The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.


The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.


Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…


Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 


But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

10 Going on 30

I turned twenty on November 14th, 2016. It was weird. Every day I was thinking, “one more week until I am no longer a teenager” or “three more days until I am a real adult.”

But then, when the day came, I felt the same.

This should not have been surprising, but I could not shake the feeling that I should have experienced a grand metamorphosis, shedding the hormonal teen years and entering my twenties as yet another confused college student. 

But then I realized: I had never been the typical teenager, so why should I expect to feel like a normal twenty-something?

Teenage girls are expected to be a dramatic, selfish rebels who spend too much time failing at Pinterest-inspired manicures. This is an extreme, to be sure, but still…

While my peers were dating around, I had a single boyfriend who loved Jesus and respected me. My only fights with my parents ended with me telling them that I loved them. I added straps to my senior prom dress while other girls seemed to be competing to see whose dress could cost the most money while using the least amount of fabric.

I broke curfews to study and was only told to turn my music down when I was practicing piano too intensely. While I was nominated for Homecoming court, I was happier serving as Orchestra President (or, as my mom called me, “Queen of the Nerds”). My best friends were theater geeks, music kids, and bookworms, but the cool crowd was so…ordinary.

When the time came to choose a college, I decided on a Christian school with a stellar conservatory and literature program instead of the big name universities that my teachers were pushing.

Of course, I do not mean to say that I did not face normal struggles as a teenager; I definitely did. As a perfectionist, I was always comparing myself to the girls I saw as prettier, my peers who had higher class rankings, and the choir-mates who could sing better. I fought an eating disorder for three years beginning when I was fifteen. I went through random mood swings and said things I wish I hadn’t.

The difference though, is that these trials did not define me. Faith, family, and friends helped me through the teenage tumult and kept me from becoming the self-centered rebel that I otherwise would have been; they supported me through my dangerous perfectionism and loved me for my quirkiness.

In short, while I always “marched to the beat of my own tuba” (as a Dove chocolate wrapper once said), my loving family, growing faith, and amazing friends made sure that I stayed that way.

As my twentieth birthday drew near, I did not have much time for reflection as I was busy leading a chapel at my college and performing in choir concerts. Later, though, I got the chance read through old journals, flip through Facebook albums, and talk to friends and myself (my roommate assured me that talking to oneself is a sign of creativity). As I did so, I realized; I was never really a teenager, so why would I be any different as a twenty-year-old?

I won’t lie; I love Taylor Swift’s song “22.” Maybe it’s just because I am two years younger, but I do not anticipate actually relating to the song’s lyrics. I don’t want to “fall in love with strangers” or “make fun of my exes.” (I will admit that “breakfast at midnight” sounds pretty great because, come on, who doesn’t love breakfast food?) But I guarantee I cannot make myself “forget about deadlines” and I need sleep way too much to stay out all night partying.

I know I probably sound like a grouch, but I just don’t like the idea of feeling “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” I know what I want to do as a career. I have amazing best friends who share my weirdness and a boyfriend who likes my determination. My faith keeps me strong when I am confused and my family is always there for me. Sure, I have moments of “I can’t do this” and “adulting is the literal worst,” but I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone and nothing compels me to fit the typical 20-year-old mold.

Though I am twenty and thus expected to be tired, broke, and confused (according to the Huffington Post), I refuse to act my age. I will go on working professionally as a pianist as I have since elementary school. I will keep writing poetry and short stories because even though I have to pay taxes and vote, I do not have to stop loving fantasy. I will watch Disney movies and sing along because being a grown-up does not mean I can’t have a sense of childlike wonder. I will chat with my mom about everything because she will always be my best friend, even though new people have come into my life.

When I turned sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I felt simultaneously older and younger than my peers. Now, at twenty, it is the same; I do not feel at all like the stereotypes say.I mean, come on, I play the pipe organ for traditional worship services, but also want to bury myself in a pile of stuffed animals. I am twenty, but feel more ten and thirty than their median.

