A celebration in the city park is an opportunity for Derrick and his grandfather
to get together on a whole new level.
Come To Rockville’s Sesquicentennial Celebration! All Welcome!
The announcement was proclaimed on a banner which stretched across Main Street. It listed the date and named the city park where the festivities would be held.
Rockville was only about 15,000 residents strong, but the town was prosperous due to three medium-sized businesses that had been founded there years earlier and then had remained out of loyalty to their employees. Besides, the owners had liked the idea of raising their own kids in small-town, Midwestern America. A town without gangs and no established drug culture had a great appeal to parents as did a place where just about the only violence was on the high school football field on Friday nights.
The town had a lot to be proud of, and it was reflected in the mood of the citizens as the big day of the celebration neared. Various organizations and groups of townspeople were planning their own functions at the park, several restaurants were banding together to feed the attending throngs, and even the local schools were getting involved. The elementary schools and middle school had special art projects and activities being readied. Older kids from the high school would be performing skits and dances, while some were performing acrobatic tricks on bikes and skateboards.
The school band was involved, also. Thaddeus Stevens, the director, had come up with the idea of having any and all of the parents of current band members who played an instrument themselves join in. Most of those parents had been in the local high school’s band years earlier. So, this would not be just a parent/student band performing at the celebration—it also would be an alumni/student band.
There were only two rehearsals at the school before the big day. Mr. Stevens was sure that wouldn’t be enough to put on an error-free performance, but outstanding ensemble playing wasn’t the aim of this concert. The aim was to allow parents and kids to play together in a group, to have a great time doing so, and for them to show off a little in front of their friends and neighbors while celebrating life in a small town. Multiple rehearsals would be difficult for adults who had busy schedules and so might reduce the numbers of those joining in. Mr. Stevens expected that many of the adults wouldn’t have kept up their skills, either. Lips would have gone as soft as some of their bellies. All in all, this concert was for fun, and the odd bad note or sour chord could and would be easily excused.
The first rehearsal was filled with the cacophonous din of people warming up their instruments, chatting with each other, folks being introduced, kids yelling across the room to friends, music stands and chairs being moved around—noises typical of a band room preparing for music to be made.
Mr. Stevens was in the middle of it. He was a short, pudgy man with a florid complexion, a thinning pate, and a constant smile. The kids were bringing their parents up to meet him, and everyone seemed to want his attention all at once. Parents were explaining how they hadn’t played in years and apologizing in advance; kids were trying to pull them away to show them where they sat in rehearsals; questions were being asked and answered. Mrs. Peterson, the mother of Ralph, one of the sax players, was saying how she came hoping to be able to join in, but unfortunately only played the piano. Mr. Stevens said that was great and handed her a folder of piano scores for the music they’d be rehearsing.
Derrick Fellows was standing off to the side, waiting his turn. Derrick was a freshman. He was 14, short, and liked to fade into the background. He had, in fact, become good at that. He wasn’t a very confident boy and was generally uncomfortable in a group of people. He’d been waiting for some time to speak to Mr. Stevens, but being as unassuming, non-assertive and small as he was, he’d hesitated when it was his turn to step forward. More animated kids and their parents had kept moving in front of him.
Derrick’s grandfather, also short of stature but without the boy’s shrinking presence, stood next to Derrick and watched. He saw Derrick becoming uncomfortable, but he said nothing. He’d been 14 and shy once, too. It had been a long time ago, but remembering what it was like to be in Derrick’s shoes in a situation like this was easy to do. Embarrassing Derrick was the last thing he’d want to do. It was Derrick’s place to attract Mr. Stevens’ attention, and for his grandfather to take charge of the situation instead would be another of many small slights Mike was sure that Derrick suffered daily.
Finally it was time to begin, and Mr. Stevens told the man he was speaking with that the rehearsal needed to get started. The man shook Mr. Stevens’ hand, and he and his daughter moved away. Mr. Stevens moved toward the podium.
Derrick screwed up his courage and stepped forward. “Mr. Stevens? I know you want to get going, but…” At that point Mr. Stevens had one foot up on the platform, and Derrick’s courage failed him. He stopped, a look of frustration on his face.
