Congratulations to Kate Finlinson on her publication of “Patron of the Arts” as part of our New Voices. New Voices is a category designed to highlight authors of any background, as long as they haven’t published a novel-length work. Check out “Patron of the Arts” below. Here’s to Kate and her wonderful story!
Patron of the Arts
From his seat on the front row of the mezzanine, R watched the conductor gesture to begin the concerto. On the stage below, the polished piano overwhelmed the harp, the tuba, and the bass drum, all at rest. Eventually clarinetists would lift their reeds, violinists would nod into their strings, and the score would call for brass, but this movement belonged to the percussive monster with its lifted lid, and to Bette, R’s latest Conservatory Girl. She was dressed in blend-in black, her long skirt brushing the floor.
Seated, Bette was normal-sized. But standing she was 6’4 or 6’5, R guessed, several inches taller than him, flat-footed.
The music she played, a lyrical dirge, placed her between the living and the dead. As her fingers trilled, R danced in his chair. His knees shook as he tapped his feet. One hand fluttered as if playing along with phantom fingers across silent keys. This was the only way R stood out from other members of the audience, for he too was bald and wearing serious square-framed glasses. He had a silver mustache and thick, stern eyebrows.
R regretted that he had come to appreciate music so late in life. One winter five years previous, his neighbor, Fred Fairbanks, a composer on faculty at the Conservatory, invited R and his wife Yvonne to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. The holy trumpets! The triumphant voices! R felt unexpectedly gladdened by the music: the choir had offered him news that the world was better and more beautiful than he thought. He wished he knew the words; that he might sing along. R felt then that music could provide him special access to what it meant to be alive. He clapped until his hands hurt. Yvonne was bored by it all. “My mind always wanders during these things,” she said. R purchased a recording and kept playing it long past Christmas. He built a collection from Beethoven to Rachmaninoff, from Gershwin to Cage. Yvonne begged him to get over Sleeping Beauty. He listened to Caruso sing Vesti la giubba with quivering rejection on the crackling 1904 Victor recording, surprised by the pain he felt though he couldn’t understand the words.
Fairbanks invited R to other performances, and then later, to give to the Conservatory. By then, R was devoted to the symphony and thrilled by the Phil. He was embarrassed that there was nothing he could really play proficiently beyond maracas and the tambourine, though once his daughter Karen taught him a few piano ditties (he was decent at Chopsticks). R paid to have his name engraved in a brick at the Conservatory, among donors who had grown up breaking bows and turning pages.
Yvonne hadn’t questioned his patronage at first, the donations to the Chamber Society, tickets to the opera, the singular brick. But that hadn’t been enough for R. It didn’t bring him close enough to making the music, knowing how it worked, or why it made him feel what he felt. He had wanted to save just one struggling artist. He ended up saving several.
From his mezzanine seat, R watched as Bette’s face intensified. Oh, if she might cry! She wasn’t this way with R, never teary or discomposed, and for a moment, he envied the piano. Couldn’t they share a moment like this? Bette made him feel he wasn’t old. It was death she beckoned with the bell-like tolls she played, but death she warded off.
She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, her blonde bun unraveling, her lips just parting, then opening wider, her fingers stretched tight for a moment’s passionate pause. Her whole body bounced on the bench. R wiped his forehead ineffectually with the program.
Bette! She had no intention of making a career of accompanying fledgling sopranos who wouldn’t make it to Broadway. Her life, she had told R, would be a glamorous series of recording sessions, music hall matinees, and opening night galas.
She was his first aspiring pianist.
To read the rest of Kate’s story, click here.