Italian Lessons

Okay, so the title of this post is a bit misleading. To clarify, I have not taken lessons in speaking Italian and, if I’m being completely honest, my Italian speaking abilities consists of basic greetings, “grazie”, and apologetically smiling and batting my eyes. Oh, and I got pretty good at ordering coffee and gelato.

But anyway, back to the title. Last year, after I returned from a trip to Europe, I wrote about the lessons I learned as a traveller while there: 

Having just returned from a couple weeks in Italy, I figured I would do something similar. However, instead of just travel tips, the following are life lessons which I learned from my time in Italy.

1. Show some gumption. 


This suitcase was only lost twice on my way there. Oh, the things it must have seen! The places it has been! 

In one of my stories, a character goes on a trip despite being terrified of airplanes, ruined plans, and -shudder- strangers. The important thing is that she goes anyway. Sound familiar? I have the same fears and, after cancelled flights, nighttime desert drives, lost luggage, and generally dashed expectations, I was on the verge of giving up my adventure and going home. But then I remembered a character by the name of Paige O’Connor. A character I had invented, no less. Oddly enough, I was inspired by my own character to show some gumption and get on the plane. Granted, I got off the plane an hour later when it was cancelled. But still.

2. Sometimes not knowing is good.


I got pretty good at reading Italian menus (I mean, most pasta has Italian names anyway), but sometimes I would just guess and order something at random. It really pays to not be a picky eater. I had the most amazing pasta with mussels because of this. I didn’t even know I liked mussels and probably would not have ordered them had I known that’s what that dish was. But I did and I found a new food I enjoy. Win win!

3. Don’t be half-hearted in anything.


Most adorable cup of coffee award goes to the above! 

Sure, Italians may not be the most punctual. (I became familiar with the idea of an “Italian 8am” as being somewhere around 8:15 or later.) But I will say that they give their all once they arrive. Every detail in the city where I was was intentional, from the grandest paintings and statues in the Duomo (Cathedral) to the tiniest designs on the top of a cheap cappuccino. Once a barista carried my coffee three feet to my table even though I was more than happy to take it myself because making the coffee was only half of the job.

4. Don’t be typical.


Me doing my best to look like I belong in Cremona…

The most embarrassing moments I had were when people knew I was American. It made me feel so obnoxious. But it helped that I was not in the usual tourist hotspots for the majority of my trip. I stayed mainly in Cremona, the most adorable little city I’ve ever seen. Despite being the violin-making capitol of the world, it is off the beaten path and thus has more of the spirit of Italy than commercialized Milan or even Verona. I had a much more enjoyable time learning to live in this unique place than touring in the usual destinations and I think this “road less travelled” philosophy extends to life beyond travel as well.

5. Music is at least 25% setting.


With gelato and a view like this, what music wouldn’t sound good?

I was in Cremona to study classical music, which was nice, but I loved listening to a street performer play Adele on his violin just as much as the concerts I attended. I’m usually not a fan of pop, but with the bustle of cafes, the sun’s setting light reflecting on the cathedral, and the taste of gelato fresh on my tongue, I enjoyed the slightly-pitchy rendition of Adele just as much as the polished performances I had been listening to all week.

6. Shoes are always a good idea. 


Two facts: 1) Italy produces the cutest shoes I have ever seen and 2) Italy is geographically shaped like a boot. Coincidence? I think not. Actually, I’m pretty sure that this is legitimate evidence for Intelligent Design.

7. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. 


Look who came to explore Italy with me for the last couple days!

I never seem to realize how much I love my family until I’m alone, stressed out, and far away. At this point, even a brief call from my dad or snapchat from my mom (I know, she’s hip) means the world to me. And distance seems to make me only remember only the good things about good old Gilbert, AZ and all who live there. There truly is no place like home…especially when you are away from home.

8. Blessings really do come in disguise.


Trying to look as vogue as this statue of Stradivari

Before leaving, I said it would be my nightmare to lose my luggage since I hate shopping and had been careful to pack cute hair/makeup stuff. But, alas, when my bag did end up getting lost- and, with it, my cosmetics, hair stuff, and outfits, I had to let this go. And, you know what? I found out a couple magical things: my natural “boho-homeless” hair isn’t bad, a little lipstick goes a long way, and shopping is fun when you can make the airport pay for everything. I might even try to lose my bag again when I head to Rome in a few months!