Mr. Stevens turned and saw Derrick and a man with him. Mr. Stevens knew Derrick; this was now late May, and the concert band had been rehearsing since November. Derrick played the French horn, an instrument ill-used by most high school kids, but Derrick played it well. For that reason Mr. Stevens had installed Derrick in the first chair in the horn section to the dismay of a senior girl, Tracy Horvath, who had assumed all the solos would be hers this year; she hadn’t given any thought to how frightening and potentially embarrassing it would be if she actually had to play them. Derrick had taken the chair with foreboding, not wanting to face the social consequences of pushing a senior aside. However, once she’d realized Derrick could play rings around her and then had seen how shy he was, Tracy had taken him under her wing.
Mr. Stevens had watched this happen. He’d seen the diffidence Derrick had displayed when talking to Tracy and then seen it when he interacted with other band members as well. Mr. Stevens had a special place in his heart for kids who had to overcome their demons to perform in band. It was one of the reasons he liked his job. He knew band allowed kids to express themselves, and kids like Derrick could shine in a way that was denied them in other school activities. Sometimes, just being in band allowed shy and awkward kids to gain recognition and even approval from other students.
“Oh, sorry, Derrick.” He stepped back down off the podium. “Were you waiting to talk to me? We’re not in that big a hurry to get started. What is it?” He smiled.
The smile made it easier for Derrick. “I wanted to introduce you to my granddad. My parents don’t play any instruments, and they probably wouldn’t have come even if they did. But you said parents, so I didn’t know if it was OK to bring my granddad or not. He’s visiting us, and he’s a musician, and I wanted…” Derrick tapered off, blushing, having said most of what he’d wanted to say and not sure how to say the rest. Playing in the band with his granddad was something he’d fantasized about since Mr. Stevens had announced the joint band concert. Nothing would make him prouder than playing in his high-school band with his granddad!
Mr. Stevens turned to the man. “Hi. I’m Tad Stevens. We’re very fortunate to have your grandson in the band. He’s a great kid.” He stuck out his hand.
Derrick’s grandfather took and shook it while Derrick blushed. “As Derrick said, I’m his grandfather. My friends call me Mike. I’ll trade with you, even up, Tad for Mike.”
Mr. Stevens grinned. “Deal. What instrument do you play, Mike?”
“Uh, I’m afraid I don’t really play a band instrument,” he said, sounding a bit embarrassed. “But Derrick was so hoping I could come, and I wanted to, for him. He’s a special kid. But I do know music, so I’m sure I can do something. Maybe play the triangle?” His eyes were twinkling, and Mr. Stevens couldn’t help but laugh.
“Derrick is special,” he said. “Not only is he a nice kid, but we haven’t had a French horn player so accomplished in years. And he’s just a freshman.” He smiled at the red-faced Derrick and then turned back to Mike. “Well, let’s get you sorted. What about the bass drum, or, if you’d prefer, you could play the triangle. Any of the percussion instruments that appeal to you, really.”
Mike’s face lit up. “OK, I’ll just see what’s what. Any way I can be of use, that’ll be fine.”
“Derrick, would you take your grandfather back to the percussion section, then return to your own seat? Then we’ll get started. And Mike, so glad to have you with us.”
While Derrick was escorting his grandfather up the risers to the top where the percussion instruments were arrayed, Mr. Stevens rose onto the podium. He spoke to the group after quieting them down and introducing himself. “I’d like you parents to sit next to your kids if you play the same instruments. However, if the part your child is playing is too difficult for you, you can find any part that you can play in the section and that’s fine, too. We’ll start, and if you want to move around and find a place to play where you’re more comfortable, just do that.
“We’ll start tonight with Stars and Stripes Forever. Please get the music out in front of you. It’s the piece we’re going to be closing our concert with.”
