Monday, December 04, 2006


Other people are sleeping peacefully, or eating breakfast, or reading the newspaper before heading off to the office.  I am playing wrong notes on the piano.  Only one question seems relevant: Why do I say yes to these things?


This isn’t my problem.  It’s Bob’s.  He has written a song which he wants to sing.  The song needs accompaniment.  Since Bob neither reads music, nor plays an instrument, his song will remain a song for the shower unless somebody composes and plays an accompaniment.  If Bob had been a little less humble when he shyly asked if I could create music for a song he had written, if I hadn’t imagined the song to be a simple song in the key of C needing only a few cords, if we hadn’t been standing at the back of the church right after a sermon about reaching beyond yourself, then I might not have said yes.  But I did say “yes” and the date when bob will perform the song is already set. 


I’m a sucker for flattery, a pushover for anybody seeking volunteers.  All they have to say is: “you’d be great for this job,” and I’m right there, doing their work when I ought to be doing my own.  So here I sit, winding and rewinding Bob’s cassette tape, fumbling in the impossible key of E major, a woman who never plays the blues, wondering how they play the blues for a guy who croons like Elvis.  It will take hours to figure it all out, hours to play it with confidence, hours to practice with bob.  And what will be the gain?


Now the performance day has come, and here we are, crammed into the far end of a narrow airless room with a tin can sound system and a piano that probably had its most recent tuning some time around 1950.  Fluorescent tubes blaze along a ceiling so low I can almost touch it.  Some members of the audience are asleep, aided possibly in their rest by hearing loss.  Others fidget in wheelchairs.  The place smells like—like--like a nursing home.  Just how much time did I spend preparing for this?


The moment has arrived.  The piano and I are negotiating the introduction.  Lean on the soft pedal.  Keep the rhythm slow and steady.  Bob is positioning the mike.  He’s breathing in.  Now he is singing the low notes, making them mellow, feeling the rhythm.  Now he’s building in the middle, resting, breathing.  The lights seem softer somehow.  Now he’s up in the high notes, the E, the D’s, soaring, gliding.  The piano has forgotten to be out of tune.  Indeed, it seems to be playing itself, coming out of itself to be with Bob.  It is supporting.  It is lifting.  It is singing too.  Having awakened the audience, Bob takes a moment to twirl them at the top before he starts the final descent, coming down softly, leaving them gently.  The last low note ushers in the silence.  Nothing left to do but take a bow. 


Applause rings out.  Tomorrow a bustling nurse will nod politely when a white-haired gentleman tells her Elvis was in the building.  But tonight the place seems to smell better than it did an hour ago, maybe as good as the Winspeare Centre, or maybe like a hotel theatre in Vegas. 


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