The Last Recital

2 Min read

Piano music, composers

Writer’s Toolbox: the series and the infinitive phrase

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST

Silvermine School of Music, former Carriage House (built 1903)

I shall not forget the old carriage house, the hayloft used for bedrooms, the balcony overlooking the large open studio below, the chairs in rows on the oriental carpet, the curtain swags, the massive gilded mirrors, the soaring window, the three grand pianos. The lids were propped open, like three car-sized clams, with sounds from beyond the sea.

Charles and Paul sat on the bench–reminding me of boys on the dock with dangling feet–and played the Turkish March. Paul played Schumann’s Wild Horseman, then Asmi played Tales of the Matador, the hammers striking the strings of the Mason Hamlin grand, the notes prancing and stomping against the spruce board into the converted studio.

Have the spirits of the carriage house come to rest or does Schumann’s clippity-clop ride on in silence? The performances of students and masters shift and mingle in my memory, a certain beauty to the trying, to the imperfect, to the attempt. The student performance differs from that of the maestro who helps us hear what is possible, a new interpretation.

Thoughts on the piano:

  • To play Debussy is like walking in his Reverie.
  • To listen to a pianist play Joplin wakes the audience and starts the foot tapping
  • To hear Rubenstein play Chopin is to hear the soul of the piano.
  • To see your child perform at her first recital tightens your throat and expands your listening.
  • To sit through 17 years of piano recitals is to believe in the lasting and transformative power of music.

You may change schools, change jobs, change houses, change partners. The relationships in your life will come and go. The people you love will die. Through all life’s changes, you will have your music. The recital has given me so much music I would have never known.

And, you will have the music of others if you let them share it with you, but only if you’re listening. Passed on in this way, music is a lot like story.

The Swan Song is a pupil’s final performance, the peak of studies, the end of a performer’s career. The last recital is its own Swan Song, steeling me against cynicism, sickness, death. The recital is optimism, belief, beginnings, a display of growing talent and mostly hard work.

Norah and Sandra Murphy, her piano teacher

FOOTNOTES

*The opening sentence uses a series or list, a common and simple-to-use construction. Writers use it frequently to depict the detail and richness of a thing, often in a concrete way. A piano teacher, as an example, knows about time signature, tempo, dynamics, quarter notes, eighth notes, trills, fermatas, crescendo, piano and forte, ornamentation, the bass clef and treble clef, the key, the phrasing, the pedaling, the composer, the music period, and on. Tim O’Brien has a book titled on this idea, The Things They Carried.

*The list, Thoughts on the Piano, uses the infinitive phrase (the word to plus a verb and modifiers) as a noun or subject. In the first sentence, the infinitive to play Debussy is the subject of what it is like to walk in his Reverie. The last two words are a play on words, referring to both his particular composition, Reverie, and the idea of a dream. To play a composer’s music is essentially the manner of channeling the creation of that human being, performing it and giving it new life. The list also builds and creates its own kind of crescendo in meaning, the lessons from sitting through recitals all these years, the statements as they progress in meaning until the last. The final statement, the final word, has the most prominence.

May 27, 2022

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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