He had everyone tune to Mrs. Patterson’s B-flat on the piano, tapped his baton on the stand, watched everyone raise their instruments, and began. What followed was a spirited version of the march. Kids always played the piece too loudly, but this time, Mr. Stevens wanted enthusiasm, and if it overwhelmed the nuance of the piece, so be it; it probably drowned out a few of the parental clunkers as well. He was happy to let the group play as loudly as they wanted. When they’d finished all the players were smiling and Mr. Stevens shouted, “Bravo! That ought to get the audience clapping. We might even have to play an encore. That was fine as played. My only comments are, band, we have three piccolo players and we want them heard, so back off on the volume a little when they come in. You three, please stand up when your time comes. I’ll cue you. And Mike, I see you’re on cymbals. That’s great. Those three crashes at the end? As loud as you can, please.”
Mike smiled. He’d never played cymbals before. They were heavier than he’d expected. He did know they were to be slammed together in an up-and-down motion, sliding across each other instead of flat against one another, allowing the air to escape when they collided. But actually doing it effectively was something new for him to learn.
He was learning more than that. The entire ensemble looked different from up top where he was standing. He could see things he’d never seen before. He spent a lot of time during the rest of the rehearsal just looking out over the band. Seeing things from a different perspective.
He spent some time watching his grandson, Derrick. He was a good-looking kid, Mike thought. Short, but not unduly so, and with a good frame on him. He wore decent clothes, clothes similar to those favored by the other kids in the band. Mike didn’t know what current fashion labels marked the in crowd from the losers, but he was sure there were some. Hopefully, Derrick had some say in the matter of what clothes his mother bought him.
Derrick’s soft brown hair was worn medium longish and well-groomed rather than in the loose, unkempt, messy style so many kids affected. He still had the smooth skin of young adolescence and eyes that were clear but too often not smiling. Mike wished there was something he could do about that, but he wasn’t around often, and he had no control over Derrick’s parents.
They rehearsed more marches, and then a piece by Morton Gould that was a medley of familiar tunes that would be a crowd pleaser. The piece had short solos to showcase various players and their instruments, the soloists being the pianist, a French horn player, a flutist, a clarinetist and a trumpet player. Derrick played his solo beautifully, and afterward was ecstatic—his granddad was there to hear him.
It was a warm evening, and after the rehearsal Mike was enjoying a slow walk home with Derrick. There were fireflies darting around the bushes in the yards of the houses they passed and not much traffic to spoil the magic of the soft, late-spring, early-summer night.
“Did you like it, Granddad?”
“I had a great time, Derry.” Mike was the only one in the family who could get away with using that name. He was wise enough to only use it when they were alone. He’d started with it when the boy was four. He’d been reading him nursery rhymes and after reading the line ‘hi ho the derry-o’, he tickled the little boy and said, “That’s you! Derry!” At 14, Derrick had outgrown the name, and Mike knew that, but it was still something they had between them, and he was pretty sure Derrick still liked it, too.
“Did you like Mr. Stevens?”
Mike nodded. “I think you’re lucky there. I’ve seen conductors who’re mean as snakes when someone is twisting their tails and tickling their armpits. Some of those guys would strip paint off the walls with their screaming. They’d cause blisters on a baby’s ass with their cursing.” He sneaked a twinkling-eyed peek at Derrick. “Can I say ass?”
Derrick was laughing. “Sure. I hear much worse at school. Besides, I am 14, you know!”
Mike smiled. “Yes, I know. I remember being 14. I remember learning all those words, too. But you know what? I know you pretty well. I’ll bet you’re learning them, stuffing them away in that head of yours, but never using them. Right?”
Derrick was surprised. “How’d you know?”
“Because I was like that, too. I knew them, but they embarrassed me, and mostly I didn’t want to be the sort of boy who used words like that.”
“That’s just how I feel!” Derrick said, feeling quite pleased. He loved his grandfather more than just about anything else, and it was amazing to hear that the man had had the same thoughts and feelings Derrick had now when he’d been Derrick’s age.
They walked in silence for a while. It was one of those nights that seemed touched by a subtle magic, that invited them to open their senses to all that surrounded them. They both felt the fragmented breeze, heard the whispers of sounds that came to them. Both thought their thoughts while enjoying their gentle companionship.
Mike next spoke with an air of reflection, his voice showing he’d been remembering being a boy as the two of them strolled silently homeward. “I remember at your age starting to feel I knew a little about how life worked, more than I’d known a couple of years before. Some things were making more sense. I started to be aware of things I hadn’t noticed before. I started to see some of the challenges I was going to face when I was older.” Then his voice changed, became less serious, and he said with a smile in his voice, “What I seem to remember most, though, was falling in love every other day or so with someone new. I don’t suppose you ever do that.”
