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Saturday, March 27, 1999
By Paul Ford
An old man, some music, and lots of e-mo-tion.
Riding to work on the Ftrain, I stood above an old man, maybe 80. He was seated, reading a score, something slow in whole-notes and quarter-notes, and his aspect made me want badly, suddenly, to crouch down by his side and tell him about you, how you are a musician, that you live far off, and that I miss you.
I would explain that you are a classical pianist, and tell him about the first time you took me into the practice room, how you wore patent-leather boots up to your delicious knees, knees like apples for biting. There, you took Scriabin and Schumann out of the Steinway's keys, and when you looked up after playing something had changed; all the ions in the room had tilted 10 degrees.
I own recordings of those pieces, now, but I can't get back to them through a stranger's performance. Classical is so inaccessible, so hard to reach, marketed in such clinical, pill-bottle packages. I need it to be you, instead of any compact disc, the callouses on your fingers raising old, dead voices, blanketing the room with sound, your body swinging back and forth across the bench, hips and power, and those generous, gorgeous knees.
8 months later you came to my grandfather's funeral, the first time you met any of my relatives, and played on our ancient, detuned spinet. From that groaning mess of wire and wood, switching octaves as you went, you squeezed out Scriabin, and a Busoni Bach transcription. It meant so much to my mother; she wept.
The old man packed his score into a leather bag older than you are, then got off at Delancey. He stepped slowly up the station stairs, and I kept telling him through the closed doors, as the train pulled North, that the woman I was trying to put into words has words of her own, and that I wished he could hear them.