I strolled along Main Street with Siegfried, my best friend and brother-in-law, unable to shake the song repeating in my head. I’d played it for my Opera 101 class yesterday at school, and since then, kept hearing Marcelo Alvarez singing “Che gelida manina,” from La Boheme.
He spoke rapidly; apparently afraid I might back out if he didn’t agree. “Oh, yes. Of course. ‘Rock of Ages.’ ‘Morning Has Broken.’ ‘Amazing Grace.’ The old standbys.
I listened to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” on the way home. I’d been immersed in jazz for the past month, savoring the minor tunes and enticing beats in preparation for my new book. The exotic rhythms of “Caravan” brought to mind a camel caravan weaving over the dunes in the hot desert. Beads clacking, saddles swaying, and gritty sand in the eyes. The intoxicating imagery provided an interesting backdrop to my musings about the music man’s past.
She pushed her long hair aside and flipped the sheet music to show me the cover. “I found this on the bench over there. It’s called ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.’ Do you know it?” “Do I know it?” I laughed. “It’s one of my favorites. Ella made this one famous.” I’d been playing Ella Fitzgerald’s CD for the past few weeks, preparing for my new book. “Ella?” she asked.
I stood and grabbed the CD I needed for the one o’clock class on American Composers. Today we would examine current day musicians, including a local genius I’d come to admire, Paul Oney Stuart. After attending an opera he composed, “The Sisters of Manzanar,” I’d been hooked.
I stopped and looked at her, puzzled. The urgency of the request seemed odd, especially since he’d been in homes since 1944. I wondered if he’d studied jazz, and immediately thought of the famous interlude in Dizzy Gillepsie’s “A Night in Tunisia.”
Eddie, Justin, and Reggie slouched and rolled their eyes every time I extolled the glory of Paul Stuart’s opera, Kill Bear Comes Home. The projected image on the wall, courtesy of a data show, revealed Stuart’s CD cover art, a gorgeous drawing of a young woman wearing thefeathery wings of a bird, and a hat with a prominent black beak. We listened to the last track of the CD, the Finale, entitled “Let him roam again.” The music, with its strong Native American elements, soothed and excited simultaneously. This was the third Stuart opera we’d studied in the American Composers class. If all went well, Mr. Stuart would appear next week to talk about his work. I wanted the class to be well prepared, and had worked them hard.
My brain drove me crazy. I told myself to stop worrying, realizing I’d probably find him in one of the common areas. I backtracked and headed for the sunroom. Several people leaned in the doorway, and the sound of singing burst through the air. Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me. Anyone else but me, anyone else but me. Voices rang out, not necessarily in tune, and someone plunked at the piano with great vigor. I squeezed past the three nursing assistants who leaned into the doorway and found a crowd gathered around the old spinet piano.
“Gus!” Kip called. “Come sit with me.” I slid onto the piano bench beside him. “Hey, Kip.” He started to play a left-handed boogie beat. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s jam.” Momentarily taken aback, I hesitated. Jamming wasn’t exactly my forté, although I’d dabbled in blues a few years back.
Don’t know why There’s no sun up in the sky Stormy weather. I slid over to allow him full range of the keyboard. I waited, while Debbie passed out little paper cups with big pink pills in them. Memorphyl.
Ella Fitzgerald, The Intimate Ella. The first track, Black Coffee, poured from the speakers. I sank into the seat. The music soothed me, healing my frayed nerves. I couldn’t help but think of Bella, and suddenly remembered the CDs I’d bought.
Do you enjoy music as an integral part of a novel?