The Old Luthier
It was a perfect partly-cloudy seventy-five degree evening the night before Saint Patrick’s Day and the old man noticed he wasn’t wearing green. It’s tomorrow anyway, he told himself. His ticket was in his pocket and he would walk back to the church when it was closer to performance time. Handel’s La Resurrezione was his favorite oratorios.
Slowly he walked away from the church and towards a busier part of the city. His steps were more calculated than ever before. He’d never thought about it until now but he knew it was true. He heard young voices coming up behind him on the tree-lined sidewalk.
“The old man is eating a banana,” a preppy young man said, pointing, as they passed him. The young man put an arm around a young girl’s tiny waist and with the other hand took a swig from a beer can and then defiantly smirking put the can on a wall between the sidewalk and a storefront.
The further he walked from the church the more people there were walking along the streets, coming in and out of shops and restaurants, everyone wearing green with plastic beads around their necks. The bead-wearing made him think of his deceased wife; she loved wearing beads on days like St. Patrick’s.
Walking made him feel young but walking on these streets with so many young people surrounding him he felt lonely and out of place, fully expecting to eventually be asked if he needed help or if he was lost by one of these perfectly pretty youngsters. It could also be that he never related to these brilliantly dressed people. He remembered when he was their age and when he was he would have recognized them earlier for what they were. When he was their age he designed and built some of the buildings on this very street that these young adults now used as their playground. He now felt secure again in himself and comfortable with them as he observed them. Snobbery is entertainment, he thought, in one of its purest forms.
The old man stopped at a busy intersection contemplating whether he should wait and cross or walk back to the church. Looking at his watch he decided a bit further would be okay but just at that moment he heard glass shatter in front of him. A passenger of a dark late model SUV that had turned right at the intersection had thrown a thick glass beer stein out the window and onto the curb. He looked at the thick bottom of the mug and the rest of the glass spread out along the curbside and watched the SUV speed away. Someone will eventually have a flat tire because of those idiots, he thought. He turned back to walk back to the church.
Thirty minutes later inside the church a very pleasant looking young lady handed him a program.
“Here, let me scan your ticket,” she said loudly.
He smiled at her politely, handing her the ticket but shaking his head.
Sitting down on the left side of the sanctuary in a pew halfway to the front he pardoned himself past a young couple and sat down.
Looking up at the tall arching stain glassed windows he wondered how old the building was. Each window had to be twenty feet tall and maybe seven feet wide and he counted seven on each side. He turned around and saw a small mezzanine in the back and it was filling up with as much grey hair as he had seen in a while. Plenty of oldsters down here too, he thought.
To his right sat a younger couple, very young, maybe in their early twenties, and the poor girl looked bored already and it hadn’t even started. It wouldn’t be long before she was…no. She was already texting or checking her face book. The husband was looking straight ahead. He watched them until the beginning of the program and they didn’t say a word to each other, the same during intermission he noticed.
Looking forward up at the stage he saw at the foot of it the musicians in the chamber orchestra warming up and tuning their instruments. His eyes scanned the musicians and they stopped at the cello.
He loved all the instruments, having played most of them as a young man, but the strings were by far his favorite since his occupation in much younger years was that of a luthier. And of all the stringed instruments the cello was his greatest love.
The musician manning the cello looked strong and confident, a tall young man with a kind looking smile. His eyes looked sleepy but his smile was fully engaged. The old man listened as the young man bowed the instrument. First he heard the A3, then the D3, and then the G2, then finally the lowest note, the C2. The instrument sounded sweet and pure. Just hearing the cello tuned up heightened the old man’s senses and he felt a sudden anticipation he hadn’t until then.
Moments after the final instrument was tuned up the conductor said a few words about the oratorio.
“Handel’s Resurrection Oratorio was premiered on Easter Day in 1708 in Rome, at the magnificent palace of Handel’s patron, the Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. Since operas were not allowed by papal edict in Rome, due to its status as a holy city, Handel seemed to be steering around the rules with this beautiful piece. The Oratorio has all the beautiful arias of an opera but it is not acted out.