“Well, boys do that, you know. And if you were doing that, you could tell me, you know. I keep your secrets better than anyone. Remember that Snickers bar?”
“That was when I was eight! And it was only a candy bar!”
“Yes, but it would have been embarrassing if I’d told what I knew, wouldn’t it? And you know that I know that you hate being embarrassed. You also know I’d never do that.”
His voice had changed as he said that. Derrick heard the difference. He walked on without answering, however.
The night was like soft velvet around them, quiet and enveloping. New leaves had just come out on the trees a very few weeks ago and were fully open now. Branches didn’t look like skeletons any longer. A dog barked twice a block or more away, and they could hear the faint sound of a TV in the distance.
After a while, Derrick replied, speaking somberly. “I know you wouldn’t embarrass me, Granddad. And…,” he continued as an afterthought, adopting mock outrage, “…you made me share it.” There was a giggle at the end of that.
“Damn right,” said Mike, grinning.
A little later, very softly, almost like he was talking to himself, Mike said, “Sometimes, boys need someone to talk to about their private things. Someone who’s on their side.” Mike had slowed their pace just a little. He didn’t want to get back to the house too soon.
Derrick felt a stab of nervousness. Where this line of conversation might be going wasn’t a place he was ready to go. Of course, maybe he was imagining things. And, how could his grandfather possibly know he had something private he was protecting? He only saw the old man a few times a year. Although, when he came, he always seemed to find a way to spend most of his time with Derrick, so he did know him. What Derrick liked so much was that he never, ever criticized him, like his parents did. Derrick felt closer to him than any of his other relatives, and often felt closer to him than to his own parents. He couldn’t talk to them. He’d always been able to talk to Granddad.
They ambled along farther in silence as Derrick continued to think. Finally, he looked over at the older man. He didn’t have to look up very far; he was almost as tall as his grandfather was. “How’d you know I had something on my mind?”
Mike chuckled before answering enigmatically, “You know, I’ve never been at the back of a band or an orchestra before. Everything looks different from back there.”
Derrick looked confused, and Mike sighed. He had to do this carefully. They happened to be passing the city park where the sesquicentennial celebration would be held, and Mike saw some benches down one of the many paths that wandered through the park. He touched Derrick’s shoulder and said, “Let’s sit down.”
The park seemed to be deserted, except for the older man and the young boy. They sat comfortably together. Derrick decided there was no reason to be nervous. Anything he didn’t want to say, he simply wouldn't. But there was temptation lurking, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk about all these feelings he was having? These new feelings; exciting feelings? He felt so alone with them. He knew some boys could talk to their parents. Some boys shared their lives with their families. They talked to their friends, too, but Derrick had few friends, and those weren’t the sort one confided in. The thought of him doing that was preposterous.
About the only times his dad spoke to him was to tell him he was doing something wrong. Whatever he did was wrong, according to his dad. His mom wasn’t quite that bad, but she was so invested in her own life, she rarely made time for him. Neither seemed to have much interest in him or his life, if it came to that. Mothers were supposed to be motherly, weren’t they? He’d been to other boys’ homes where the mothers had fussed over their sons and even been attentive to him. Somehow, he thought, his mother had a maternal gene floating around loose in her somewhere. It certainly wasn’t attached where it should have been.
Sitting quietly with his granddad was pleasant. The air was faintly perfumed by the spring flowers which were abundant in the park. Violets, he thought, and daffodils. There were old-fashioned street lamps widely spaced along the path, but their bench was far enough from the closest one that they were sitting in relative darkness.
Mike was the first to speak. “I was watching you play tonight, standing in the back. When the trumpets weren’t overblowing I could hear you. And that solo in the Gould! You’ve improved from the last time I was here. You really sounded good.”
Derrick felt himself blushing but didn’t have to worry, it being as dark as it was. He hated blushing. It showed what he was feeling, and he didn’t like people knowing that. But he didn’t have much occasion to blush, so it wasn’t something he had to think about often. He did like his grandfather praising him, though.
