<< -- 4 -- Jenna Orkin TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON
Everything Mr Eschenbach had said about Miss Laudon was true. Music was her blood, informing every gesture, moving her so as to waive the need for discipline, that mechanical substitute for love. From music came her happiness for, although she got impatient with Mr Eschenbach's forgetfulness, she was never in a bad mood.
All winter Michael worked on the two pieces Miss Laudon had given him. He loved the deep, crashing bass of the Rhapsody even though he couldn't play it with the power of Arnold Gross, a boy who'd just gotten a scholarship to Juilliard. But Miss Laudon said he played 'like an artist.' And he loved the Haydn, now, too. When he rolled the chords, the sound filled the room like a spirit.
The competition in Michael's high school was ferocious and he did not stand out. His inconspicuousness depressed him and his depression made him even more inconspicuous. The teachers and girls he wanted to impress seemed unaware of him and he spent many hours each day devising ways to win their attention. Miss Laudon's praise gave him hope. Since he already had her attention, he did not spend hours devising ways to get it. Therefore he did not think he loved her. But she was the only person apart from his mother with whom he felt comfortable and happy and he was grateful for that.
It was her students, however, who captured his imagination. He wondered about them, envied them, copied their mannerisms. The dumpy woman's name was Marilyn. She was an accountant and she remained as shy as the first time he'd seen her. But when she played she was transfigured, like someone praying or saving a life. If Michael missed a lesson and had to come on Tuesday to make it up, he heard McGovern Samuels, a middle-aged man who managed a Burger King and smiled a lot. Mr Samuels was working on Goyescas. When he played it he became serious. Expressions crossed his face as they will a dreamer's. Even though Michael had never been to Spain he could feel the heavy, scented air and see people in the square on a summer night in Seville.
As the lessons continued the desire that Michael had felt beneath the open window of the school the day he first passed it was fulfilled. After the Brahms and the Haydn he learned three preludes and fugues of Bach, two Beethoven sonatas, a nocturne by Chopin, and pieces by Schumann and Ravel. He practised several hours a day. On Friday when he got out of school early, he went to Lincoln Center and listened to records of symphonies and concertos, pressing the headphones to his ears to distinguish in the tinny tune of the recording the strings from the horns or clarinets. Music did not make him less sad but his sadness now expressed itself in music. When he fell in love with Gloria Rivera, a girl whose first name seemed to refer to her proportions, he heard in his mind Chopin's G Minor Ballade. If she smiled at him his mind played Beethoven's Fourth Concerto, last movement. If, as was more often the case, she ignored him, it played the Rachmaninov Second Concerto. He also read about great musicians. The ones who were still alive -- Stokowski, Boulanger, Rubinstein, -- were old with long white hair. He studied their accomplished, exciting lives, and dreamed of his own following a similar path.
When Michael's upstairs neighbor complained about the practising, he practised at the school which was open six days a week until ten.
'Take Room 8,' Mr Eschenbach would say. 'Over here. Quick, before somebody comes.' Or, seeing how seriously Michael was practising, "What you were playing -- Schumann? Sounds good. You work hard, maybe someday you'll grow up, play Carnegie Hall.'
Copyright © 1 September 2005
Jenna Orkin, New York City, USA