Excerpt from Boyne Falls Baroque

a novel by

John Bailey

   

    Brianís first foray into classical music proved to be an abrupt change from the rock shows he was used to.  The closest he had come to the world of classical music was an Electric Light Orchestra concert he had seen in his early teens.  He arrived at Dendrinos Chapel ten minutes before the scheduled start time to find the performance already underway.  Damn. I could swear she said 7 oíclock, he thought as he quietly slid into a chair at the back of the hall.  Brian looked up at the stage, easily finding Miiko, the lone female in the quartet.  She had traded in the black slacks and white shirt of her waitress uniform for a bright yellow dress which served to differentiate her even further from her black-tuxedoed counterparts.

    After scanning his program and paying rapt attention for a few minutes, it occurred to Brian that the "performance" was actually a tune-up session.  I donít think U2 tunes up their instruments on stage.  Brian glanced around the hall, noting the absence of stacked speaker cabinets, brightly-colored lights and sickly-sweet marijuana smoke that accompanied the performances of contemporary artists.  The start of the actual concert was equally subdued.  With instruments in tune and fingers limbered up, a simple "good evening" from the lead violinist preceded the first number -- a classical piece that sounded vaguely familiar to Brian.

    As he tried to recall where heíd heard the tune before -- a TV commercial, he thought -- Brianís eyes focused on the tiny cello player.  Miiko stared straight ahead, her eyes never straying from a spot on the floor just beyond the music stand propped in front of her.  Her two arms seemed to be controlled by different brains.  Her left arm made very subtle movements as she fingered the strings, the celloís neck dwarfing her tiny hand.  At the same time her right arm displayed much more expressive motion as she glided the bow across the strings.  Brian watched in awe of the control Miiko mustered for such a performance.  He spent most of the first number enraptured by the delicate left hand working its mastery on the strings.  The quartet finished the first number with a flourish and launched into its second piece -- another classical selection that Brian didnít recognize.  His eyes reluctantly left Miikoís left hand, following her narrow arm up to where it disappeared into the sleeve of her yellow dress.  Miiko had her raven-black hair pulled into a ponytail, and Brian spent several moments savoring her slender neck above the lacy collar.  He moved his eyes upward, once again taking note of Miikoís intense gaze, her brow furrowed in exquisite concentration.  Brian slowly shifted his gaze downward from Miikoís face, inspecting the right side of her body; the slender neck, the arm engaged in its expressive motions, the delicate hand curled seductively around the bow.  Just below the right arm bent at a nearly forty-five degree angle, Brianís eyes lingered on Miikoís diminutive waist and petite thigh covered by the yellow dress.  The angle of her thigh in the chair nearly matched that of her arm, her knees clenching the reddish-hued instrument.  Brian eyes fell on Miikoís bare calf poking out provocatively from the hem of her dress, and he was surprised to feel a stiffening in his groin.

#

    "So whatíd ya think?" Miiko asked as the two settled into chairs at the Hofbrau.

    "Pretty cool. You sounded great."

    "Actually, I thought we were a bit off. Stanislaw--the first violin--is kind of erratic."

    "I thought you sounded fine."

    "Thanks.  But I think Stan has a drinking problem.  He was concertmaster with the Krakow Symphony Orchestra, but was forced to resign in some kind of teenage sex scandal."

    "Really?  I had no idea that classical music had that kind of hanky panky."

    "Hah!" Miiko laughed and rolled her eyes.  "You wouldnít believe the stories I could tell.  Like tonight -- I thought I could smell alcohol on Stanislawís breath, and sure enough his playing was off. It drags everyone down.  It really pisses off Roland -- heís the second violin.  I think heís gay, cuz heís the only one of the three whoís never come on to me."

    "They come on to you?  Even the guy who looks like Gene Shalit?  Fuzzy hair, thick mustacheÖplays the big violin?"

    "Big violin?  Oh, you mean the viola."

    "Sorry," Brian replied, somewhat embarrassed.  "Iím afraid I donít know much about classical music."

    "Thatís OK.  Most people donít.  But the violist is Nelson.  And heís the horniest one of the bunch! I have to be careful when I wear low-cut tops around him -- heís a downblouse peeper."

    "Amazing," Brian said as the waitress set their drinks on the table.  "Youíre opening my eyes to a whole new world.  You ever hear of the Electric Light Orchestra?"

    Miiko replied to the query with a raised eyebrow.

    "Sorry.  I suppose you get asked that all the time.  But you were right about Eleanor Rigby.  You guys rocked on that one!"

