Excerpt from Practice, Practice, Practice
, in the style of Vladimir Nabokov
Years later, I would hover over him as he sat at the slightly out-of-tune piano in my living room. A staple in every home of families striving to be considered part of the intelligentsia, it has since been rarely touched. His pallid hands and long fingers airily played over the aged ivories, which were then an old pearl color. Vershinin’s hands were slender and painfully fragile; I always felt that if I were to grab one of them too hard, it would break apart in my equally as small but stronger hand. They were patrician and skeletal passing over the keys as he would play Debussy and, his favorite composer, Bach. There was an antiquity about his hands, and I could visualize them move from the piano to a quill angled over yellowing parchment. Vershinin studied ugliness and conducted silent anthropological studies on man’s malevolence. He was fascinated by his own darkness and sought its origins in his surroundings. There was nothing of him beautiful except for his hands. I remember the first time I watched him play. I was wearing a long black dress.
Lady Mac had been asked by a conductor from San Francisco if our choir would be available to sing the part of the Ragazzi in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at Carnegie Hall. She accepted and we were bussed back and forth from New York City as I suffered a severe bout of insomnia. The first bus we travelled on was an old, rickety school bus. It was the image of old television, susceptible to every bump in the road without seatbelts. A particularly hot summer was on the horizon, although this was before I discovered I truly disdain humidity. It was to be a summer I had visualized to be one of interesting, sultry nights and was ultimately to be disappointed. I felt in those bus rides that I had received a revelation telling me that a new kind of hope was approaching. The eternity from a shopping mall in New Jersey to our only rehearsal in the basement of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was privy to private conversations among girls and a place of botched card games. I argued Genesis with Vershinin who, to this day, does not know that I have yet to read it. I had to be told that everyone stayed silent when he and I were speaking; I knew why, yet I feigned modesty and asked the reason.
Vershinin and I sat close to each other during the dress rehearsal, straining our necks to see a countertenor and covering our ears when the kettledrums came in. We sat on the stage like school children, hoping that we would not be asked to stand through the entire concert. I wrote early New York City prose in my choir folder, noting the tiered seating and the apparent red velvet seats. Neither of my parents were to be at the concert; both had previous engagements. Other parents were told not to take pictures in the hall, although a few of them caught Kodak snapshots of their children of whom they were so proud. In a crowded waiting room upstairs, I swung on coat racks talking to people who were fixing their makeup, doing their hair, practicing their parts. A woman in the San Francisco choir chuckled as she watched Vershinin play the part of the Ragazzi on the piano. I leaned forward, not daring to look at the hands of which I would later make a study, and was flummoxed by his ability to turn off his nerves before a major performance. I decided then and there to never allow anything to affect me as much when it came to excitement or nerves. He was confounded that, in a practice room at Carnegie Hall, a piano could have been so out of tune.
© FMK 2008