Sunday, April 12, 2015

the holy fire

I visited my piano today. It responded to my timid touch with a light flutter. One of the ivory veneer pieces flaked off while I played. I placed it in a neat stack that has begun to accumulate over the past year, according to my friend, who has so kindly been sheltering it in her home (and, I hope, has enjoyed playing it as much as possible.) I resolved to hire a piano master soon, to take the instrument in hand, and repair it. The piano was built in 1907, after all, and deserves some careful attention. It once survived a long journey north, years ago, in the back of an old International; a sojourn in the Bush, and several moves since then. Its sound board remains intact, and its tone is intriguing, even though all of the felt is in dire need of being replaced.

I opened a yellowing book of sheet music and began to fumble through Schubert's Serenade. At this point, it might be better to draw a curtain over that attempt, and redirect the listener to Horowitz's version. He adds a few extra flourishes, which are not in my book. Snazzy. (Blows kisses in Horowitz's general direction.)

In my hand I hold a laurel leaf, collected from the floor of the church. I pinch it and inhale its clean, lemony pungency. Laurel leaves whisper to the senses of ancient victories, of heroes, of the priesthood, nobility, of a myth about a forest nymph who ran from the sun god, and was transformed into a tree.

Today marks the holiday of Pascha in the Eastern church, where it is not uncommon to memorize Paschal greetings in 12 languages and to garble them, or not, according to the amount of sleep one has had recently. A light shining from the cupola cast an eerie four-armed shadow into the ice fog before dawn this morning. Gathered together, quietly, in the dark, we passed a flame from candle to candle until the church was filled with light and, then formed a slow, shuffling procession around the building. 

I recalled an early account of how this story began:

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body."  (Mark 16:1.) 

It was the women who were there at the last, and at the first. Not the male apostles, but the women, to whom not very many pages of the scriptures are devoted. This coincidence may well have registered with some other thoughtful persons, including the writer Mandelstam, and the painter, Nesterov.

I find it poetically fitting that while the women were engaged in one of the most earthly, mundane, and heart-wrenching of tasks, a bright angel appeared to them, and them alone.

Mikhail Nesterov, The Empty Tomb


Harlequin said...

Once upon a time I worked next door to a piano workshop. Behind the doors were ranks of uprights, baby and concert grands. The aged and the battle scarred all for renervation and repair. A french polisher would often visit and tell us tales of great pianos he had known whilst we watched his patient work. Our family had a Bluthner upright with chipped keys and a squeaky lid which I tried but never managed to play :)

Iulia Flame said...

A woman who special-ordered a piano from Europe once tried out our old family piano and was pleasantly surprised. I had a couple of years of piano instruction as a teen, one of which I paid for with my babysitting money. :) I play, "a little" (a la Jane Eyre. Although I haven't spent much time at the instrument since my younger years, I did teach my eldest to play. My fingers tend to wander into odd improvisations which marry George Winston tinklings with Rachmaninoffesque chords. My favorite times at a piano have involved being able to improvise on it in a dark room somewhere.

I looked up the value of our piano and was disappointed to find that it is miniscule -- not even as much as a comparable piece of furniture with tiger's eye maple veneer (a large, imposing golden-feline "eye" is place front and center on the front of the instrument).

Like many other things in life, it is precisely its need to be loved that is endearing it most just now. And its music is calling to me...

Harlequin said...

Wood or sound? such yearnings live heart tied of eye and ear

I swopped chipped keys for a neck and strings and might still cast a wish for a birds eye maple Telecaster.

Harlequin said...

Specifically ... See : Birth of a Bosendorfer piano in 4 minutes

Iulia Flame said...

Oh! that is marvelous, Harlequin!

I am entranced. I have watched a documentary regarding the manufacture of Steinway pianos but this is so concise and -- perfect! Thank you. :)

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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