    "I told you!  The pop stuff we do -- the Beatles, Sinatra, stuff like that -- was my idea.  Most classically trained musicians turn their noses up at popular music.  My attitude is, itís all music, no matter how you pigeonhole it.  As musicians our goal should be entertainment -- not snobbery.  So when I joined the quartet, I provided arrangements for some more popular stuff.  They freaked!  But I talked them into it.  See, if we only play stuff that most people have never heard of, we wonít attract much of an audience.  The more modern pieces provide an entry for people, especially if we put it in the proper context.  It shows that music exists in a continuum, and that good music didnít end with Mozart and Beethoven.  And itís working too. I think the crowds at our recitals have doubled in the past few months.  Now if we could just keep Stanislaw off the sauceÖ"

    "Well I think you played wonderfully.  I had no idea the cello was such aÖsexy instrument." Brian felt somewhat uncomfortable bringing sex back into the conversation with the woman he still thought of as a high-school girl, but Miikoís eyes brightened.

    "Oh, itís very sexy!  In fact, I wrote a senior paper on just that topic in college."

    "Where did you go to school?"

    "Osaka University.  For my senior thesis, I teamed up with a grad student in the Department of Neuroscience to study the effects that different kinds of music have on the brain.  We used EEGís, MRIís and PET scans to determine which areas of the brain are most active when people listen to music.  What we found was that higher-pitched instruments -- like violins -- produce activity in the neo-cortex areas of the brain associated with reasoning, imagination, creativity, language, even mathematics.  The mathematical connection is even more pronounced when our test subjects listened to percussion.  Drums also produce a significant response in the amygdala, which is part of what is called the Ďprimitiveí or 'reptilian' brain.  This is the instinctual part of the brain and is also closely associated with emotion, fear, anger, social attraction.  But instruments tuned to lower frequencies -- contrabass, cello, bassoon -- were the only ones to produce any significant response in the areas of the brain associated with sexual arousal.  Specifically, the left anterior cingulate cortex, which controls hormonal response, and the right insula, which is associated with physiological responses like increased heart rate, penile and clitoral erection, vaginal moistness and so on."

    Brian paid rapt attention to Miikoís story, noticing that her face had taken on the same expression heíd seen during the recital -- the trance-like stare, her brow furrowed in deep concentration.

    "So, yes the cello is a very sexy instrument intellectually, but even more so on a physical level."  Miikoís voice dropped by half an octave.  "The musician holds the instrument in a very intimate fashion.  From a womanís perspective, she holds the cello with legs splayed, as if welcoming a lover.  Her hand gently guiding the stiff bow over the pliant strings, directing him to just the right spot.  And the vibrations are almost enough to--" Mikko looked up at Brian, blinked twice and fanned herself with the napkin.  "Well, you get the idea."

    "UmÖyes," he stammered as he watched Miikoís face redden.

    "Hey, did you take Grampa Samís tip and load up on Ransion?" she asked, quickly changing the subject.

    "No, but I should have.  He was right on the money again."

    "I told you, Grampa Sam is a stock wiz."

    "If heís such a wiz, how come youíre still working as a waitress?  I mean, couldnít your family cash in on Grampa Samís stock tips and retire to Hawaii or some place?"

    "Thatís fatherís call -- heís still the head of the household.  And he thinks stock investing is immoral, no better than gambling.  He says that people should earn a living the old-fashioned way -- with sweat and hard work."

    "What we in this country call the Puritanical work ethic."

    "I call it stubbornness.  So father wonít invest in stocks, but Iíve managed to squirrel away a little bit.  Iím saving for a new cello."

    "Whatís wrong with your old one?"

    "It's not mine.  The academy is letting me borrow it.  And it's a student instrument -- not top quality.  If Iím going to perform in a world-class orchestra, Iíll need a top-notch instrument.  And weíre talking big bucks.  And I would love to have a baroque cello."

    "I didnít know there were different kinds of cellos."

    "Oh yeah, big differences.  Gut strings rather than steel give the baroque cello a softer sound. The neck is thinner -- that would help someone like me with small hands -- the bridge is thicker and the bass bar is smaller.  Baroque cellos are also tuned a bit lower -- the pitch for A is four hundred fifteen Hertz rather than four-forty."

    Brian shrugged, rather befuddled at Miikoís explanation of the minutia of cello construction.

    "But if Grampa Sam keeps it up, Iím gonna have that new cello in no time!"

    "Well his stock tips are uncanny. How does he do it?"

    "He uses the I Ching."

    "I Ching?  Is that an investment newsletter or something?"

    "No, the I Ching is the Chinese Book of Changes.  It is the ancient path of wisdom and prophecy."

    "Kinda like astrology or something?"

    "Something like that."

    "So your Japanese grandfather lives in a Thai restaurant and uses Chinese astrology to pick American stocks?"

    "Hey, donít knock it if it works!"

    "Iíd like to meet your grandfather.  Maybe I can learn something."

    "Heís a pretty private person. But Iíll ask."

 

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