I was curious to see whether or not the Nutcracker remembered me from last year, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. Especially after I saw the way he flirted with absolutely everyone, deflating the value of my own encounter to practically nothing. (Not that this really matters in the realm of the happily married woman, but...) I suppose he couldn’t help but be a flirt; in his southern accent and excellent physical condition, he’s probably used to lots of attention. So instead of inserting my own attention-seeking remarks along with the other black-clad musicians backstage, which were causing me to break out in a rash of junior high flashbacks, I deliberately turned and made my way back through the angels and lollipops, between the crates of mouse bodies, back into the dungeon to warm up for the next act.
I didn’t see him again until almost all of the performances were over. In fact, when I’d peeked up from the pit to see the performers take their bows, it appeared that an entirely different Nutcracker had saved the day for the last two or three shows. The former Nutcracker was making his way up the stairwell behind me after the show, sans makeup and leotard, and maybe with a hint of melancholy dragging in his step.
I spoke. “Done with the performances already?”
“Yeah, torn rotator cuff. Gotta go see a doctor for surgery.”
Some people are good with pick up lines, and some with encouraging or comforting words, but I’m not one of those. Shaking my head sadly with one eyebrow raised and half a smirk, I commented over my shoulder:
“From picking up all those chicks, eh?”
He sighed, “...yeah, I guess so.”
I'm headed up to Anchorage now. If you don't hear from me for a week or so, the Nutcracker's to blame.
"Do you see where Mi and Fa sit? They're right next to each other." I demonstrate the half step to my student on my own violin.
In response, she places finger #3 next to finger #2, and finger #2 immediately lifts and repositions itself a quarter step down, bypassing the lesson objective once more.
I instruct her, "No, try it again. Every time you put your third finger down, the second finger scoots away, and we don't want that. Mi and Fa are best friends, remember? See, Fa comes and slides in right next to Mi, with no space in between."
She plays the line of music again, and as soon as her third finger enters the picture, the second finger moves away, falling flat again.
I ask her, "Why does Mi keep scooting away from Fa?"
"Mi doesn't want to sit next to Fa today because he wet his pants."
This year, I agreed to play second violin instead of first violin. Yesterday, the music arrived by mail, so I sat down to have a run through and make marks in the margins of the areas that would need some drilling. What did I find? Soaring melodies? Leaps to the nth position? High speed chases on dangerously exposed technical routes? Oh no.
Just when the plot thickens for part I, part II settles back to watch the show with offbeat pizzicato and a bowl of popcorn.
And the greatest part is, we both get paid the same.
Once upon a time, when the weather was not too cold yet and the leaves still crunched on the lower parts of the trail, I took a walk up Bird Ridge just to see what was at the top that day. After all, you never know what each journey will hold; no two are alike.
On this particular day, I was pleased to discover that I was the first person to set foot on the fresh powder that graced the upper parts of the mountain. I happily hummed in the bright sun as I worked my way higher and the snow grew deeper. Gradually, I became aware that my tracks were no longer the only ones in the snow. Small dimples across the surface recorded the recent scurry of a shrew. A ptarmigan’s orderly W’s rounded a crest. A snow shoe hare had darted in and out of the shrubs, leaving slightly deeper sets of morse code dots and dashes. Above tree line, I came across pairs of broken hearts that the cloven hooves of mountain goats leave, deep punctures in the snow, with two lines connecting each track where their toes drag. I stopped for a moment, wondering where they might lead. They seemed to meander back and forth all over the ridge.
Here was a track that was hard to miss: a pancake sized, wrinkly padded hole with five exclamation points. Grizzly bear! In parts where the snow lay knee deep, I could see where his muddy chest had rubbed against the crust. In the same fashion as the goat’s, his tracks zig-zagged all over the mountainside. Was he stalking the goat? Evidently not, for his tracks would have followed the goat’s tracks, and they clearly did not. Not certain of his whereabouts, I cleared my throat and began to sing Broadway tunes, just in case it would help change his mind about stalking me. Each time I crossed his tracks, I held my breath.