“Thanks, Granddad. I practice a lot. Just like you said.”
“All serious musicians do. You know how much I practiced at your age.”
“I still can’t believe that. If I practice more than an hour at a time, my lip gets flabby and I can’t make my embouchure work any longer.”
Mike nodded. “Brass and woodwind players have that problem. It just means you have more time to go play basketball or soccer.”
“You know I don’t do that, Granddad!”
“Well, you could, you know. You might like it if you found the right group of kids to play with.”
“I know, I know. I was shy, too.”
“It’s not just that. I’m no good at those things.”
“Of course not. They take practice just like the horn does. But it’s no fun practicing them all by yourself, and being shy makes it hard to ask if you can get into a game that’s already going. I never could do that, either. But then, I was shyer than you are. Didn’t really get over it until I was in college, either. So I know how hard it is.” He paused, then said, “But that’s not what we should talk about.”
Derrick turned a bit on the bench so he could look at his grandfather. “What?”
“What I was talking about earlier. But we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Suddenly feeling the nervousness come roaring back and knowing he might regret doing so, Derrick still had to ask the same question again. “What?”
“About falling in love all the time. And maybe about going up and talking to the person you have a crush on.”
Mike chuckled. “You don’t have to say anything. But, just so you know, I think he’s cute, too.”
“What! Who?” But it wasn’t a confident, you’re-out-of-your-mind!, what-are-you-talking-about sort of a ‘who?’ It was weak and tentative and almost defensive.
“I don’t know his name. But he plays the flute.”
Derrick’s mouth almost dropped open. He didn’t say anything. His head seemed to be spinning. How in the world…?
“This is why I wanted to talk,” Mike said very softly. “I wanted you to know it was OK. I wasn’t sure you knew that.”
Derrick let his head hang down. He couldn’t look at his grandfather. Mike saw that and kept talking.
“Most boys your age have crushes on other boys. They just don’t talk about it. Usually, as they get older, girls start to work their magic on them. For some boys, that never happens. Some boys know early on that it never will. But either way, it is what it is: it’s just what happens. Nothing’s right or wrong about it. No matter what anyone says.”
Derrick remained quiet.
“But it makes a problem for you, I know. It’s easy to tell your parents you have a crush on a girl. Hard when it’s a boy. Same with your friends. So you end up feeling all alone. Well, there are two of us who know now. You and me. So if you want to talk to someone, someone who’s happy for you and all the wonderful feelings you’re having, here I am. Or not. That’s entirely up to you, Derry. But I wanted you to know that someone else does know and is really happy for you.”
The walk home, later, after Derrick had settled down a little, was good. Even if he hadn’t talked much—wasn’t ready to—Derrick felt better. He’d told his grandfather that the flute player’s name was Brandon and that he did like looking at him, but that he was much too shy to talk to him, and he was pretty sure the boy didn’t even know he existed. Mike had his arm around Derrick some of the way home, and the boy snuggled into his side. When they neared his house, Derrick pulled away to a proper distance; he was, after all, a teenager and so big on personal propriety.
At the second rehearsal all the pieces began shaping up. The concert was going to last about 45 minutes, so there was a lot of music to prepare and not much time to actually work on any of it. As the Gould was going to be the show-stopper, Mr. Stevens spent more time on it than any other piece. He was pleased with the result.
Mike spent time on the cymbals, bass drum, and yes, the triangle. He was trading off with other parents in the section. The kids were on the snare drums, tympani and marimbas, instruments taking more skill.
When rehearsal was over, Mr. Stevens told the group what to wear and when to show up at the park the coming Saturday. “Band, you’re going to be great. Just one thing to remember: have fun. That’s what we’re there for. See you Saturday.”
Saturday turned out to be a sunny, clear day, promising to be warm enough that not even jackets would be needed. At the breakfast table, Derrick asked his parents if they’d be attending the concert in the park.
“Waste of time,” his father said, not bothering to lower the paper.
“There’s a gallery opening over in Stanton. I’m going there. I don’t really have time to spend in the park,” his mother said.
Mike winked at Derrick. “They know not what they’re missing,” he said conspiratorially.
