Outside my apartment, but somewhere just out of view from my windows when I peer between the blinds, someone is playing a trumpet. This person does not know how to play a trumpet. At least, this person does not know how to play a trumpet well. Every other a minute, after a few (semi) successful notes, I hear those sharp, painful squeaks one might associate with sounds coming from a middle school band practice room.
With each new squeak, Mufasa, my cat, jerks her head around wildly. At first I was trying to drown out this noise with music, but now I’ve put it on pause, indefinitely.
The trumpet player has started to shout, or laugh, after each screw-up. At first I was confused: Am I imagining all this? Are the neighbor kids playing a prank? (I guess now that I’m 30, I legitimately have thoughts that include “the neighbor kids”?)
After one of the most offensive of the squeaks thus far, someone clapped. A dog barked—yipped, rather. Another squeak.
But then. Then! Back to the playing.
It’s been about 20 minutes. The squeaks are not as constant. Below the dim of traffic passing on California Avenue, I can hear it. The playing continues. It’s fainter, now, but steady. Every so often, there’s another squeak. Another shout. The playing goes on.
When I was about 8 years old, my mother bought a used piano. She had taken lessons as a child, but she decided she wanted to practice again. Whether this urge was driven by her purchase of the piano, or vice versa, I’m not sure. Regardless, she was going to take lessons, and as such, so would my brother Jay and me.
While my talent for the piano never went much past repeated one-handed playings of the Tarantella, or my other favorite, songs from The Little Mermaid book, my mother continued to practice. Our miniature poodle Tinker was not a fan of her playing. In particular, the dog was less than fond of her repeated attempts at learning to play Für Elise on Saturday afternoons.
From my bedroom, a short hallway away, I’d often be reading a book when Mom would take up her playing. She wasn’t bad, really; she just reached a point in the song where she’d miss her key, and then Tinker’s whine would get louder. She’d stop, yell at the dog, then start over. With each new beginning, she’d play the start with renewed confidence. You could hear it. I’d perk up a bit as I’d rest my book in my lap, listening. And then, the fumble. The dog whining. This would continue, until finally I’d hear her close the piano and open the front door to let “the damn dog out.”
Those opening notes of Für Elise have been burned on my brain since childhood. I can even picture her sitting at the piano, her posture perfect, just as it was whenever she sat at the computer.
She never did master the song. But better still, the memory of her perfect posture; the intensity with each fresh start; even her annoyance at the poor dog.
It’s quiet, now. The cars pass by on California Avenue. Mufasa is asleep, next to me, her head resting on my knee.
The trumpet player has retired for the evening.