Monday 6 June 2022

Summer Music by Beate Sigriddaughter, hibiscus tea



Monday, June 20

Dear Diary,

Well, at last I have the comfort here of writing this like a real letter, on paper, old-fashioned as that might be, in this gorgeous leatherbound notebook Arlan gave me for my birthday. It feels special. Not like "Hi, Diary" or "Yo, iPad." It's so beautiful, and it smells good, almost too beautiful to use up for everyday stuff, but I'll do it anyway. Treat myself with beauty. Spoil myself a little.

            The best thing ever happened today. Miss Terry emailed and asked me to turn the pages for her at her organ concerts next Friday and Sunday, both. Of course, I emailed back YES in capital letters. I've done it for her before on Sunday during the service, but this is different. Two whole forty-five-minute concerts. She'll know the music by heart anyway, so it's all just in case. Still, it's a safety net she wants, and I'm thrilled she asked me. She always gives this very stern nod when she wants the page turned. It looks impatient, almost angry, but it isn't. She's just focused and intense.  

            I wish I were more talented.

            I love playing with her name. Miss Terry. Mystery. And I'm probably not the only one, but nobody has ever said anything out loud. That I know of. Teresa Summer. I'm glad she lets us call her by her first name, even with the Miss added to it.


Tuesday, June 21

Dear Diary—this is the last time I'll call you that. After today, I'll just start writing.          

            In music appreciation in camp today, Mr. Wheat told us about Vivaldi's musician in residence time at Ospedale della Pietà. That was an orphanage in Venice and the orphan girls there were all taught music. What a wonderful concept. But what made the biggest impression on me was the thing that, once taught and of a certain age, they were paraded in the streets of Venice (I thought Venice only had canals!—just kidding), so that the men of the city could have their pick of them. I imagine them with their lutes and flutes and drums, probably in white dresses, wandering along and hoping to be picked. Or hoping not to be picked as the case might be. It sort of reminds me of dances in the gym where you're hanging around waiting for some guy to ask you to dance, or else just dancing with your girlfriends, pretending you're not paying attention to the guys at all. And, sure, you can ask a guy, but then you run the risk of being ridiculed as forward, fast, in short, slutty. Meanwhile if you do the right thing and wait till someone asks you, chances are it's not someone you want. It's complicated.

            When I got home, I went on the internet to see if I could find out more about when and where and how those parades took place, but I couldn't find much. That they were taught music, yes, and even something about how some of the more talented girls were picked out by some members of the nobility and how two girls, or women, females in any event, lived with Vivaldi, but platonically. But nothing about those parades. Did Mr. Wheat make that up? Doesn't seem like him, but who knows. Anyway, I'll probably do more research, maybe do an essay on it. I sure can't get those girls out of my mind. Did they get a chance to say no and stay in the Ospedale? Or did they have to go if someone picked them for the great honor of having the chance to cook his dinners, sew his shirts, and pluck his chickens? Mr. Wheat said sometimes such a marriage was contracted within an hour. I couldn't find anything about that either. Were they afraid of being picked? Afraid of not being picked? I imagine one of them lying in bed at night. Mother Mary, please let nobody pick me. Unless it were Giuseppe, the painter who sometimes comes to refresh the walls in the chapel. I imagine one girl crying because she has to go with the wart-nosed butcher. I imagine another one crying because nobody wanted her at all.

            Do I dare ask Mr. Wheat if he can tell me where I can learn more, not about his beloved Vivaldi, but about those girls?


Wednesday, June 22

We had choir practice last night. It's so different from Miss Terry's children's choir. Where I was just recently the tallest, the oldest, and the one most likely to get a solo part. Now I'm just one of a whole bunch of all sorts of people. About fifteen minutes into choir practice, Pastor Weber breezed in to lead the practice, and Miss Terry, as always, graciously let him take over the reins. Even though she's the professional musician and he is just a hobby musician, though two of his sons are studying music at university, so music is clearly in the family.

            I prefer it when she leads the choir practice. I think Mom does too. It feels less stressful somehow.

            Dad picked Mom and me up from choir practice so we wouldn't have to walk. It's not far, but it's in the old part of town and it's late at night by the time we're done. When Miss Terry came out the door of the parish hall with us, Dad tried one of his wanna-be charming old guy flirtations with her. I didn't hear what he said to her, but I could tell she wasn't pleased, and she said something in response that didn't float his boat either, because when we were in the car, he grumbled.

            "That old spinster. She needs to lighten up. What she needs is a man."        

            I wanted to defend her and point out that she isn't old at all, but when Dad is in that kind of mood, it's best to stay mum. Mom didn't say anything either. It bugged me, though, what he said about her needing a man. Someone like him?


Thursday, June 23

Well, my lesson with Miss Terry sure was fascinating today. I hadn't practiced all week except maybe a half an hour or forty-five minutes last Friday. There's always so much going on and on top of that I'm supposed to find an hour a day to practice the piano. Every day! So, I felt a bit guilty when I sat next to her on the piano bench. The piece I am supposed to be practicing is the Bach praeludium that I actually like a whole lot. It's one of Mom's favorites too, so, go figure. I just didn't have time to practice. There is life too, you know? Not just music.