“Hmmph,” Derrick’s father snorted.
On the bandstand, the boys and men were wearing white shirts with dark ties, dark slacks and dress shoes. The girls had dark skirts or slacks and white blouses. Mr. Stevens had taken off his dark dress jacket and so was attired similarly to the other males. However, while the other men in the band were smiling, he was frowning. He had everyone sit down and spoke to them.
“Mrs. Peterson called me last night. She has a family emergency and can’t make it today. That means we don’t have one of the soloists for the Gould. I could take her place, but without a conductor, I think we might have a disaster. I don’t think you could see me if I tried to conduct from the piano. So, we have one of two choices, each bad I’m afraid. One, we could skip the entire piece, which I’d hate to do because everyone has worked hard on it; the crowd deserves to see that. Or two, we could simply skip the sections that contain solo piano, but as you know, the piano solos intertwine through the piece and that wouldn’t be practical. I’m really sorry, but I’m afraid we have to skip the Gould.”
He could see the disappointment in the band members’ faces. He shook his head, showing his unhappiness, too, and opened his mouth to declare his decision when a voice interrupted him. “Uh, Tad, there is another option.”
Mr. Stevens looked toward the voice and saw Mike, in the back, standing up. “Can we discuss it?” Mike asked.
Mr. Stevens nodded and Mike came down so the two could talk more privately. When they’d moved out of earshot of anyone else, Mike said, “I could conduct the Gould for you, and you could take the piano part.”
“Do you conduct?” asked Mr. Stevens, sounding both surprised and, possibly, skeptical.
“I can. I’ve done it a little. I told you I’d had some musical training. Not much in conducting, but some, and I can do this piece. It would be a shame if the soloists lost their chance of showing the town their talents. They’ve worked hard to get as good as they are, and have been looking forward to this. Let’s not disappoint them.”
Mr. Stevens smiled. “You mean Derrick.”
“Yes, but the others, too. Besides,” and Mike’s eyes twinkled, “how often do you get to play a solo?”
Mr. Stevens knew when he was beaten. He did want to play that solo.
The concert was a great success. Chairs had been set up on the lawn in front of the bandstand and they were filled, plus a large crowd stood behind the chairs, and picnickers sat on blankets and listened as well. They opened with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Mike got to play the gong. The Gould was a great success. Mike conducted and, at the end, with a flourish, pointed to each soloist to take a separate bow, saving Mr. Stevens for last and clapping along with the crowd for him.
The band then took a short intermission. Mr. Stevens thanked the crowd and said they’d be back to finish the program in twenty minutes. The band set their instruments down and went for drinks and to relax. Mr. Stevens looked to find Mike to thank him, but the man had disappeared.
While he was arranging his music on his stand for the second half of the program, he was interrupted by someone he knew.
“Hey, Tad. Great concert so far. I’ll give you a great review in the paper. Maybe even mention the piano soloist and of course the guest conductor, too!” he said, winking. Jim Kerns was the music critic for the town’s newspaper.
Tad didn’t understand the wink so simply ignored it. “Thanks, Jim. But no need to mention me. I was a last minute fill-in. Hey, you could mention the conductor, though. He’s the French horn player’s grandfather. He stepped in so we could have a piano player for the Gould. That was a piece of luck. He said he was no conductor but could do it in a pinch, and we were in a pinch. He did great.”
Jim wrinkled his brow. “Wait a minute, Tad. He told you that… that he could conduct? And that he’d do it because you needed a piano player?”
“Yeah. Why the puzzled frown?”
Then what Jim did puzzled Tad even more. He broke out laughing, and when Tad frowned, he laughed even harder. Finally stopping, he put his hand on Tad’s shoulder and said, “I guess I do have something to write about.”
“What are you going on about?” Tad asked.
“You obviously don’t know who your guest conductor is.”
“Yes I do. He’s Mike, Derrick’s grandfather. I don’t think he ever told me his last name.”
Jim smiled. “I can tell you that. It’s Fischer.”
“Mike Fisher? And so…?”
“And so, his first name isn’t really Mike. I guess he uses that as a nickname. His real first name is Mischa, and his full name is Mischa Evans-Fischer.”