9. Make your own opportunities.


Performing my composition “Untuned” for the second time.

I found myself slightly bored at times during my time at the music academy (that’s the downside to learning my music in advance I guess), so after wallowing for a bit, I realized that moping would not solve anything and decided to make some new opportunities to keep myself occupied. It ended up being amazing! I met so many wonderful musicians/professors and was given the chance to study composition and even write and premier my own piece! (Check out the link for a video of the first performance:

10. Inspiration is out there!


Being all artsy and creative and stuff.

Maybe my brain was just in a heightened state from all the travel stress. Or maybe it was all the Italian espresso I was drinking. Either way, I could not seem to escape the ideas for poems, stories, and compositions that were thick in the air in Cremona. I had to carry several notebooks with me at once just in case I needed to catch an idea like a Pokemon.

11. Simplicity is beautiful. And delicious.


Yum yum yum yum yum

Italy is without a doubt the land of food. Everything I ate was beyond delicious, but, unlike America, the meals did not need to be supersized to be good. The portions were smaller than here and made with minimal ingredients, but because everything was so fresh and only whole foods were used, the food in Italy was unbeatable. I ate a tomato here in AZ today and it tasted like disappointment in comparison.

12. Why rush and devour? Savor.


I like my espresso like I like my vacations. Chill.

I mentioned already the concept of an “Italian 8am,” but it actually is a pretty solid idea. I like schedules and maximizing my use of time, but I learned to take more time to savor things from meals to coffee to commuting during my stay in Cremona. Having to walk everywhere taught me to slow down and enjoy my surroundings, the slow process of dining out taught me to truly taste my food as I ate it, and the tiny coffee sizes forced me to value every sip. As a quick, busy person, this was freeing.


I’m sure I will have to update this post with more lessons as I continue to recover from jet lag and, as such, remember more and more of my trip. For now, though, this will have to work.


Ryanne 🙂


Jill of all Trades or Renaissance Woman?


The pipe organ was created to do the job of an entire orchestra of different instruments, but nobody ever accuses it of not being worthwhile because of its varied abilities. In fact, it’s considered the King of Instruments for this very reason! Just a little brain snack for you to think about. (Also, that is me in the picture. I was not creeping on a random organist.) 😉

I am what one might call a “Jill of All Trades,” the female counterpart of a “Jack of All Trades.” I quite liked this phrase until I saw a quote on Pinterest (seriously, Pinterest? You’re supposed to be my social media happy place!) that reads:

“Jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

Well stink. As a perfectionist, this immediately crushed my spirits. But then I started to think…after all, Abraham Lincoln once said not to believe everything you read on the internet, so it seemed wise not to jump to immediate despair.

And so I thought, not just about the quote, but about myself. Who am I? What do I do? Why do I do these things? What are my goals? Am I a Jill of All Trades? Is this good or bad? All of these terrifying questions of identity and purpose began to dance a frantic tango in my mind. But, fortunately, I like to dance and I love to think.

The answer to the first question partnered off with the second question as the music of thought began: I am Ryanne McLaren, and I spend my time doing the following:

A lot of piano, a little organ, violin, and singing; baking; running; swing dancing; blogging, writing, reading, composing; crafting; exploring. I suppose if I had to condense, I could say truthfully that I do two things: music and English, but within those two categories are piano, violin, singing, organ, ukulele, composing, dancing, poetry, blogging, stories, analyzing, essays, reading, etc. The subcategories go on and on.

And that’s how I like it.

This partially answers the next question of “Why?” I have never been able to just focus on one thing, be it piano or reading. As a child, I was the piano student who would read novels while practicing scales and the English student who would run while studying. Multi-tasking is a pleasure for me and, while sometimes it does not work out (I admit I should have put more focus into my scales…), being actively involved in multiple things at once makes life exciting. It gives me joy to be able to run from actually running to rehearsing to writing to baking. And it gives me even greater joy to refine my skills in all of these areas. Would I say that I am a master in any of them? No. Absolutely not, to be honest. But that does not mean I cannot be or am not excellent.

