The trickle of students grows to a flow. One unlucky guy, sporting a plaid shirt and a wispy beard, kicks one of the wires. Theos nostrils flare at the transgression. Hey, watch it, he calls out, and continues his lecture.

I shift my feet and disturb the coils of wires that circle the boards, Theo and me. They run into the open backstage door, up the shadowed wooden steps that lead to the stage, where the risers, electrical switches, and hanging lamps sit ready for the concert tonight.

So thats it. Theo finishes. Understand?

Absolutely not.

I nod. Yeah, got it.

Awesome. So if the sound is too harsh you… Theo trails off, waiting for me to fill in the blank.

Crap. I take my memory, slam the gear into reverse, and punch back through time. I strain my mental ears for Theos instructions, and repeat them verbatim.

You check the spindles for the woodwinds against the levels for the brass, I say, after the volume output. And then you do the sound levels.

I dont know what that means, but Theo nods. Great. And if Mrs. BK complains about the noise level?

Tell her you fixed it but dont do anything, I answer. I remember that much, if only for the blasphemy of lying to Mrs. BK, the head of the music program and the schools equivalent of a stage mom. For Mrs. BK, the Woodlands School acts as little more than a vehicle for the band, which she fights for every year, and usually succeeds. Under her the band has won double-gold standing at the 500 level every Musicfest for the past ten years, despite the fact that the 500 level is reserved for classes composed entirely of twelfth graders. The Woodlands Senior Bands population is mostly elevens and tens.

Theo claps his hands together. Were all done then. Well go over the basics again just before the concert just in case, okay?

Thank God for you, Theo Pham. I nod, Yeah sounds good.

Great. Any plans before the concert? Theo asks as he rolls a wire into a loop for some inexplicable purpose.

Uh, I think Im going to catch up on my sleep, I say. After a calculus test today, I need it.

Oh right. Sleep. Theo says absently, still coiling the wire. Tell me how that goes.