Tad’s eyes opened as wide as they ever could. “Mischa Evans-Fischer? No! Not really?”
“Yep. You had one of the world’s foremost concert pianists available to play a piano solo, and you elbowed him out and stuck him with conducting.”
His voice sounding stunned, Tad said, “Not only that, I have him playing cymbals and bass drum with the band, and I told him he needed to play louder!”
Mr. Stevens spent the rest of the break wandering through the crowd, looking for Mike. He finally spotted him and Derrick together, sitting in the shade of one of the many elm trees that grew there. The town had been lucky to see its glorious trees escape the Dutch-elm plague that had ravished so many elms across the United States several years earlier.
“Ah, there you are,” Tad said, approaching the two.
“Hi, Tad,” Mike said, smiling. “Great solo.”
Tad shook his head. “Great, huh? Someone just told me who you are!”
“Oh.” Mike had the civility to look embarrassed. “Look, I’m just here for Derrick. I didn’t want any attention on me at all. Besides, I’m having a great time in the percussion section. Never done that before. You know, when you concertize like I do, it gets so that you sometimes forget that making music can be such fun.”
“You knew and didn’t tell me?” Tad said to Derrick.
Derrick grinned. “I was sworn to secrecy.”
Tad turned back to Mike. “Well, your secret is out. The person who recognized you was our newspaper critic. He’s going to write about you.”
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to accept that. I’ll be leaving soon anyway.”
“Let me suggest something.” Tad was trying to be his persuasive best. “When the people in this town realize who was here, they’ll feel cheated that they didn’t get to hear you play. But we could prevent that. I could introduce you to them, and then you could play something. I’m sure you play encores all the time. Just something short if you want. Whatever you have ready. Could you do that? Please?”
Mike smiled at him. “If you’d like that, sure. I’d like to find some way to thank you for being as supportive as you’ve been for Derrick. He speaks very highly of you. So I’ll do this for you, because of that. OK?”
And so it was, a few minutes later, Mr. Stevens was on the bandstand with the rest of the band, ready for the second half of the program. First, however, he stepped out in front and spoke to the crowd. He identified the guest conductor they’d just seen, told them who he was and listed some of the great orchestras he’d played with before then asking if they’d like to hear him play something for them. This was met with a roar of approval, and so Mike stepped up to the microphone.
“Thank you so much. I’m here today as a grandfather, not a performer. That was my grandson playing the French horn solo only a few minutes ago. He was wonderful, and I’m so very proud of him, just like all you grandfathers in the audience are proud of your grandkids in the band. But I’ve been asked to play, and you’ve agreed that you’d like to hear me, so I’ll do so. I’ll also make it very short. I’m going to play Chopin’s Opus 64, the Minute Waltz. Let me explain something. The word ‘minute’ wasn’t used to mean the piece should be played in a minute. The word has another meaning, of course, when pronounced slightly differently. Pronounced as ‘min-oot’, it means ‘small’, and that’s what this is, a small waltz. Chopin didn’t intend the piece to be played in 60 seconds. Generally, it’s played by top performers in about a minute and three-quarters. But, I like to please audiences, and so I play it really fast. Today, I’ll try to play it for you in a minute and a half. Believe me, that’s fast. The last time I played this piece was six months ago in Vienna, and it took me 93 seconds. I haven’t played it since, so we’ll just all have to see how it goes.”
He stepped to the piano, an old upright, sat down, and very conspicuously, looked at his watch. Of course, seeing that, the crowd did likewise. Then he set in.
A minute and a half later, to the second, he finished, looked at his watch, and smiled. The crowd roared. Mike stood, bowed, waved at the audience, and then quite obviously set off for the back of the band, where he picked up the bass drum mallet and hit the drum a resounding boom. The crowd laughed, and the band was back under the direction of Mr. Stevens.
In the horn section Tracy leaned closer to Derrick and whispered, “He’s wonderful!”
Derrick nodded, grinning proudly. “You have no idea. I love him.”
The rest of the concert went off without a hitch, and when the Stars and Stripes finished with Mike crashing the cymbals for all they were worth, the crowd’s response was such that they had to play the piece a second time. And then Mr. Stevens had the whole band stand for a rousing ovation and cheers that seemed to go on and on and on.