“It tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection told by the Angel, Lucifer, Mary Magdalene, Cleophas, and Saint John. We have cut some of the piece, the recitatives, in order to present it to you in less two hours. The heart of the story is intact, however. It is Handel’s story of good conquering evil. Enjoy.”
As the sonata introduced the story the old luthier’s eyes and ears were fixed to the cello and the arms and fingers of the one playing it.
He enjoyed part one of the oratorio and it seemed to pass by quickly with aria by all of the principals. The Angel’s soprano voice resonated in the rafters of the sanctuary. The bass voice of Lucifer echoed strong and bold and proud. Mary Magdalene’s soprano aria was as celestial as the angel’s. The old luthier enjoyed the alto of Cleophas and particularly her line in Italian, “Naufragando va per l’onde,” which means “overwhelmed by the stormy waves.” And the beautiful pure tenor voice of Saint John gave the old luthier goose bumps.
In the second part, after Jesus’ resurrection is announced by the angel, Lucifer leaves conquered and confounded. It’s a shame the old luthier thought, that his voice will be missing from the rest of the performance. He was delighted when the bass singer joined the group at the end of the oratorio as part of a brilliant chorus. And the performance was over.
The old luthier looked at his watch at the end of the performance. It was nearly nine forty-five, fifteen minutes from his normal bedtime. The drive home would take at least thirty minutes so he figured he should leave. However, because of the impact of such a beautiful program he felt wide awake.
He looked at the musicians lingering at the front, mingling with the singers, and audience members congratulating and complimenting them. He should do that, too. He could meet Lucifer and let him know how sorry he was to see him go and he could tell Cleophas how much he enjoyed her ‘va per l’onde’s .Maybe he could meet the cellist.
The cast was kind to the old luthier and he felt he had done a service by staying an extra thirty minutes, taking the time to encourage every one of the performers. Lucifer agreed that he was sad when he was finished but admitted when he was able to sit down he took great comfort knowing it wasn’t about winning or losing it was about how you played the game. Cleophas also agreed that the line was one of her favorites and the rest of the cast thanked him for his kind words.
When it came time to meet the cellist, the old luthier suddenly became nervous. He had been eyeing the young man the entire time and felt for some strange reason that introducing himself to him would be some kind of imposition. He shook it off and hailed the young musician as he had packed up and was wheeling his instrument toward a hall that led to the backstage.
“Excuse me,” the old luthier said.
The young musician turned with his kind smile.
“I very much enjoyed your performance,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” the young man said.
“May I look at your instrument?”
“Of course,” the cellist said, unzipping the case and moving to one side of the hallway as other musicians walked through.
“I was a luthier, you see, as a hobby. I’ve made more than a few of these and still repair them from time to time.”
“Very good, I could always use a good luthier. More and more I’m noticing wolfs and the eliminators I’ve been using don’t solve the problem for very long.”
The old luthier explained how he could eliminate the wolf tones long term and they had a lengthy discussion about the physics of the cello.
“Hey, listen, I was going to just call it a night,” the young man said to the old luthier. “I had a date to go gallivanting around town, the Saint Patrick’s thing you know, but she ditched me. Do you want to go have a beer, on me?”
The old luthier looked at his watch and then up at the young man and smiled.
“I’m not wearing green,” he said to the young man.
“Well, neither am I. And Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t until tomorrow anyway.”
“Okay, let’s go then,” the old luthier said to the young cellist.
An hour later inside the busy upscale bar and grill.
“And so, both my parents are gone now,” the young cellist said taking a big swig from his second beer, “but I’m sure that’s different from losing your wife.”
The old luthier nodded but said he was sorry again and that he knew it was difficult in his own way.
“Did you ever think you would be married for forty years?” the young man continued, “I mean, that’s a long time.”
The old luthier looked at the two of them in the mirror behind the bar. He remembered when he was this young man’s age, when he could eat everything, stay up late without any consequences, and say inconsiderate things to his wife because he hadn’t yet learned how precious and tender his wife was. Thinking about his foolish youthful years made him laugh.
“No, not at first, but then I expected us to make fifty or sixty years. She kept us together. She was a very patient woman.”
“Leanne wasn’t patient with me about anything, even the small things made her upset. Not at first, of course. In the beginning everything I did and said was ‘amazing’. That was her favorite thing to say, ‘amazing’.”
“How long were you together, did you say?”
The young man looked straight ahead, not at the old man, his eyes looking ahead over his beer, into the mirror and all the liquor bottles sitting in front of it.
“About three years. After we were together for about a year and a half she started saying things like, ‘I’ve waited for two years’, referring to me not getting a better job. I fully intended on us getting married after landing a good teaching position but after four interviews and getting beat out by who knows how many other applicants, half of which were laid off music teachers anyway, I got discouraged for a while. Then, I’d go after it again, hoping, but not landing a position, stuck at my customer service job. Then after about two years she started saying ‘I’ve waited three years’. And they way she said it, she made it sound like she had wasted half her life, you know?”
The old luthier just nodded, still nursing his first beer, the young man finishing his second and waving to the bartender for another.
“So, it seems like after about a year and a half, not matter how much I loved her and tried to improve the situation, it felt like a matter of time before she would choose we were finished. So, yeah, I’m single again, and I’m sitting here drinking a beer with you. No offense.”
“None taken. And you’ve played with the chamber orchestra the whole time?”
“It’s been ten years, yes, the whole time.”
“And did she like you being in the orchestra?”
“Like I said, to her it was ‘amazing’ I was in the orchestra, being so young and everything, but then less than six months after we moved in together she complained about how much I had to practice and wondered why I wasn’t spending more time finding a better job.”
The old luthier looked at his watch. It was a quarter ‘til midnight.
“I’m sorry,” said the young cellist, “I’m complaining a lot. You just lost your wife, and I’m sitting here complaining about some little two and a half year long relationship.”
“That’s fine. I understand. You’re just telling me what happened.”
“Maybe I just don’t know how to have a normal working relationship,” the young cellist continued, “I mean, being adopted by older parents, I don’t think I grew up seeing it.”
“I didn’t know your parents,” the old luthier said, “but I don’t think it had anything with them being older.”
“Do we need to go? I’ll take you back to your car.”
The old luthier nodded, that he was okay.
“Did you have kids?” the young cellist asked.
“Yes, a daughter. She was a cellist like you. That’s how I got back into making instruments and repairing them.”
“Where is she now?”
“She lives here, just a few miles from the church, actually, with her partner.”
“She played violin in elementary and then cello in middle school and the first couple years of high school until she quit. I had just finished constructing a cello for her, after working on it for a year and a half, and she quit. Around the same time she ran into some trouble, got pregnant, and gave the child up for adoption. It was her idea. We were willing to help her raise it, but we let her decide, and she gave the boy up. I would have loved to have a boy in the house, a son or a grandson. The boy could have been you for all I know. It was about the time you were born, I imagine.”
The old luthier laughed and it made the young cellist uncomfortable with an uneasy feeling of pity he hadn’t felt to this point, even after the old luthier had earlier told of his wife passing away of cancer.
“Well, you could adopt me. I’m available again,” the young cellist said, trying to lighten things up again.
“I’m too old for that.”
“Then maybe, I’ll adopt you,” the young cellist said, looking at the old man glancing down at his watch.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Twelve o’five,” the old luthier replied.
“Happy Saint Patrick’s Day,” the young cellist said.
“We’re not wearing green,” the old luthier said.
“That’s okay. We didn’t know. Another beer?”
The old man gave the young cellist a look of contemplation and then smiled and answered yes.