Let Me Take Your Hands, part 1

Welcome! This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, a mental break during these tough times.

Over the next week, I’m switching things up a bit in honor of Short Story Month. Each day will feature an installment of my short story “Let Me Take Your Hands,” originally published in The Woven Tale Press as a prizewinner in WTP’s 2017 literary competition. There will be seven installments total

This is a favorite story of mine. It starts out a bit dark, but hang in there: ultimately it’s about the good that people can do for each other. Each part of the story will be paired with a piece of piano music I’ve recorded.

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~~

“Let Me Take Your Hands”

On the summer night when the police took his housekeeper Consuelo away, Antonio Guerrera felt helpless for many reasons. One was that he himself had paid Consuelo’s wages in cash for years, rather than insisting she become a tax-paying American citizen. Another was that the police refused to listen to him or release Consuelo on his recognizance: she was to be sent back to Mexico as quickly as Antonio would consign a failed mug from his potter’s wheel to the slop bin. Bu most of all, he felt helpless and much too old because he could explain nothing to Tess, Consuelo’s daughter.

Tesoro – Tess, in English – was her mother’s treasure. Un tesoro real. Antonio knew that to Consuelo, it made no difference that Tess was the result of her mother’s work as a prostitute, long ago in Mexico City, before Consuelo fled across the border. Nor did it matter that, as Tess grew older, it became clear that she would never be a normal child. She looked normal enough, certainly, but she didn’t speak, couldn’t stand to be touched by anyone but her mother, and often shrieked in seeming agony when something unexpected happened. “Something unexpected” could be chunky instead of smooth peanut butter on her sandwich, a bee buzzing against a window, or something Antonio could neither see nor hear.

The ICE police had been waiting outside the mountainside chapel, Our Lady of Tears, where Consuelo took Tess every evening to pray for the Virgin Mother’s blessing. After eleven years, Consuelo still believed that if only she and Tess made enough trips to the chapel, knelt enough times in front of the statue of the Virgin in her sky-blue robe, and lit enough votive candles, the Virgin would heal her girl. The police must have known Consuelo’s routine. They chose a mild, soft, cloudless evening to make their move.

If Antonio had not left his Catholic faith behind in Mexico City decades ago, along with the bodies of his friends who died in the Guerra Sucia riots, Consuelo’s frantic phone call would have taken that faith from him. No just God would have allowed the ICE to make such a capture outside a church. But he went to the jail, driving out County Road 63L from Telluride to the San Miguel County Detention Center, while the sun went down in a wash of color behind the mountains. The color made Antonio think of copper red glaze fired on ceramic. Copper red was one of his favorite colors, one of the richest in his palette, but the sight of it in the sky did nothing to encourage him as he parked his car in the chain-lin-fenced, barbed-wire-ringed lot.

In the jail, while Consuelo sobbed behind bulletproof glass and Tess screamed in some holding cell down the hall, Antonio tried to tell the officers why they could not take this woman away. After so many years in this country, his voice still had the old lilt of home. “Can’t you see,” he said, “her daughter needs her?”

The officers, one black and one white, mouthed words. They were both big and tall, facing off against Antonio as if it took that show of strength to subdue one bent-backed old man. They said things like no exigency plan for parents and no proof of demonstrable hardship. Antonio suggested, angry now, that Tess’s desperate noise indicated more proof of hardship than the police could possibly need, but anger made both his hands and his voice shake. The policemen told him Tess was “having a tantrum” and would “quiet down soon.” They suggested Antonio take her home, because it was getting late, and “make sure she got some supper.” She had been born in America, carried across the border from Mexico in her mother’s belly, so she was not the police’s problem.

Antonio could not offer Tess a hug to reassure her. He couldn’t explain to her what was happening, when he himself could barely take it in. He did insist that one of the officers lead Tess by the hand out to his car and put her inside. The white officer obeyed. By now the sun had disappeared and the sky was the color of Antonio’s cobalt glaze, with the first stars gleaming above the mountain peaks. In the policeman’s grip, Tess howled and struggled, as if the strange hand was a rope of nettles wrapped around her arm.

The doctors said Tess had the mental age of a toddler, though Consuelo had always refused to believe it. Toddler-mind or not, Tess had the bones and muscles of an eleven-year-old. Antonio thought of the bruises the girl’s brand-new, shiny white sneakers were leaving on the police officer’s legs, and tasted faint satisfaction. He braced himself to be deafened by Tess’s ongoing screams on the drive back to his house from the jail, but when she found herself in the car, she quieted. She had ridden in it before.