It was two nights later that Tad’s phone rang.
“Hello,” he said cheerily.
“Tad? This is Mike. Evans-Fischer. Do you have a minute?”
“Mike! Of course.”
“I, well, what I want to talk about is, well, a little delicate. I wonder, do you think, well… could we meet somewhere? Maybe I could buy you a drink?” He sounded very tentative.
“I’d love to! But, you know, as much as I’d like that, my partner would love meeting you even more. He’s a huge fan of yours. Got tons of your CDs. He was out of town on Saturday and when he learned you’d been there and played, well, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t pretty! If I have to tell him we went out for a drink together and he wasn’t included…”
He stopped because Mike was laughing. “You don’t know how happy that makes me,” he said when he finished. “You’ve just set my mind at ease. This will be fun, not awkward as I was afraid it would be. Why don’t you pick the place? I want somewhere private, intimate even, and fairly quiet, some place where we can talk undisturbed. And do bring your partner. I’ll enjoy meeting him.”
Which was why, an hour later, three men sat in an alcove at an upscale lounge in town. Tad had a beer in front of him, his partner Robert had a martini, and Mike had a small glass of 16-year-old Lagavulin.
After they’d all clicked glasses and tasted their libations, Mike spoke. “OK, I called this meeting tonight—” he smiled and waited for Robert to stop giggling before proceeding. Robert had turned out to be a very effusive individual, and a toucher. He liked to lay a hand or a finger on the person he was talking to. Mike had met all kinds of people and found him charming “—to discuss something that we all need to agree to keep private. I think you’ll enjoy this, but the embarrassment possibilities are high, and I’d be very, very disappointed if anyone found out about what I’m going to tell you.”
After he received fervent assurances that two pairs of lips would be sealed, he continued. He told them about Derrick’s crush on the flute player, and about his being too shy to meet him. He told the men he wanted to get the boys together without in any way being involved or making it appear to be anything that was being arranged.
“I don’t know about Brandon,” said Tad. “He may be even shyer than Derrick. I can hardly get a word out of him. He’s a really cute kid, and a good flute player, but I have no idea if he’s gay, or if he’d be interested in Derrick.”
“At his age, I’m not even sure if Derrick is gay,” answered Mike. “He won’t talk to me about it. But he does like Brandon, and what would be good is if they could be friends. It seems they’re both too shy to make that happen without help. However, I can tell you something I didn’t tell Derrick. It’s something that he needs to learn on his own.”
“What’s that?” asked Robert. He was finding this whole business very exciting.
“I told Derrick I saw him watching Brandon when he could during the rehearsal. What I didn’t tell him was that when he wasn’t looking at Brandon, Brandon was looking at him, and they both had the same expressions on their faces when they were doing it.”
Then Mike made a suggestion. Tad was thrilled. He’d get to play matchmaker. They left the lounge with hope in their steps, feeling good about themselves, and full of memories of being 14.
At the next band rehearsal, Mr. Stevens made an announcement.
“At the spring concert next month just before school gets out, we’re going to do things just a little differently. We have some wonderful musicians among you, and I think they deserve to be heard and recognized. So, we’ll play all the concert pieces we’ve been working on except the Gluck symphony, and in place of that, I suggest we perform some works for smaller groups. We have the making of an excellent woodwind quintet, a trumpet quartet, a saxophone trio and a piano trio with French horn and flute. I’ve posted the names of those who I’d like to participate on the wall by my office. Please check off your name if you agree, and I’ll get you the music. You’ll have to arrange your own practice times. Derrick and Brandon, come see me and we’ll find out what times work best for the three of us.”
He glanced at Derrick in the horn section, and Brandon in the flutes. Both had wide eyes and shocked looks on their faces.
While enjoying their expressions, he was imagining the trio rehearsing, and eventually the two them working closely with each other, watching each other, talking to each other, getting to know each other.
He’d tell them early on that if they could, they should get together on their own to work out the places where they’d play off each other, harmonize with each other. They’d need to get the balances right.
He grinned. This was going to work out great.
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