<< -- 7 -- Jenna Orkin THE LAST CLASS
I'd never studied the piece but it is well-known and harmonically simple. Also Emile gestured that he'd come with me and whisper any chord I might not remember. Ms Talma frowned disapprovingly at this but decided against waging a pantomime battle.
'Well? Why don't you begin?'
Her hand rose shakily from the sheet and waved in the air.
Taking it gently, Miss Talma returned the hand to Boulanger's side. 'Le piano est dans l'autre chambre,' she said softly. ('The piano is in the other room.')
'Ah!' At the realization of where she was, Boulanger sank further into the pillows.
I went into the livingroom and began to play.
'You are not in key! Start over.'
I began again.
I looked at Mlle Dieudonne who had posted herself in the doorway to act as mediator.
'B Flat!' Mlle Dieudonne shrugged and sighed. There is no B Flat in the beginning of this piece.
'Play B Flat.'
I played the note.
'No, B Flat. Play B Flat.'
I played the same note an octave below.
'Ah, but I see you do not know which note is B Flat.
Mlle Dieudonne turned around with a resigned sigh and went to Boulanger's bedside like a motorized doll that goes back and forth between walls, retracing its path til someone turns it off or the motor runs out. Louise Talma looked dismayed: Boulanger had lost her perfect pitch. There followed an anxious conference of whispers.
'Play any fugue you would like.'
I played the Fugue from Bach's E Minor Toccata and, at a signal from Mlle Dieudonne, returned to the bedroom.
She had no voice left; not even a whisper; only air shaped into words which died as they left her lips. We listened in polite silence dominated by the embarrassment one feels in a courtroom for a witness who has been unmasked, her puny, shivering self revealed.
'I am sorry for this pathetic scene. A tragi-comedy.'
She had been blind for several years but this seemed only to intensify her vision of the unseen. Like a star whose light won't reach us for millennia, she spoke not to the people we were then but to the people we would become over the course of a lifetime.
'You are all good musicians. I hope you will work hard. For Miss Talma and Mlle Dieudonne.'
We hung our heads and looked at the floor. For now the embarrassment was for ourselves.
Copyright © 27 February 2005
Jenna Orkin, New York City, USA
FONDATION INTERNATIONALE NADIA & LILI BOULANGER
JENNA ORKIN'S MEMOIR OF ROSALYN TURECK
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