When I went to the first rehearsal for our performance of the Messiah on December 23rd last month, I remembered a piece that I had started writing after our first rehearsal in 2019. Otra vuelta a la espiral!
It’s the Saturday before Christmas and a warm sunny morning. I get to the Auditori with twenty minutes to spare. This is partly due to the fact that I’ve come directly from the house of a new companion – one whom it has taken months for me to woo into a relaxed state of desire and exploration – and my heart is quietly joyful. I enter the building and descend the stairs leading below ground level to the subterranean universe of performers.
The amateur choir for our Messiah concert is vocalizing and so I settle backstage to warm up as I wait for them to finish. A memory suddenly flashes across my brain. It is of a performance in this same chamber hall with my ‘garage band string quartet’ (the now cringeworthily named Virus String Quartet) 12 years before. This kind of thing has been happening to me more often of late. Is it the result of my accumulating years or simply the fact of having lived in the same city for over 14 years – a first in my adult life?
Back then, in the spring of 2007, my son was 6 years old. When we had adopted Mariano the previous year, I had played informally for small groups of people on several islands of his native Cabo Verde, mostly to stay in shape but also to pass the time while we waited for his papers to come through. That evening, however, was the first time that he would see me perform in a concert hall. He had been up in the balcony, the one I could now see from across the stage, playing with the grown-up daughter of a friend of ours. I had been waiting backstage, wearing the raspberry sequined sandals that he had christened ‘zapatos de luces’ the night before.
Then I entered the stage with my fellow quartet members, bowing to acknowledge the audience’s applause. As we took our places and the clapping died down, a small voice became clearly audible in the darkened hall. ‘Mamma!’ it exclaimed. Since I was the only woman onstage, it was fairly obvious whose child this was. Charmed laughter burst out from various parts of the hall! I was secretly delighted even as I blushed. The road to motherhood had been long, rough and circuitous – much resembling how the role itself would turn out to be – requiring patience, dedication and sacrifice.
The rehearsal is about to begin, and I rejoin the present. My colleague playing principal hasn’t shown up yet and so, I’m invited to take his seat. Several friends smile at me from across the stage as I move up. This is our first rehearsal with the amateur choir, which has been preparing for next week’s performance since September. There is a multitude of singers filling the hall and what they occasionally lack in intonation, they more than make up for in enthusiasm!
I delight in the variety of emotions expressed in the rich counterpoint of the choruses, running the gamut from despair to poignancy to exaltation. Suddenly, out of the blue, I am jolted by the realization that I am currently sitting in the same hall where my love and I had attended a chamber music concert on my birthday 3 years earlier. The central aisle, now directly to the left of the seat where I am sitting onstage, leads straight up the stairs to the space for disabled audience members, which Mike had still been able to access in his electric wheelchair. I had held his hand, reveling in the glorious performance that my friends gave of a pair of my favorite pieces, the 2 Brahms string sextets. Little did I suspect how soon and in what context I would hear one of them again.
Both during the intermission and after the concert, I had introduced Mike to several of my friends for the first time, although we had been in a relationship for almost 3 years. Afterwards, we had strolled/rolled back to our nearby apartment for a simple quiet supper. I would have to get up early the following morning for a chamber music concert in another town 5 hours south.
After I had transferred Mike into bed, with the help of a large crane-like contraption which barely fit into his side of the room, I facilitated his undressing, as I did every night. When I lowered him into a horizontal position, for what was to be the last time, he began to have trouble breathing. I called his mother, who was visiting us, into our bedroom and got him back into an upright position, supporting him by sitting back-to-back on the bed as I spoke with the emergency operator on the phone. After ordering an ambulance, I turned back around to embrace him, in a position reminiscent of the Pietà. Minutes later, I suddenly realized that he had stopped breathing. An expletive forcefully escaped my mouth. And then I told him that I loved him, in case he could still hear me.
That night, I made sure that his 3 teenaged kids, who lived nearby, had the opportunity to see him before the paramedics carried him out of our apartment in a body bag.
I went to play that concert the next day, feeling blessed to have a purpose and be surrounded by friends on the first day of the hardest year of my life.
The first movement of Brahms was one of the pieces of music we chose for his memorial service, along with the theme of the Goldberg Variations, chosen by Mike’s brother, Chris, and a Dire Straits song, On Every Street, that Mike had been listening to obsessively during his last weeks.
How can a single place hold such disparate memories and associations?
It is incredible to me that so many parallel realities can co-exist in the same space. Time seems to spiral. Up, to provide perspective and down, to dig deeper into meaning.