He walked in the dark and the cold along a narrow Parisian street still
wet with what remained of the morning's light snow. For a while his sole
companion was a dog who, for reasons unknown to him, seemed quite
happy to nip at his heels in friendly fashion and jump up now and then
in front of him. He extended the fingers of one hand to return the
attention given him. The dog jumped higher, barked, then returned to
nipping at his old worn boots.
The street became wider. He reached a branch of it and turned down a
boulevard. The dog left him, but walking in front or in back of him now
were various folk in different modes of dress and purses of different
weights and with different purposes in mind. He clutched his instrument
case tighter under his arm to keep it safe. Without it, if it were stolen,
he would most likely starve. He was already half starving. Each day he
existed on one small loaf of bread and, on alternate days, whatever old
dry cheese he could afford to buy from the merchant's maid up the street.
But by the end of the night he would have a little money in his pocket.
He would be able to eat for the next two weeks, and eat well.
Now the light coming from the buildings made the wet streets shine. The
foul smell of the city lessened a bit with breezes that were able to make
their way up the boulevard. But with the breeze came increasing cold.
He pulled up the collar of his coat, tilted the front of his hat down over
hair that had long ago, as a young man, gone silver.
Finally he saw it up ahead, the end of his pilgrimage, where the
boulevard made a junction with another. The building was brightly lit.
In front of it carriages or the occasional rider on a horse stopped, met
the valets, and entered into the hall. But his own entrance would be
less grand. He walked down an alley behind the building to a rear door
and pushed it open.
As soon as he walked in he felt transformed. He nodded at a few of the
other musicians and took off his coat. He put it and his hat on a hook
along a wall, hoping as he did so that it would still be there at the end
of the evening. Then he put his case on a bench, unhooked the now
fragile latch, and opened the lid.
Pulling off the soft cloth that protected it he looked at the violin and
sighed. The dark red sheen of the wood seemed to speak to him in a
foreign language that would only be made sensible once he began to play.
He pulled the bow out of the lid and tightened the hairs, then ran a bar
of wax along the length of it. When that was accomplished, only then did
he reach down and pull the violin out of the case. He bought it up to his
chin and struck a chord with his bow, whipped off a quick etude passage
from memory. The D and G strings were slightly flat. But tuning would
With a few other musicians he took the now familiar walk up the stairway
to the stage level and then another flight back down to the pit. There he
squeezed his way between the music stands of the second violin section,
the first seat of the first stand. He sat down and only then let himself
look out into the magnificent hall. His nostrils twinged with the smoke
of thousands of candles, which collectively turned the hall from night to
day. Turning the other direction he looked at the stage and sighed. The
curtain was closed. Behind it he knew there were wondrous things.
Soon, out in the hall, he heard some clapping. Looking up to one of the
private boxes he saw a very tall, very thin and rather unattractive man.
The man made minimal care towards stylish dress, and did not seem, somehow,
to be other than he was. The man looked out into the seats and to the other
private boxes. Then, finally, he nodded and smiled and made a casual wave
with his hand.
It was Rameau. Unlike some, Rameau attended every performance of his
operas, just as if it was all new to him, just as if he had never heard
the music before. It was through Rameau that he lived as much as his
violin. He was not a friend, no, that would be assuming too much. But he
was a good acquaintance. And whenever Rameau was gathering a new
orchestra the composer would send him a note.
Not too many years before he had met the composer quite by accident as
they waited on a corner of a street for carriages to pass by. "You play
the violin" Rameau had said to him. It had not been a question. "Are you
For some reason he decided to forego the virtue of humility. Perhaps it was
the hunger in his stomach. "I am good."
"Who did you study with?" Rameau asked him.
"I studied with Piccola. At the seminary."
"Aha!" Rameau laughed. The composer was no longer young. But his eyes
had the brightness of a child in them. "But now you serve a different god
— the goddess music. Well give me your address. We will see if we can get
you closer to your goddess."
The Opera house became filled. The concertmaster finally made the pit,
tapped on his stand with his bow. The orchestra tuned. Once satisfied,
he turned to the audience and bowed, then back to the orchestra. The
overture began. Now the red violin, among the others, began to sing
under his fingers and he felt the sounds flow around him and through
him. He smiled. It was Paris, it was opera, it was Rameau. It was all
he lived for.