I wrote and read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It was inspired by one buttock playing.
Once upon a time—well, it was actually a week ago Wednesday—I was walking past the piano in our living room. In all her life this instrumental furniture has not once attempted to put the piano in pianissimo; she always sits upright and takes delight in high decibel play.
That afternoon no girls sat at her keys, but still, when I walked by, I heard noises. It sounded sort of like talking. From where I stood it sounded like secrets sound.
This was not the first time I’ve heard conversations in odd places around my house. Years ago I heard pinto beans in a bucket in our pantry, but if there are any other such little kingdoms, they have been living below my notice. Until that one Wednesday.
The words were coming out of the piano bench. I slowly bent down and took a knee beside the bench so that my left ear was at the level of the crack where the lid sat over the walls of the storage compartment. I’ve looked in that space a hundred times, usually when we were expecting visitors and I was putting away pages with titles like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Skidamarink” and “Let It Go.” But I’d never heard any talking.
I cautiously lifted the lid just enough to peek inside. On top, one of the books was open, and every good treble clef note was not fine. The notes were flustered! In my piano bench!
The notes had more than tone, they had voices. Each note had a life, an incomplete todo list, its own mission.
The note in the middle of it all was B. His full name, I regret to tell you, was Bruno. In this story, we do talk about Bruno, we can’t not talk about Bruno, and in this story Bruno was talking. Bruno had apparently gone out shoppin’ and gotten separated from his brother, Eric. The song they were in required Bruno and Eric to be together with their friend Gus, and though the chord they made was minor, their parting was no minor problem.
Imagine the scene: London, foggy and dim, drops of rain water falling off canopies in a haunting rhythm, so somber that even Mary Poppins would be sad. That’s exactly what it was like, except it was happening on a sheet of music in my piano bench.
Bruno called out. He looked down where he expected to see Eric, but Eric was gone, and Bruno’s heart started to beat so fast it would make a metronome sweat.
Then it got bad. The trouble alternated with a gang known as the 4/4 Cs: Carlos, Colton, Cody, and Cade. Bruno knew them well. At school they surrounded him in every class since the notes sat in alphabetical order and they only had first names because, after all, they were just musical notes.
Playing by themselves the Four Cs were harmless, but when they were around other notes they tried to discourage them, especially Bs like Bruno. They noticed that Bruno and Eric weren’t together and decided that they would have a little fun by making it no fun for Bruno, and try to knock him flat.
Carlos came up to him first. “Hey, Bruno, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for my brother. Have you seen him?”
Carlos replied, “No, and you’re dumb to think you’re going to find him now that it’s so dark.”
“Well,” Bruno said, “Eric is a note, so I don’t necessarily need more light to see him, as long as I can hear him.”
“You know you stink at playing by ear,” Carlos said, “you should just quit.”
About that time Colton approached and asked if there was a problem. Carlos said, “Bruno here says the dark is making him sad.”
“It’s not the dark,” Bruno blurted, “it’s that I’m trying to get to Eric, and we got separated a few measures back.”
Colton mocked, “You’re always so pitchy and blue. Besides, it’s been too long, Eric has to be on a completely different line by now. Don’t worry about it. No one wants to be in a chord with you anyway.”
Carlos and Colton laughed like Dodos, but Bruno shook his head and took off running. The other two Cs, Cody and Cade, were waiting for him on the corner Picardy and 3rd. Bruno thought he could relax, but it was just for a moment, as Cody grabbed Bruno and Cade started striking at Bruno with staccato punches. Bruno tried to break free but Cody was too strong.
Then Bruno saw his friend from the A family, Augmon, in the distance. He cried out, “Augmon, help me! Get me away from the Cs!” Augmon rushed over and got between Bruno and Cody and Cade, providing at least a brief rest from the depressing Cs. But the second verse was about to begin, worse than the first.
Bruno and Augmon moved forward a couple bars. They hoped to find their friend Gus. “Do you think Gus will know where Eric is?” Bruno asked.
Augmon replied, “I don’t know, but he’s a key note that we need to find anyway.”
Then the sound exploded, escalated, increased, crescendoed. Note after note was running up and down, halves and eighth and sixteenths, no time for whole notes at this point. As they went faster the volume kept getting louder, and Bruno in particular felt not just that he was getting further and further away from Eric, he thought for a second that he was going to get pushed off the page and out of the song altogether.
It’s not that Bruno needed to be in every song. He had been written into many melodies. His cousin Bs up and down the octaves sounded different but familial, and he was always happy when they got to play. But this particular prelude was his story. His tone began to be worn out.
Bruno held on as best as he could to his line, trying to avoid being shaken off the sheet altogether.
Augmon led Bruno down a step as they turned off Picardy to and they found Gus just in time.
Augmon handed Bruno off to Gus, and they sustained their energy for one final stretch toward the end where they all hoped Bruno would be united with Eric. “Reach out!” cried Gus, “If you don’t do it now we’ll never finish.”
Bruno saw his moment. All along Gus had been working his signature move and had been tilting the whole sheet of music to bring Eric within sight. Everyone could feel that the end was near. Bruno and Gus stretched, but they didn’t quite make it. They stretched again, and though they were very close, something was still off. So they extended one more time and landed right where they belonged, right at home on the bottom line, B-G-E together at last. The song was resolved.
I carefully closed the lid to the piano bench, feeling glad for Bruno, and thinking about how much better it is when notes play their part, especially when they do it in harmony with one another. It also made me think, maybe we should listen better to what the music is saying, even from piano benches.