Friday, September 02, 2005

A Sense Remembered

That was the "cue card" in our free-writing group -- thanks to S, who compiled a bunch of prompts. The tiny cards holding those prompts fill a wooden treasure chest that fits in the palm of my hand. My offering for "A Sense Remembered" dealt with sound....

For a while I lived in the no-man's land between cassette tape and compact disc, resisting mightily the pressure to follow the dictates of changing technology. Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy changed that.

I had grown up with a vast classical music repertoire. Poem of Ecstasy shared an old LP with Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead. A beautiful juxtaposition, I thought: two extremes literally back-to-back. Those albums bore the scratches of wear from repeated play, the heartbreak of magic deteriorating.

In any event my record player days were decades gone. I had many of my old classical friends on cassette, but not Poem of Ecstasy. I couldn't find it. Its counterpart on CD beckoned.

For a while I simply played the music in my head, but to do so might have proved hazardous. The climax, after gradual waves of build-up, was a prolonged wave of emotional extremity -- the whole orchestra climbing to its pinnacle, driven on by a frenzy of Russian bells.

Those bells pealed in my head as I crossed the service lane to Storrow Drive in Boston. And although I crossed by a stop sign, a driver had barreled up from the main road and slammed on the brakes, rolling to a stop inches from where I walked. In a moment pedestrians were bounding toward me to ask if I was all right.

Thoroughly entranced in melodic reverie, I couldn't imagine what all the fuss was about. On another day I'd have been pale as a sheet, but on that day the music of Scriabin wrapped around me as a palpable energy, carrying me to safety inside another plane of existence that only looked like the service road and its almost-ignored stop sign.

Still, I heeded the warning. Shortly thereafter I purchased my first CD player and set about reassembling my old friends. Not from-the-start digital recordings but remastered analogs, the companions of my childhood reincarnated into new media.

Now that I live here the records of my childhood stand sleeve-by-sleeve in the Florida room, near a flimsy plastic turntable that doesn't work. Gone is the old cherry wood Victrola that had weighed a ton, and that had found its place in the Brooklyn attic after my parents had modernized their equipment back in the 70s. In my attic sanctuary the Victrola had been my spaceship to worlds unexplored, the music a cinematic backdrop to my fantasies.

Now the Scriabin and the Rachmaninoff are no longer back-to-back but on separate discs, and the discs permeate the house, strewn like blossoms on table and floor. Bringing me back, and sending me forward.


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