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Emily Grossman

November 17, 2004 at 6:34 PM

My husband and I had a day off together, so we took advantage of a break between snowfalls and took the 150-mile journey through the mountain pass, over to Anchorage for the day. It had occurred to me that it was Sunday, but I wasn't prepared for three strikes in a row on my shopping agenda. The yarn shop--closed! The Keyboard Cache--closed! Great Harvest Bread CO.--closed! I swore at the ice, swore at the traffic, grumbled at the ill-timed light-changes and friendly neighborhood construction zones. We still had two hours before the sushi joint opened, so we made our way to the used bookstore, which offered less selection in the way of sheet music, but might possibly have a bargain of some use to me.

I leafed through the bins. ...Ooh, Tchaickovsky piano concerto. Ah, who am I kidding? ...This book looks good, but the price, wait, that's a new book! I was looking for a bargain, not a new book for a new price! I flipped through a couple of etude books.

Then I saw it. It was a soft, yellowed and stained book with brown tape for a binding and in dark green words, "Paganini" written on the front. The 24 caprices. I would never be playing these, but what is this book doing at a used bookstore in Anchorage? Does anyone in Alaska play Paganini? If so, why would they drop this book? Did they need the cash to pay their heating bill? To heck with the heating bill; I gave the cashier $4.00 and headed for the car.

Flipping carefully through the worn pages, I examined the fingerings and markings and thought about whose hands may have made them. There was an address stamped inside the cover, somewhere in Munich. The publisher was Austrian. And the date--1929.

The person who bought this book originally is probably now dead, and so is his music. I will never hear it, and I'm sad for this loss. This person lived in a time when Bartok was new, when there was only one World War, before Alaska was even a state! I'm curious. Was he a young virtuoso? Was he actually a she? What did music mean to this person? Were his dreams the same as mine? My imagination takes off like a loose horse when I think of all the possible secrets locked in the history of an old book.

So, now I have a unique copy of Paganini's 24 Caprices to tuck away in my file cabinet in hopes that some day, someone might just happen to waltz into Slow-dotna, Alaska, and can play me some phrases from those musty pages.

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