When I first came to Raleigh I lived with two guys
In a tight triple dorm room. It was a surprise
That they’d don metal chains, wear their hair in mohawks,
And go out each Saturday night when the clocks
Struck eight-thirty, to visit the rose garden. Trees
Rung with Bauhaus, the Smiths, and the Dead Kennedys
Where they hung out those nights. As they saw that I missed
All their fun, they were bummed. They called me conformist
Not quite catching the form of the music I practiced.
Well, how could they know I went out those same nights
For my own sort of ritual that called for no rites
By the way of dress code, but a pair of thin shoes
Made with soft felted soles, plus some notes that I’d choose
Before hitting the road. By the church I would park;
With the key to its door I’d approach in the dark.
I would pass through its halls to the cool sanctuary,
Proceed past the altar and climb to the airy
Expanse of the choir loft, then draw forth the key
To the console and bench that were waiting for me.
Like an old rolltop desk the wood slats would slide back
To reveal stops and manuals. With a slight clack
I would kick in the air that came quiet and steady.
By the light on the stand I’d now make my feet ready:
A quick change from street shoes to those in my box,
Black and narrow. The music I’d open was Bach’s.
Now with closed diapasons I’d summon the metal
Surrounding me, each pipe tuned fine as a petal
Of rose, to bring forth what I’d read on the page:
A short Prelude and Fugue from a long-bygone age.
I would often start out playing one known as “Little,
Number IV” in F major, or for some more pedal
Technique practice, there’s Number VI in G minor.
Compared to its short Fugue, say what could be finer?
I’d move on to Campra and E. Power Biggs —
The music that resonates with me and digs
From within the resentment that no one could see
To reverberate throughout the dark behind me,
This cavernous, lonely space none would dare enter.
I’m no hidden phantom: I’d play from this center
To ghosts of the place I’d breathe feeling and fire
Those years I directed the young adult choir.
Some few Sundays, after a prior night’s practice,
I’d come back, perform for the churchgoing masses,
Catch one young soprano’s bright smile when she found
That I played a stop she’d dubbed the Tinkerbell Sound.
The organ was modern, and once I’d inspected
Its stops, I tried those old Bach never expected;
The Tinkerbell Sound was one such. It created
Some interesting projects, for I gravitated
In choosing the music my choir would sing
Toward choices for which that stop was the right thing.
There’s nothing that lights up a stuffy old church
Like a smile from a girl sitting high in her perch
Midst the choir. For that cause the Tinkerbell Sound,
On some Saturday nights, filled the darkness around
Me as part of my practice. On not one occasion
Was my evening vigil disturbed. My creation
Of music, however, ran to the piano.
A room off the sanctuary held one, so I’d go
To practice there. One night a pianist friend
Tagged along; we played solos; they came to an end.
I thought we’d try four hands, but she thought instead
To teach me a musical lesson: she said
My reading was good, maybe even impressive,
But my phrasing and timing could be more expressive.
It took but a small demonstration, and I
Had picked up her technique. Before days had gone by
She stopped by at my place with a CD she’d bought
Just for me. The performance on it, she said, ought
To help me well remember. And she was right, too:
Rubinstein playing Chopin — it’s one of few
Recordings I got back then I choose to play
On my stereo regularly to this day.
Toward the end of each Saturday’s session I’d turn
Back to Bach. There were challenging pieces to learn
Like the Prelude and Fugue in E flat, called St. Anne:
Think “O God our help in ages past” with a plan
Such that these seven tones state a sure founding notion.
With rich inner voices the Fugue starts slow-motion.
It goes that way thirty-six bars, then gets faster
Till runs swirl about with the theme still their master.
A guy known as deadmau5 (you say ‘s’ not “five”)
Says Bach must have gone crazy while still alive:
The available instruments made sounds so few
They were terribly limiting. It may be true
That the instruments’ limits put Bach in a fix
For St. Anne’s inner voices get lost in the mix
When they’re played on the organ: it’s a churchy drag
For those thirty-six bars. I think this would be swag:
To come up with a synthesized sound that evolves
So each voice, as it’s held, more the hearer involves.
But I have yet to find any fitting synth patch
Sounding great as this organ. There’s simply no match.
If you’re not into fugues, there’s a lot to be said
Of the trouble of having one stuck in your head.
When a simple tune grips you, though it may use shackles,
It won’t waste much time. A fugue steals all your cycles.
With St. Anne we have up to five interlocked parts.
When I think of how I’d change its sounds, well, it starts
To drag all of me in. I invent new directions
These sounds drive themselves, recomposing collections
Of these twining voices. It takes all my time.
I can’t do much else once it’s caught me, sublime
In its beauty. That’s one of the hazards, I guess
Of rethinking old Bach. Now it sounds like a mess
As I’m practicing it. I would have to come in
More than one night a week if I was to begin
To perform it the way it was meant to be played.
All the ghosts in this sanctuary would parade
And dance forth from their pews if I’d let loose that way.
From these pipes this old music could spring like a ray
Of calm resonance. Even those notes heard by chiff
In itself, just the way that Bach wrote them, could riff
Off these long empty walls. Too bad most other evenings
I’d homework, the chancel choir, so many odd things
That practice was rare — and once practice was through
For the night, with relief I’d pull each narrow shoe
From my feet, which expanded. I’d switch off the air,
Pull the rolling top over the console, so there
Was no light but the moon shining through the stained glass.
I would slip on my street shoes and, with my notes, pass
Down the hall to the rec room; I’d find the TV.
Oft the USA Network had something to see
On their Saturday Nightmares show, some horror flick.
By this hour, to be sure, you could bet every brick
In the rose garden would echo with Hüsker Dü,
Black Flag, and Not Shakespeare, and Minor Threat, too.
Those guys would return once I’d curled up in bed,
And they’d wake me to say I was out of my head
To be square as I was. Well, whatever you say,
I suppose you’re correct. All I want is to play.