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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)

TITLE: A Distant Sound of Trumpets
By Carol Slider
~3rd Place


The last movement of the symphony began with a sweeping crescendo, and a roar of timpani and cymbals and trombones. The turbulent cacophony was Gustav Mahler’s “cry of despair”—Bill Shepler knew this, because he had read the program notes. He’d listened to recordings of Mahler’s Second Symphony, but this was the first time he’d heard it performed live.

He glanced at Marie, whose program book lay open on her lap. She had never understood the complex music he loved; yet she’d surprised him with tickets for this concert, though she had known it would be 80 minutes without an intermission. Perhaps she didn't appreciate post-Romantic music, but she had sensed what he needed—now, at this moment—and he was profoundly grateful.

Four weeks ago, John had come into his office and said soberly,

“We need to talk.”

And Bill, who could read both his supervisor’s face and the company balance sheet, had known what he was going to stay.

Even so, Bill had protested numbly,

“Thirty years, John...”

“I know, believe me, it hurts,” John had said, and Bill had been certain he meant it.

He couldn’t complain—not when he had gotten his full pension and a comprehensive severance package. Marie had a good job with the school district administration, and their dual careers had precluded children. Financially, they’d be okay.

But last Friday—packing up plaques, pictures, and golfing trophies, turning out the light, shutting the door—it had felt like he was burying a vital part of himself. He was 56—far too young to die, or even to retire.

The clear voice of a trumpet called him back to his theater seat, weaving the sublime into the mundane recollection of his last week at work. There had been little of the sublime in his life the past three decades—he admitted that (even as the brass and strings almost swelled into grandeur, then died away, as if not quite ready to soar).

In college he’d had a vague dream of singing opera, before practical-minded advisors had steered him into a business major. He’d never regretted that decision, even as he found less and less time for music. He’d sung tenor in the church choir for a while, before his promotions, and before praise bands had taken over the worship hour.

So he’d concentrated on work.

Buried himself.

The music had thundered and raged, weaving earlier themes with new ones. Now it faded into near-silence, as if it waited for something. Then a trumpet fanfare sounded, far away, perhaps high up in the galleries at the top of the concert hall. A flute answered each trumpet call with a delicate trill of a melody, which melted seamlessly into a whispered, hymn-like song:

Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n...

Bill had hardly noticed the chorus, hidden behind the augmented orchestra; perhaps they had stood up during that last great tumult of sound before the trumpet fanfare. The large ensemble articulated each word with hushed intensity. Bill glanced again at Marie’s program book, which she had opened to a translation of the text.

Aufersteh’n... Rise again...

It was a hymn to the hope of resurrection, of rebirth. Mahler’s music cradled and illuminated the German poetry—first with caressing strings and breathless anticipation, then with bright-toned brass and soaring hope:

Was vergangen, auferstehen... What has died must rise again..

Bereite dich zu leben! Prepare yourself to live!

The finale swelled into a monumental sound, a union of soloists, chorus and orchestra all striving for something beyond the temporal:

Aufersteh’n, ja Aufersteh’n...

And then it was over. The applause began before the reverberation ended, and the performers on stage became mortal again. The choristers looked like college kids, grandparents and office workers—too ordinary to have sung something so sublime.

When the conductor came back for a curtain call with the chorus director, the audience gave the performers a standing ovation. Bill exchanged a quick, eloquent smile with Marie as they stood up.

She understood it, too, he thought intuitively.

But she understood more than that—he knew it when she handed her program book to him. It was open to the chorus roster, and Bill saw the box at the bottom of the page with the caption: “Want to Join the Philharmonic Chorus? Auditions are held each August...”

Bill reached out and touched his wife’s hand lightly, eloquently.

Bereite dich zu leben.

Prepare... to live.

Accept Jesus as Your Savior Right Now and be Certain of Eternal Life.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Allen Stark09/18/09
Das war sehr gut! Danke schoen.
Charla Diehl 09/19/09
When one door closes, God opens another--that's what this story says to me. Your musical descriptions had me feeling the rise and fall of the notes and emotions soaring from the instruments. Great job.
Catrina Bradley 09/19/09
Your beautiful descriptions made this easy to follow even tho I know nothing about the music. Great word choices and phrasing, and a solid storyline. Loved it.
Deborah Engle 09/19/09
what eloquent writing. What an inspiring story.
Beth LaBuff 09/21/09
I love how you interwove this story. I could feel the emotion from Bill. Your ending and title are perfect!
Seema Bagai 09/21/09
Exquisite. I loved how you wove the music into the narrative.
Jan Ackerson 09/21/09
Oh yeah, this is yours, all right, just as you said!

Wonderful use of the music to move the story along--enjoyed every note!
Mona Purvis09/21/09
Just so well written and satisfying. I could tell this was yours, too.
Leah Nichols 09/22/09
Loved every word.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/22/09
Not just for the topic, but also for the mastery of the storytelling--this is yours, for sure. You left me with trumpets blaring in my heart!
Sherrie Coronas09/22/09
Just loved this piece. The integration of music truly did help tell the story. Enjoyed this and LOVED the end.
Bryan Ridenour09/22/09
Great entry. You wrote in such a way that I heard the symphony and felt passion of its message. Great ending!
Joy Faire Stewart09/22/09
What a special relationship between the couple...loved her gift. Excellent writing!
Pamela Kliewer09/22/09
Wow! What a great story! You have a real gift!
Chely Roach09/22/09
I could almost hear the music...I loved the line, "A flute answered each trumpet call with a delicate trill of a melody, which melted seamlessly into a whispered, hymn-like song..." Beautiful writing. Loved this.
Shilo Goodson09/23/09
Nice piece. I hope he makes it into the chorus group.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/24/09
Congratulations on EC, my musically and writing- skilled friend.
Patricia Turner09/24/09
Absolutely and lyrically beautiful! Congratulations on your EC placement!
Beth LaBuff 09/24/09
Congratulations, Carol, for your level placing and EC with this wonderful story!
Lisa Johnson09/25/09
I am awestruck at the reading of this entry. So much intensity, so much passion. I loved the way the music intertwined with the story, and I absolutely loved the ending. Congratulations on both your level and EC placement.
Sharlyn Guthrie10/01/09
Congratulations, Carol! I enjoyed reading this, and the musical passages interspersed toward the end of the story were a brilliant touch.