Before I knew it, I was cresting the summit and all tracks lay behind me. I stopped to snap a couple of photos and have a look about. Though the mountain lay still, the air having the quality of suspended animation, I was suddenly surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one atop Bird Ridge after all. Over to the left, next to a precarious precipice stood a headless snowman, still frozen in the place where he’d met his demise. I stepped closer to examine the crime scene. There was no sign of a struggle, no bullet casings or blood trails. In fact, the surrounding snow lay completely featureless, all except for a single set of unfamiliar footprints which began and ended right there in front of (or behind?) him.
What happened there with no human eye to witness may stay with the mountain, but I think if you backtrack a little and add a dash of imagination, you just might solve the mystery of the headless snowman. I have a theory. What’s yours?
“Did you say Philly? You from Philly?” Nick Kendall’s ear latched onto the familiar word as he passed by my conversation with another violinist backstage.
“Ah, no, I was just explaining how I recognized your face from that interview you had with Caeli Smith a few weeks ago.”
“You know Caeli?”
“Well, not really... I had lunch with her mom when I was in Philly last winter. It was a good article, though.” (I’m never sure how to explain my relationship with the online community. Can I lay claims to friendships with those I’ve never met?) I quickly went back to dusting off my violin.
I’m not one for small talk with big names. Usually I end up bringing the conversation to a screeching halt with some random, unremarkable comment, all while avoiding eye contact. Just after rehearsal, for instance, when asked the usual, “How was your day?” by a fellow violinist, I responded with, “I hiked up Bird Ridge and there was a headless snowman on top of the mountain.” I had the entire story waiting to unfold, but no one took the bait. They just stared briefly, silently, and moved onto another topic amongst themselves while I took a cloth and wiped the rosin off my instrument once again, slowly. In hindsight, I could see how difficult it might be to respond to that comment. Maybe I should have said fine, and asked them how their day was instead.
You won’t usually see me in lines for autographs, either. In my mind, it’s always nice to meet famous people, but the way I imagine it is a little different than what usually happens. Ideally, we’d instantly connect, have a sincere, meaningful conversation about whatever interesting thing comes to mind–like how a steak should be cooked, or the spiritual truths of Bach, or how headless snowmen eat–over coffee perhaps, and it’d be like we’d always known each other. Maybe if you’re really lucky it works out that way, but for me it usually doesn’t. So I mostly keep to myself, so as to avoid any social awkwardness. Like the inevitable blank stare. Or worse, the turn of head and change of subject. I won’t say something unless I’m really compelled, especially around people with big names.
Saturday’s concert was the premier of Chris Brubeck’s violin concerto, written especially for Nick Kendall and commissioned by Anchorage’s Musica Nova society. This particular concert held a bit of extra positive energy, perhaps it was because the composer was there himself, listening and shaping the composition to his liking. Or perhaps it was due to the sincerity of Nick Kendall’s delivery, his spontaneous cadenzas and crowd pleasing flair (i.e. tossing his broken bow hairs to the audience like a rock star). Whatever it was, it was contagious. By the time Kendall wrapped up the finale, the crowd was standing, cheering, and he was spinning around celebrating as though he’d just scored a touchdown. Suddenly moved by his genuine enthusiasm, I uncharacteristically approached Nick as soon as we exited, stage left. Overcoming my inhibition, I exclaimed, “That was awesome.”
Did he dish me a plate of cold leftover “thank-you” with a side of “of-course-I’m-so-awesome”? Did he casually revel in the small bit of worship I offered and quickly exit to the lobby to dole out autographs to the next flock of worshipers? On the contrary; he immediately engulfed me in a hug that’s usually reserved for grizzlies, ferociously warm and undismissive. He then proceeded to buy drinks for the entire orchestra after the show. What a great feeling it is, to be made to feel important by someone who holds the stature of importance. I was glad I’d spoken after all; my gesture of congratulations was met with a gesture of appreciation.
But I had one more thing to say. As the crowds dissipated in the lobby, I made my way sheepishly over to the autograph table where he stood.
“I was told to tell you Hi from David Russell.”
“Oh, you know David Russell?!”
“Well, not really... We email back and forth.” I remember saying this over his shoulder as he engulfed me in another friendly embrace. I smiled awkwardly. He doesn’t even know my name. But it feels good to be liked anonymously, nevertheless.
I’ll keep the headless snowman for a more appropriate time.
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