            Anyway, so I sat next to her, steeling myself against an anticipated reprimand, though come to think of it, she's never been like that. Never scolds, never gets mad, never makes me feel incompetent. She's actually a very good teacher. But whenever I deal with adults, there's always the shadowy anticipation of being in trouble for doing something wrong. So, I mustered all my energy to play what I was, by my own judgment, ill prepared for playing. I gave it all I had—given that I had nothing. When I stopped, I sat there silently expecting a relatively kind admonishment to practice more. Instead, she looked at me with moist eyes.

            "That was incredible," she said. "Best I've ever heard you play."

            Oh, boy! Relief. And impostor guilt as well. Fooled you, didn't I? I was absolutely baffled, of course. Still am. What does it mean? That the point of life is fooling other people? That it doesn't really matter what I do? That it's all a fluke? I was pleased too at the moment of receiving praise where I really didn't deserve it, not like that anyway. Something in this life is always wrong. And incomprehensible. For next week, I'm supposed to add a Beethoven sonatina. We'll see how that goes. It's a lively one, not too many chords. I'm better at nimble fingering than at playing chords. My hands seem to be too small to play too many notes all at once.

            Another thing she told me during the lesson was that I looked like Brigitte Bardot. I had no clue who that was, so she told me, an old movie star who was famous last century. So, I looked her up online and I don't look anything like that at all. Maybe the blond hair, but that's it.

            I do wish I had more talent. I'm never going to be a great pianist. I take these lessons because Mom thinks I should. But for what, when all is said and done? No prince or duke is going to come along and prefer me to all other girls or women just because I know how to play the piano a little. If I had talent, presumably I could become a musician like Miss Terry. She is fantastic. She really, really loves music. And yet, when all is said and done, nobody outside our congregation has ever heard of her. She gives two or three organ concerts a year, plays every Sunday for two church services, one at 8 o'clock and another at 10 o'clock, and leads our choir. And that's it. I hope she is happy. Perhaps she is. Today she wore a red blouse which looked quite nice on her. I don't think I've ever seen her wear anything besides black in the past. And it's not mourning or anything like that. I think she wears black because it suits her, makes her look stunning, and she doesn't have to make a choice of what to wear each and every day. Except today. I think maybe I'll wear all black too for a while. It feels so interesting. Though I know the French woman at the perfume shop who wears only white. Her reason: when she grew up, there were constant funerals and mourning periods that once she was an adult, she vowed to always wear white and above all never black again.


Friday, June 24

Tonight is the night. The first concert. I only get to turn the pages, but it still feels as though it's somehow mine. I wonder how I would have done back in Venice in Vivaldi's days. Would I have been chosen to play an instrument, and if so, which one? Maybe I'd be in the choir. I still don't think I would like to be paraded in the street for the prospect of being picked as someone's wife. I can imagine being busy with children and cooking and keeping the chickens and whatever else we owned, maybe a sheep or a goat. I think if I were in Vivaldi's Venice, I'd rather stay in a convent and make music. Or take care of the chickens there.

            I am so excited about tonight.


Saturday, June 25

The concert was fantastic. She really nailed it. She is so beautiful, too. Short black curls, and the tiniest bit of a shadow of a moustache on her upper lip. Like a mysterious gypsy woman.

I got there half an hour early of course, like I was supposed to. And I looked down from the balcony and saw that half the church was already filled with people. I told her to come look, but she said no. She preferred not to know whether there were five people or fifty or five hundred. "That way it's between me and God. And the music," she said. People just make her nervous. God and music don't.

Then, just before she started playing, she told me that sometimes in the middle of the night when she feels particularly sad or happy, she comes and plays just by herself. The church is too far from any of the nearby buildings for anyone to hear, so it doesn't matter what time of night it is. Then she can play whatever she wants, and she doesn't need anybody on standby to turn her pages. She has the key to the side door of the church of course. I wonder if it feels spooky in the staircase up to the balcony in the middle of the night, with the church gaping dark and empty below her. And probably daddy-long-legs in the corners. I've never seen one on the organ bench, or inside it, for that matter, where she keeps stacks of sheet music. It would be such a good place to hide for a creepy critter. Even a church mouse.


Sunday, June 26

I do wish I had more talent. If music loved me back, it wouldn't be so hard to practice and hour a day or even more. I want to cry, and I really don't have a reason to.

Last night, I dreamt of a young woman. She didn't say a word, but she thought words to me. When the girls sing, it hurts. It brings back memories. But then there was a snarling white dog that woke me up from my dream. Thank God it was only a dream.

I like to think of Miss Terry up on the balcony all by herself in the middle of the night playing her music no matter what, knowing that it is enough to lure the most dreamy magic from the manual keys and the wooden pedal board. Tonight, I get to turn the pages for her again. As for me, I am yearning for a place I can go to in the middle of the night to be myself. 

About the author

Beate Sigriddaughter,, lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), USA, where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Her latest collections are short stories Dona Nobis Pacem (Unsolicited Press, December 2021) and poetry Wild Flowers (FutureCycle Press, February 2022).

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