Previously: Adolph Meistermann
THE END OF THE HOUR
Old Miss Brundage lived alone in the neighborhood and sustained herself by giving piano lessons to children. She had been a concert pianist in her youth, touring to grand receptions, mingling with artists, being conveyed through upper society. She never married and never wanted the music to stop. She became a piano teacher when finally she could no longer strive for that evanescent promise which in youth her dreams had made to her. The music did not stop but it did diminish, sotto voce. Teaching young children now did provide money, but she was unfulfilled even in teaching because no child yet had lasted for long, certainly not to become her protégé, her legacy. Miss Brundage spoke with Brahm Meistermann and was so very pleased to learn that a bright, promising young man wanted to be her pupil. Brahm Meistermann had nodded at the word “protégé”, thinking that it meant “student”. Miss Brundage was so pleased with the opportunity that she offered to lend to the Meistermann household her other piano for young Adolph to practice upon.
Brahm felt that he had gotten a good price for his son’s lessons even if it weren’t to last.
Adolph was early for his first hour-long piano lesson. He climbed the narrow and dim stairway, the walls of which were gowned in decades-old wallpaper, gilded with floral scroll patterns, and now faded and fusty. He halted in the hallway outside the door to Miss Brundage’s apartment. Adolph could hear hesitant and uneven piano playing.
Finally Adolph heard the voice of Miss Brundage say, “Well, not bad for a first sight reading, my dear, but always, always try to play as slowly as it takes to express the most difficult portions correctly. Tempo, my dear, tempo is so very important. Consistent tempo. Better slowly and even in tempo than fast, slow, fast, slow like, like an inch worm.”
He heard the laughter of a young girl. He heard Miss Brundage say, “Next week, my dear, I will see – and hear – you then. Make this new piece your own, make it your own.”
The door opened and out into the hallway stepped Shifra who was startled to find Adolph standing there, “Oh!”
Adolph was surprised to encounter Shifra, “Shifra?” and in the small hallway they found themselves embarrassingly intimate. Shifra’s young girl sweat and perfume filled the narrow volume between them, dispelling the fusty odor of the dim enclosure.
Adolph stammered, “I did not know, didn’t know you took piano, too. Flute and piano? Wow.”
Shifra shrugged, “Grandma Sasha says that a lady of social standing should know how to play piano, the way she did back in Russia. What are you doing here?”
Adolph said quickly, “I’m taking piano lessons, too.”
Shifra said, “Oh. I thought you were here to collect old fabrics from Miss Brundage for your parents’ shop.”
Adolph deflated defensively, “Well, I’m not.”
Shifra laughed, saying, “I’m only teasing.”
Adolph then rejoined, “I was thinking about taking down some of this wallpaper, however.”
Shifra leaned forward, grinned, and touched his arm and she whispered, “Isn’t it awful?” and Adolph drank the scent of her breath.
Shifra bid Adolph good-bye and Adolph watched her descend the narrow and dim stairway and as she turned at the next floor Shifra cast her incandescent smile up at Adolph. The expression “to carry a torch” occurred to Adolph and he thought that now he knew what it meant.
Adolph then turned and knocked upon Miss Brundage’s door with renewed conviction. Miss Brundage opened the door and welcomed him inside.
Adolph said shyly, “Miss Brundage, I’m Adolph.”
Miss Brundage said, “Right on time. Nothing is more important than time. The right time, all the time. Please, have a seat over there on the piano bench and we will begin immediately.”
Miss Brundage wore a full flowered dress with lace trim. Her apartment had intensely the same fusty aroma as the hallway. There was clutter everywhere, sheet music, books, tea cups, and upon the mantle convened stern busts of what Adolph thought must be famous musicians.
Miss Brundage confirmed Adolph’s unspoken observation, saying, “That’s Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann. They were composers from a time called Romantic, a hundred years ago, a time when intuition and emotion were prized over rationalism.”
Adolph could only say, “I like the sound of that,” and Miss Brundage was pleased.
Miss Brundage gestured to the long piano bench and said, “Please, Master Meistermann, do have a seat and we can begin.”
Adolph sat down and then slid over as he realized that Miss Brundage was going to sit beside him at the piano.
Miss Brundage commenced by saying, “We must first limber up the hand and fingers. Let me see your hand,” and Adolph obediently raised his right hand like a paw. Miss Brundage gently took his hand and turned it over palm upward. Her hands were cold to Adolph.
Miss Brundage observed, tipping his hand side to side, “You have nice large hands, Adolph. Warm hands. You will have a magnificent reach.”
Adolph looked shyly at Miss Brundage’s hands, her fingers lightly and delicately balancing his hand. They were beautiful hands in their own right but Adolph’s attention was drawn from their suppleness to their translucent champagne hue and then to the umbrage of spots and then to their fine parchment wrinkles. Miss Brundage was a young girl encased in amber.
Miss Brundage then dictated, “We start by limbering the individual fingers. Here is one method which I like,” and she held his index finger extended and laid it flat upon the keyboard and held his four fingers suspended below and pulled downward in a gentle bouncing manner, stretching the ligaments and tissue between Adolph’s index and second finger.
Adolph said, “That feels good.”
Miss Brundage said, “Do you know that each finger has a name?” and she stretched each finger in turn as she recited their names, like a nursery rhyme, “From the thumb they are called, Pollux, Index, Medius, Anularus, and Minimus.”
Adolph could only say, “That feels good.”
Then Miss Brundage took his right hand and held it in both hands and brought it up to her lips, saying, and he felt her moist breath upon his knuckles, “This is a good hand,” and then she laid her cheek against the back of his hand. To Adolph her skin was soft and oily smooth and he was suddenly embarrassed. Miss Brundage had closed her eyes for several breaths.
Suddenly, Miss Brundage regained her sterner composure and released Adolph’s hand to his lap, saying, “Do you know what a ‘key’ is, Adolph? The key of a piece of music is the first and last note of a scale which gives a feeling of arrival and rest. Other notes create relative degrees of tension, resolved when the tonic returns. Are you following me? Each note is the beginnings of a different key but subsequent notes all bear the same relationship in every key. There were composers who thought that each key produced its own feeling or ‘color’. The series of notes that make up each key is called the ‘scale’ because it climbs up and down. That is where we begin.”
Miss Brundage demonstrated the scales of each black and white key. Adolph was mesmerized by the sound and the sight of her scurrying fingers lightly dancing, pirouetting up and down the keyboard. Miss Brundage swayed and appeared to caress the piano back and forth, back and forth. When she played a descending scale she would sway against Adolph and press against his right side, and then she would sway away playing an ascending scale, over and over again.
At the end of the hour, Adolph could feel the tension but not the release.
Excerpt from Adolph Meistermann…
This is a section of my entry for Carl Reiner’s Writers’ Contest; to read Carl Reiner’s Chapter 1 go to: [http://carl-reiner.com/contest/?utm_campaign=]
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS