She was this and only this, and could not be any other.
I’d been invited to a performance of a chamber ensemble at a state university. The
university was hosting a group with an international reputation, as some schools often do to improve their own, or to display their claim to culture by way of a public service—
human motives are often mixed—and the concert hall was nearly filled.
It was a night of contrasts: the violinist, (who was married to the cellist,) was
dressed in a drab suit and matching dark tie, and opposite him, his wife in a broad, floral-
pattered dress, and behind them, the pianist, like the Hegelian result of thesis and
antithesis, dressed in a compromising tan suit. The selections were contrasted as
well: Beethoven’s Trio #1 in E Flat Major, Op. 1, noted for its amusing moments—we
are not to say Beethoven did not have a sense of humor—to Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A
Minor, on the death of his dear friend and fellow composer, Nickolai Rubinstein, which
contained the expected dirge-like sections.
A few minutes into the first composition, I noticed a fourth face. It was smallish,
oval, and white as paper. I could see her image only when the pianist reached the end of
the page, (she sat in a black metal chair, and used his figure to block her own,) when she
rose slowly—like a curious moon among more substantial stellar bodies—to crisply turn
the page after the pianist, at the precise moment, indicated his approval with a nod of his head. At her highest ascent, she stood in a crouching position, and never did her height
exceed his. Then once the leaf was peeled back, she disappeared behind him.
Her black gown, from throat to ankle, matched the flat black of the curtains behind her that separated the stage from the apron where the ensemble played.
You could tell when the pianist was about to conclude the page simply by watching
for that oval moon to appear, first around the side, then rising slowly, the eyes focusing
more intently on the score, until the signal was given, and the act performed.
At intermission, the players left the stage. It was confusing, since I did not see the page turner leave with the others. Perhaps she moved parallel with them, certainly that
would have kept her in character, and within the expectations of the ensemble, which
had to be an invisible presence, or if not this, than an anonymous one. They must
have had an understanding, and somehow arranged it so she would exit and return
without being noticed, simply by moving alongside one of the members, so as to
be kept obscure by one of the larger bodies.
Who would disagree with the necessity of her invisibility, and who was I to give any
attention whatsoever to anything other than the quality of the performance, or to anyone
other than the principal musicians?
In our computerized arsenal of techno-gadgetry, there is, in fact, a mechanical
page turner, and I am unsure why the classical music community—especially this
trio, or quartet of sorts—would not use such a devise. Maybe they prefer a traditional
performance with its manners and trappings, but certainly, in terms of efficiency, cost,
and the distraction factor, they might profit from joining the robotic age.
The page turner. I prefer to think of this diminutive person—surely in part she must
have been chosen for her size, along with keen sight, and devotion to music, maybe a graduate student, likely, but not for certain—as a symbol, and something more than
a symbol too, of all the earthly beings that make possible the larger glories of the world,
the music of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. That such a being, like the silent workers in
research laboratories assisting the designers of solar energy components, radio-electron
telescope machinists, or assemblers of magnetic imaging systems, was in that rare
category of the sine qua non, without which the greater thing could not be; that if she did
not pull back the score, the next page—and all future pages of yet unknown things—
might never occur. That maybe she was a manifestation of the unseen page turners who
push us on to the next experience, toward the disclosures we would never encounter were
it not for them; the necessary accompaniment to the inventor, explorer—always to the
writer—the influence that tells us when to move forward, depart, or search for the
essential direction of expectation itself. The name excluded from the program.
At the conclusion of the performance, when the audience clapped loudly and longand there were shouts of “bravo, bravo,” the page turner sat with her head bent so low her face was hidden, and we could see only the dark hair on the top of her head. Her hands were folded in the pleats of her gown so as not to expose them, and when the others left the stage, she sat motionless, alone.
When the ensemble remained in the wings an appropriate time, so as to re-enter to
receive an even higher level of acclaim, she remained, head lowered, as to deflect any
attention, to pass it all on to the players, and to let the audience know she was not the
object of their adulation. After the last accolade, they all left together, she with them, unnoticed and unknown.
It was during the time the ensemble was in the wings, ready to come out again
to take their last bows, and she was on stage alone, that one could not help wonder if
the applause which continued throughout the temporary absence of the players, was
not truly hers and hers alone.
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