This brings me to the next daunting question, the answering of which appeared as difficult as dancing with someone who lacks an inherent sense of rhythm: What are my goals and is this the best way to achieve them?

To answer the first part of this question in detail would take too long, for my goals are as diverse and numerous as my areas of interest. Luckily, this realization allows me to answer the second part easily: YES.

For someone who had a single goal, becoming a concert violinist, for instance, it would not be wise for that person to pursue excellence in “all trades.” It would be much more likely for this individual to achieve his or her goal by focusing all efforts on it and becoming the proverbial “master of one.” But for people like me, who have less specific goals that still lie within the realm of certain topics (for instance, I only aspire to do something with music and writing, but know I can enjoy numerous careers), pursuing perfection in a lone subject would be not only impractical but limiting. 

Having reached this conclusion, I felt a peace and my thoughts stepped in time again. (Although I was at the time I was dashing between a piano lesson and a Socratic discussion.) In scrolling through the internet again later, my conclusion was supported when I discovered that the quote that had pushed me into this mental flurry of self-examination had a second part that everyone apparently ignores:

“Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one.” -Unknown

This thought was still fresh in my mind when this morning when someone referred to me as a “Renaissance Woman.” This to me is so much better than a Jill of All Trades, who may or may not excel in any of the areas in which she dabbles. A Renaissance Woman (or man, but it’s National Women’s Month, so…), however, by definition possesses excellence in her areas of knowledge and- dare I say- expertise. She might even achieve mastery while simultaneously being a Jill of All Trades. I mean, consider Leonard da Vinci! I doubt anyone would ever argue that he was not a master of art, but his genius extended beyond painting only; he was an inventor, philosopher, scientist, architect…for all we know, he was writing internet quotes and trolling Pinterest from the past! He is remembered not only for his primary area of mastery, but for being the prime example of a well-rounded man. This is what I aspire to attain: excellence in all things. Not perfection, but excellence. And oftentimes, as the quote says (forget it, Abraham Lincoln, I believe this one!), this is the better path. After all, the world needs Swiss Army Knives just as much as it does paring knives. 🙂


Organ Removal: A Statement and a Story

I often find that the most effective way of communicating a potentially controversial opinion is through storytelling. That said, I will let the following short story speak for me rather than explaining at length my views. Please let me know what you take away from this as I would like to know if my statement-through-story approach was successful.


Organ Failure

A deep groaning resonated throughout the sanctuary of the church, seeming to shake its stone foundations, established nearly a century earlier. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the groaning stopped, cut short and replaced by a metallic creaking.

This noise was answered by a short sequence of musical notes, played by a grand piano, apparently of its own accord for no pianist sat at its bench. In instrumental dialect, this simple melody translated to, “Are you okay?”

The piano, named Boston according to its make and model, was resting at the front of the sanctuary beside a metal pulpit. This pulpit, machine-made and modern in design, was at odds with the traditional rows of wooden pews assembled before it and the towering pipes of the organ, both of which had been installed along with the stone foundations of nearly a century ago. It was from this instrument that the groaning and creaking emanated and it was to this instrument that the piano addressed his question.

“Are you okay?” Boston repeated. He was answered only by a weak clunk, as if a pipe had come loose. 

“I’m sorry,” he played in minor tones. “You just have not been yourself since they disconnected your console. I understand.”

A toneless whistle came from somewhere among the organ’s principle pipes.

“It sure will be lonely without you,” Boston continued, his chords growing softer and more forlorn. “If it’s any consolation, I probably haven’t much time left either.”

A sigh escaped from a reed pipe but was interrupted as a scuffling arose at the entrance of the sanctuary. The doors swung open and two men, directed by a woman, shuffled down the aisle, each holding an end of a black rectangular object. As they drew nearer, the piano  noticed a cord dragging behind it like a tail and realized with horror what it was: an electronic keyboard.

