The sterile white tomb-like cavern awaits. Enshrouded in voluminous hospital pants and gown I succumb to the platform, and allow myself to be strapped on my back in a motionless state. One final question from the medical professional, “What kind of music do you like?”
Nagging hip pain has brought me here. My running regime interrupted for months as I nurse the overuse injury, cross-training with cycling and swimming. But with little improvement. Seeking answers, I return to the clinic and this time the doctor orders an X-ray and then an MRI. Now we’re getting somewhere, I think. Even if I don’t like the outcome, anything is better than this uncertainty.
The MRI machine is very loud, the attendant informs me. I will need the music in my headphones turned up high. “Classical” is my response. My bed travels into the cylinder and the noisy rat-a-tats begin. So does the music.
It happens instantly. Suddenly, I am transported back to an elegant living room and a Steinway concert grand piano. I know that music intimately, my fingers can follow it up and down the keyboard. I listen to hear if the top notes “sing” as Mrs. Blair insisted, if the melody comes through and the running passages glide evenly and gracefully underneath. She would approve of the phrasing, I think.
The piece that follows is equally familiar. And the next. If I didn’t play them fellow students did. I know them by heart from Mrs. Blair’s “musicales” when we performed for one another frequently over the six years that I studied with her.
Mrs. Blair accepted only select musicians. I always wondered how I got in. I remained in awe of my fellow pianists, who mastered sonatas and concertos and played them flawlessly. A constant source of inspiration, I toiled to measure up. But it was really Mrs. Blair that I sought to please.
She was of a different era. Always beautifully dressed, in a perfectly appointed second floor apartment in an elegant old house, she carried herself regally despite her advancing age. I never heard her play the piano, her fingers were too gnarled by then. Instinctively I knew she was a master, her knowledge of music unbounded. To me, she was an icon, firm but kind. Loving. I never wanted to let her down.
The pinnacle of our years of study was to present a senior recital at the end of high school. It took place in her living room, with fresh flowers adorning the gleaming length of that Steinway, a corsage and formal gown. Folding chairs formed neat rows between the upholstered furniture, and fancy finger foods awaited in the dining room. I played for an hour in front of my parents and our closest friends. It would be the peak of my musical prowess.
For forty minutes I am steeped in these fondest of memories. Not even the machine’s thumping can suppress the music and magic. I am sorry when the tests are complete and I scoot back out in to the real world.
I asked for classical music. I got piano masterpieces. It was divine intervention. And music to my ears.