It Only Takes a Note To Start A Concerto
From the files in my mind I take out treasured memories at will. Others slip out uninvited. I sit at my desk in my tiny study. A page of sheet music lies askew on the printer. Who left it there? I close my eyes and lean back in my chair. The years roll back and I’m there again, standing outside the Music Room, silently waiting for the dreaded word to pierce the tension that was almost tangible.
He could hear a pin drop, so surely couldn’t miss the sound of twenty fearful hearts beating out frantic rhythms as we filed through the door and slid silently into our seats. Twenty single desks. Little islands of aloneness, isolated from a classmates comforting whisper. Undefined retribution hanging heavy in the air. A blackboard filled the wall at the front of the classroom, cylinders of chalk resting on a narrow shelf below. Little white torpedo’s, well aimed, never missing a target. Wandering eyes struggled to maintain focus on the man in the navy blue suit, brown shoes and eccentric tie, who stood at the front emanating impatience.
Leonard longstaff possessed an amazing skill in flinging twenty music books in quick succession, to land accurately with a menacing thud on all twenty desks. He could stand at the front of a class and effortlessly single out the culprit of an off key note or the sound of silence from falsely moving lips. His favourite song, ‘The Trout’, contained notes that either sank to the depths or soared to the heights. Bubbling trills reminiscent of the trout’s habitat gave the colour brown to the in-between sections. And a quickening pace when caught on the anglers hook caused chaotic stumbling to our untrained vocals. Frustration raised his voice several octaves and reddened his face into a ripe plum. Words could ricochet from his mouth like bullets. Not one of his pupils possessed a semblance of musical talent and his tuning fork would rap with a sharp ping from desk to desk, sending shivers of fear up and down jellied spines.
For a moment the memory fades as I struggle to recall the name of the boy who, one Tuesday morning, unwittingly delivered nineteen fearful hearts by his outrageously presumptuous request. A tune on the old piano.
When he played Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini my soul became lost in the wonder and sheer heart rending beauty of the music, skilfully wrung from the keys of the old piano. An unfamiliar ambiance pervaded the classroom. A glimpse into the true soul of a man. He shut the lid with a crash, swivelled round on the piano stool and delivered our assignment for the following week. Composing a short piece of music. On his instruction we filed silently out of the classroom, dire threats depicting the consequences of failure ringing in our ears.
I sat silently at my desk at the front, facing the door, easing a blank music sheet from my folder. It wasn’t a deliberate act of rebellion, simply an inability to transfer the buzzing melody in my head into the reality of notes on paper. And the acute shyness and sense of inferiority and lack of confidence that had dogged me since my earliest memory.
The tuning fork in Leonard Longstaff’s hand pinged its way around the desks as he trailed without comment from one to the other. Barely suppressed giggles accompanied the futile humming of hastily composed tunes. The tension in the air hung like an unseen charge of electricity bridging the gaps between desks.
I felt his eyes and the eyes of nineteen others fixed on me as I stole a glance upwards. A silent prayer winged its way from me to God. My first real communication with Him apart from the set prayers recited at the beginning and end of each day. I wondered if Leonard Longstaff could see the fear etched on my face and was startled to see only compassion on his.
“We appear to have run out of time. Get up quietly and orderly without crashing your seats and close the door unobtrusively as you leave.”
Sliding the blank paper back into my folder I rose from my seat, hoping he could read the gratitude in my tremulous smile. A rare twinkle in his brown eyes told me he could.
I open my eyes, lingering in the memory for a while, before letting it go. Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini plays on my I-Pod.
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