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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All's well that ends, well... by John von Daler


                 Once a week for three months I sat on a small balcony overlooking about a dozen five course meals in a fancy restaurant in Copenhagen and played #Paganini's sonatas for guitar and violin. I was accompanied by an extremely fine musician with one small idiosyncrasy: he could not stand to finish a piece.

                We had a little dressing room above the kitchen. Here we unpacked our instruments, adjusted our clothing, and talked about the evening's program. At the appointed time we walked down the back stairway, passed the door to the kitchen and went around the side of the beautiful, old maritime building and into the restaurant from the front. A tiny stairway lead the way to the narrow balcony on which were placed our music stands and two chairs. From here our upper bodies and instruments could be seen as we played.
                The inevitable occurred of course one evening when a heavy rain lead me to suggest that we go through the kitchen and from there through the dining room and up our stairway. We informed the owner of our intention and he contacted the chef de cuisine who replied that he in no way would allow two musicians to traipse through his domain. The owner replied that he would take full responsibility for any possible calamities and overruled the irrate man. We were then allowed to tiptoe through the kitchen in which the staff stood frozen in their places like figures in a wax museum. To the distant and gentle thunder of falling soufflĂ©s we gingerly made our way past the glaring staff, around the ovens and stoves, and out to the dining room.
                This striving for perfection also characterized the rest of the establishment. The waiters were haughty and idealistic about their work; the dining room shone like a magazine cover. The courses were served in the correct order to the right people at the right time without a hitch. The customers' every wish was fulfilled.
                We wanted our music to have the same standard. And it did. Except for the endings.
                Up on our balcony we would be playing Paganini with the swirling feeling of elegant peasantry that characterizes these wonderful pieces. But as we progressed through the various movements, I would prepare myself and my partner for the inevitable: this piece was going to end. If there was anything he could not stand, it was the whole spectrum of predictable chords that lead both listener and player toward that musical epiphany: no more, no more - and then silence. As we got to the middle section of the last movement of a sonata he would begin to fidget in his chair and I would begin a soothing stream of words, like a jockey whispering his steed to the finish line:
                All right! We're getting there! Now we'll just take it easy. Just one or two more dominants and sub-dominants and we're there. We can do it! We can finish this thing off!
                My partner would turn red in the face as he plucked out those fateful last chords. If I had done my talking in a good, calm fashion then we would get there. But sometimes the soufflĂ© would come crashing down and the piece would end in a mess.
                On those few occasions we could do nothing more than get started on the next piece as quickly as possible.
                Since that time I have often thought how good it is in life that we seldom know when something is ending. We escape the dreadful pressure of having to know that we for the last time are going through a certain door, shaking hands with a certain person, waving goodby to a country or playing a certain piece.
                And indeed, I have never since been up on that little balcony of fateful endings.


My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through Amazon.com, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at Amazon.com or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


               





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