The woman pointed to a skeleton stand and the men set their burden down on top of it. The grand piano gave a slight shudder as the woman plugged it in and a blue screen glowed on its face.

“Well, give it a try,” said one of the men.

Obligingly, the woman struck a a few chords that made Boston grit his keys in annoyance, having been made to play the same basic progression over and over under the pretense of slightly altered lyrics making it different songs. With some satisfaction, the piano heard that the voice of the keyboard, who he supposed would be named after its maker, Casio, was tinny and lifeless. It was not to be compared to his own rich tones.

The woman’s cell phone rang. She stopped plunking out chords to answer it.

“Hello? Now? Okay, coming.”

The woman beckoned to the men and they hastened to keep up with her quick stride as she left, forgetting in their rush to unplug the keyboard. The piano considered it for a moment. The organ emitted another feeble whistle as if inquiring what had happened.

“They’ve brought in a keyboard,” explained Boston in few notes.

The organ made a croak, the meaning of which Boston was able to understand, having known the other instrument for so long.

“Yes it has weighted keys,” the piano admitted grudgingly.

Another choked noise.

“Talk to it?”- Boston let out a chord like a bitter laugh – “I could, but I doubt it would understand our music.”

“I understand. Understand,” said the robotic voice of the keyboard.

“Oh,” the piano hit a dissonant interval in surprise. “Hello there.”

The organ attempted speech but once more could not produce more than a ghostly gasp without connection to its console.

“What was that? That? That?” asked the newcomer, exercising its reverb setting.

“That, that, that,” mimicked Boston in disdain, “is the church’s pipe organ.”

“Pipe organ? I believe I have a pipe organ setting.” The keyboard’s voice adopted a tone vaguely like that of a theater organ. “Found it. Listen.”

“Indeed?” replied the piano. “Was that it? You’re not much of a pipe organ then. If you could just hear this organ play, feel its power and sound down to your strings- er- circuits, then you would know what an organ really sounds like. Then you would understand.”

“I told you that I understand,” beeped the keyboard.

“I doubt you do or ever will,” plinked Boston, more to himself than to Casio the keyboard.

“Then maybe the organ should play so that I can,” suggested Casio.

“Well you won’t because he can’t!” snapped Boston with an accent that would have shocked any acoustic instrument but did not even register with this digital imposter.

“He can’t play?”

“No,” replied the piano, struggling to maintain a calmer dynamic. “He can barely make a sound any more, now that the dismantling process has begun.”

“Sorry. That is too bad.”

“Don’t pretend to sympathize!” Boston snapped again. “Don’t you get it? You’re his replacement. You’re my replacement too, I daresay. Probably not for a while since the contemporary musicians still find me somewhat useful, but I don’t expect to be kept here more than another year or two. Once the old pulpit was replaced I knew the end was coming for us. First it was the shiny new pulpit; who cares that the pastor can’t pound his fists as nicely on this metal one as he could on the sturdy wood one? It’s more ‘fashionable.’ Now its the organ that has to go and next it will be the pews. You just watch; before the year is over, the young crowd will tear out these pews and put in movie theater seats in the name of comfort. Then it will only be a matter of time before they decide I’m out of date too and they donate me to some school or nursing home or, more likely than not, sell me to fund the purchase of a fog machine or some other monstrosity.”

“Oh,” said the keyboard. “That is-”

But Boston was not to be interrupted as the tidal wave of his thoughts, locked inside him all these months, burst forth in an agonized rhapsody.

“But let’s not even think about the future,” he wailed. “Just think of the present, of the organ, being torn from the foundations of this church under the pretense of being too expensive to maintain and the church having no organist. The reality is that they, the contemporary crowd, find him stuffy and antiquated, a grandfather instrument who is not cool enough, who won’t attract visitors or inspire members to return. I wonder, will they regret it? Will they find out how wrong they are?