Antonio talked to her on the drive to his house, because he could think of nothing else to do. He navigated the streets he had known for decades and spoke in Spanish, the language he always fell back on in times of stress. He told Tess he would put her up for now in his own guest room. He asked, knowing he would get no answer, whether Tess knew of any family Consuelo had, anywhere. He asked, talking mostly aloud to himself now, why in her decade and more in Telluride, Consuelo had never formed friendships with anyone except him, more or less, and the statue of the Virgin at Our Lady of Tears. He told Tess he had no idea what to do now. He couldn’t think of anyone less fit than himself to take care of a child, especially one like her.

By the time they got back to Telluride, Antonio’s anger and fear had spent themselves into tiredness. The girl had sat silent and unmoving in the passenger’s seat the whole time. Waiting at a stoplight, Antonio glanced over at her. Her face in the light of a street lamp had the wild lost look of a mountain mustang caught in a pen. Her big dark eyes stared straight ahead out the windshield and a shock of her dark hair fell across her face. Antonio had never noticed, before, how much her face looked like her mother’s.

He heard himself saying simply, as if she would understand, “Lo siento, hija.I’m sorry, child. For everything.

Tess didn’t respond to that any more than she had to anything else. Antonio drove on in silence.

~story continues on the blog tomorrow~

Musical pairing: Sinfonia no. 11 in G minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach

 

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Scarlatti Special

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Thursday 5/7, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

For today’s recording, I visited the wayback machine. This is a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), one of the great names of the Baroque Era in music history (about 1600-1750). This piece is still a favorite of mine, but I thought I already had a recording of it, so went looking and found this video I made almost four years ago.

Scarlatti modeled his sonatas on the structure of popular dances of the time. Dances like the minuet, sarabande, courante, and gigue were part of the daily life of the Baroque era. They were elegant and delicate musical “microcosms.” Scarlatti imitated that graceful dancelike character in his solo keyboard pieces.

This particular sonata has a lovely sound that harks back to the Renaissance. As you listen, you’ll hear some harmonies especially in the left hand that suggest music from an even older time. Those unusual harmonies are one reason why I’ve always loved this sonata.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this piece evokes a particular time and place for you. Use it as a way to “transport” yourself to another setting. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

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Re-post: Bach Talk

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Thursday 5/7, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

The content of this post originally appeared on the blog on March 22.

Today’s music is a pairing: a prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was one of the icons of the Baroque era (1600-1750) in music history, especially famous for his fugues. He was such a force that after his death in 1750, the next generation of composers had to come up with new techniques and styles to use in their music, because no one could follow Bach’s act.

Fugue is a complicated musical form that involves several lines of melody going at the same time. Every fugue has a short musical idea, called the subject, that gets passed between the different melody lines. The subject usually also has a partner, the countersubject. When one line of melody, or “voice,” has the subject, another “voice” often has the countersubject.

Writing a fugue means that you have to follow a lot of complex rules. You also, ideally, have to write a piece of music that sounds beautiful even if you don’t know about all of the compositional trickery going on. Bach was fascinated with fugue and made a lifelong study of it. He was a master at making it work.

His collection The Well-Tempered Clavier includes forty-eight fugues, two in every key it’s possible to write in. Each of those fugues has a companion prelude. In today’s recordings, you’ll hear the Prelude and Fugue in C sharp Major, from the second volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier. 

As you listen, see if you notice the different lines of melody working together, especially in the fugue. See if you can hear a musical idea that gets passed around between the “voices.” Then, if you’d like, imagine that the voices in the music are actual people having a conversation. What are they talking about? What kind of moods do you hear as the conversation goes along? As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

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Re-post: Mozart Meditation

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Tuesday 5/5, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

The content of this post originally appeared on the blog on March 16.

The music featured today is the slow movement of a sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), one of the greats of the Classical era of music history.

Mozart’s style is often elegant and precise, the kind of writing Classical composers idealized. He also includes drama, humor, and deep expression in his works, even though on the outside they might sound straightforward. This sonata movement is a beautiful, lyrical short piece, both meditative and expressive.

Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, focus on a mental image that evokes peace for you. Maybe it’s an object, or a place, or a particular activity, like walking along a beach. Bring it to your mind and picture it in vivid detail.

If you have any thoughts about the experience, or would like to share the image you focused on, please post about it in the comments. 🙂

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Friday dance

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

Today’s piece continues my Beethoven trend (I will get back to other composers again, I promise 😉 ). This Bagatelle, in G minor, has a slightly different flavor than the others I’ve posted. The minor key gives it a darker sound, but it’s still full of charming energy and lovely contrast. Beethoven changes key in the middle with a hymnlike melody that contrasts with the light, percussive opening. Then he comes back to the tune from the beginning, but writes an intricate little variation on it. He ends the piece in G Major, a bright resolution to the darker beginning, with a lovely final cadence that gets back to the hymnlike sound of the middle section.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this little piece with its contrasts it conjures up any particular story for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Wednesday cheer

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

Today’s post continues my Beethoven Bagatelle explorations. This piece caught my attention when I was reading through some of the Bagatelles I’d never studied before…looking for pieces short and straightforward enough to pick up quickly and record for the blog.