“To remove this mighty instrument is to rip a vital piece of the body of this church out of its socket. His music has been a pillar to this church since its foundation; he presided over weddings and funerals, baptisms and communions, Christmases and Easters and all holidays in between. His music represents the universal call to fear and tremble, to surrender and be saved, to have courage and strength. Hymns, marches, preludes, offertories… when he is removed, these are stolen from the congregation. In removing him and me, the church members are at last completely robbing themselves of this music, the songs that represented beautiful and glorious redemption stories, and replacing them with repetitive choruses of little substance set to the same four chords. But I suppose it was inevitable, seeing as the hymnals were disposed of long ago.”

The piano paused for a moment before the crescendo of his ranting fell again to a sorrowful melody like that of a requiem.

“The pipe organ was once hailed as the king of instruments, his music said to represent the very voice of God…but no longer. His voice has been silenced. The king of instruments, a living, breathing, evolving cornerstone of worship and art, has been dethroned and replaced by you, an electronic box with only as much resonance as amps will allow you.”

No sound came from the dismembered organ as the impassioned speech of the piano faded. A haunting silence ensued.

“This is not the end,” said the keyboard, his voice crackling through the still air. “I have an organ setting, remember?” Casio, after a few clicks, switched on its demo setting and a two-dimensional rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor leaked through its speakers. It had reached the end of the piece and was beginning all over again when the door opened once more and the woman hurried down the aisle.

“Yes, I’ll be there in a minute,” she said into her cell phone. “The keyboard? Yeah it came to day. Mm-hm, it’s nice, thanks.”

She mounted the steps to the loft where a choir had once sung every Sunday but now only gathered on holidays to please the elderly crowd. Then, in one jerk, she yanked the keyboard’s plug from its socket, killing its blue face and imitation organ performance. Not even an echo remained.

The woman marched back down the aisle and out the door. As she let it slam behind her like the lid on a coffin, a thin stream of air wheezed its way through the organ’s pipes, the final breath of a dying era.

“So you want to be a piano-ist?” and Other Responses to my Major

“What’s your major?” seems to be the question of the month and I am seriously considering giving false answers if (scratch that, when) I am asked this again because it is getting a little old. As a music major with an emphasis in piano performance, though, I have heard some terribly amusing responses to my answer to this frequent question…

Schroeder is my spirit animal. He was also a sass-master. 

The Top 8 Best (or perhaps worst) Responses to Learning my Major

1. “Oh, so you must be pretty good at piano then, huh?” 

Um…. How am I supposed to answer this? I either will sound arrogant or awkwardly lacking in confidence.

2. “Wait, a music major? They have that here?” 

Yes. Yes they do. But you won’t generally see the music majors as we tend to lurk about in caves called practice rooms.

3. “Piano performance? So have you played piano before?” 

Nope. Never. I just thought I’d give it a shot. (*voice drips with sarcasm as thirteen years of lessons flash though my mind*)

4. “Can you play ‘Fur Elise’?”  (Or worse: “Do you know ‘Heart and Soul?'”)

Yep. I smile, but inside my face looks like one of those unamused emojis. Actually I had a teacher who forbid me to play ‘Heart and Soul’ on his piano because he found it insulting. (Admittedly I kind of enjoy it…but don’t tell anyone or I’ll never escape the round of C-A-F-G octaves.)

5. “Piano? I used to play piano! But then I quite because I hated it.”

Thanks for sharing…I think? I’m never sure how to respond to this one.

6. “So do you want to be a piano-ist?” 

No, I want to be a pianist, but for the sake of conversation, sure. Actually, I would love to be a collaborative piano-ist, which is basically an “accom-piano-ist”. (*smiles politely but inwardly cringing at the incorrect terms*)

7. “Have you heard of (insert pop song featuring some keyboard riffs)? I love that song!” 

No, I probably have not heard of it, but if you hum the tune I can play the same four-chord progression over and over so that it sounds like I know it. Is that close enough for you?

8. “You’re a piano major? Well, you’ll survive- maybe not with a soul, but you’ll probably survive.”

This one was from a senior piano major actually. Much encouragement. Very daunting. Many thanks.

*disclaimer: high levels of sass went into the drafting of this post and the author would like it to be known that she does not actually mind the “amusing” responses to her major. She also would like to inform readers that no communications or business majors were harmed or seriously offended in the making of this post.