This one starts out sounding charmingly simple, a lilting country tune. Very soon, though, Beethoven shifts the harmony into a totally different place. The simplicity of the tune never changes, but that sudden twist gives the piece a whole new character.

It’s a delightful little piece. As you listen, if you’d like, see if it conjures up any particular story for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Monday smile

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today I’m continuing with my Beethoven Bagatelle streak. This piece is a favorite bagatelle, which I first learned somewhere around thirty years ago (yikes). It’s warm and charming and full of the humor that comes through often in Beethoven’s music. We tend to think of Beethoven as angsty and angry at life, which he often was, but he also loved jokes, puns, wordplay and music-play. This piece showcases his lighter side.

The ending, especially, is classic Beethoven. After the drama and contrast of everything that came before, he decides to sit on one chord for the whole last line of the piece. He milks that last chord for everything it’s worth while he lets the music tiptoe away until it disappears. Playing it, I couldn’t help smiling. I could just imagine Beethoven laughing as he wrote it.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this “miniature” piece with all its contrasts conjures up any particular story for you. See if it sparks your imagination about the man who wrote it. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Sunday in the Renaissance

Today’s post is a re-post of a piece I put up just a few days ago. I think this particular music deserves some more love. 😉 It’s also perfect for a quiet Sunday morning. 

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today’s piece is one of my favorites by English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623). This is one of Byrd’s folk-tune settings, in which he took a popular melody of the time and wrote a series of variations on it for solo keyboard. The song, called “The Maiden’s Song,” is gentle and contemplative, a little bittersweet. Byrd’s variations on it start out simple, and then get gradually more intricate before he returns to the original theme at the end.

I’ve posted before about Byrd’s harmonies, which can sound unusual to our ears as modern listeners because they’re based on an older tonal system. You can read more about the seven “modes” of Medieval and Renaissance music in this post. “The Maiden’s Song” also has an unusual feel to it, harmonically, because it’s in one of the modes that we don’t run into much anymore. This mode is called Mixolydian, very similar to major but with one note that sounds a little “off.” (If you have a piano or keyboard, you can hear the Mixolydian mode by playing from one G to the next G, one note at a time, using only the white keys. As you see, it’s a lot like G Major except for the F natural instead of F sharp.) Mixolydian was one of the most commonly used modes in folk music, and to our modern ears, it gives this particular piece its particularly Renaissance flavor.

As you listen, let the music take you back in history to a quieter time, with less ambient noise, clearer skies, and fresher air. See if this piece conjures up any particular images or ideas for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

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Folktale in Music

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

I went to the wayback machine for today’s piece: this is one I actually recorded a couple of years ago. It’s the second movement from a short suite called Tales of the Old Grandmother, by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Prokofiev witnessed the Communist Revolution in Russia, and like many artists, found himself trying to maintain an especially tough balance. Russian artists were revered as showcasing all that was right about Communism for the world to admire. At the same time, as free thinkers and free speakers, artists were considered potentially dangerous and subversive, enemies to the new Communist state.

Prokofiev was in a particularly difficult position because he traveled outside Russia as a young man, spending time in Europe and the United States with the sanction and blessing – initially – of the Communist government. When he came back to Russia in the 1930s, though, he found that his time in the West made him particularly suspect to Stalin’s regime. He spent the rest of his life in a strange and often dangerous limbo, both an ambassador of the State and a potential traitor to it.

Tales of the Old Grandmother is a short, technically simple, but evocative suite for solo piano. Prokofiev is “storytelling” here in a literal sense, capturing the flavor of mysterious and magical folk tales in his writing.

The second movement, featured in today’s video, is my favorite of the suite’s four movements. It’s quite short, less than two minutes, but lovely and bittersweet. For me, it always conjures up the summer when I first learned the suite, some twenty-five years ago. As you listen, if you’d like, see if it calls up any particular story in your mind, or perhaps a favorite memory. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Friday Bagatelle

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today’s piece is one of my favorite short works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). This is one of a set of Bagatelles he wrote late in his compositional life. Beethoven, as I’ve written about before here on the blog, was an innovator who single-handedly changed the course of music history.

When we think of Beethoven, we might think mostly about his heroic, passionate style in music like the Ninth Symphony, which is a huge-scale piece of music, both in length and in terms of the number of performers it needs. Beethoven was definitely interested in expanding musical forms, especially in the middle and late periods of his career. But he was also interested in miniatures. His Bagatelles, which he wrote at various points during his compositional life, showcase that side of him.

Today’s Bagatelle is a lovely, lyrical little piece. Its gentle harmonies sound sweet and wistful. As you listen, see if the music conjures up any particular image or story for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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