Leslie Brown with coach David Marks
Photo: Apple Hill
In those first days I had little interest in slogging through the preliminaries of friendship, I suppose because I know enough people at this stage and have more than enough e-mail correspondents, and because, as I said, I wanted most of all to be reading a novel. But I began to feel, in spite of myself, a general, vague affection for the group. It was very nice to bathe while the Brahms Serenade from upstairs in the concert barn steamed with the water through the showerhead, and one afternoon when a group of teenagers was playing the Ravel String Quartet, rain began to fall, a soft sheet down the long windows, which seemed to seal us into the gorgeousness of the moment. There was nothing better than drinking a cup of tea on the porch in the morning while inside the barn the A, taken up by the violin, and passed to the other strings and the woodwinds, gathered force, the note swelling out into the open air and down the hillside. I did love the fact that all of us, the witty, the shy, the old, the supertalented, the plodders, were held under the same spell.
Even before I gave myself up to camp, there were plenty of scenes, several a day in fact, that seemed well worth the price of admission. We were growing fond of our valiant coach, and in our small rehearsal room—Betsy on the harpsichord, Jennifer on the cello, Leslie, violin tucked under her chin looking worried, Libby on the bass trying to keep us in time and in tune, and I, toodling on the recorder—we now and again managed to transcend our limitations and actually come together to make music, what felt like the real sublime thing. The night the faculty gave a concert, we sat up in the balcony of the barn looking down on the Bruckner String Quintet that went on for 45 riveting minutes. We were close enough to read their impossible sheet music on the stands and see the smallest flickering smiles between them, signs of private jokes, or assurances, or maybe gratitude. The second violist was wearing green flip-flops with daisies, and before an entrance she'd quick wrap her foot around the leg of her chair, her red toenails flashing. The music and the friendship between them seemed a kind of improbable physics, a profound and effortless labor.
As a girl I had been prone to rapture, but I am no longer in thrall to it as I once was. I don't remember when that part of me that responds intensely began to retreat, but I can feel how much it isn't there anymore. It seems wrong to call this middle-aged absence, this flatness, serenity, but perhaps that's what it is. The faculty concert wasn't an ecstatic event for me, but it was nonetheless a great privilege to be so close to the miracle of the music as it was being made. It's possible that without the high pitch of rapture an experience itself is more pure, that without so much rattling emotion there is room for clarity. In any case, we 50s, as they called us at camp, are well past the ambition of youth, and also past the point of having a future of failure. In the usual inevitable ways, we've already failed—failed ourselves, our spouses, our children—and we know we only have more failure to look forward to. Failure, c'est nous. And so, in that dusty room with the passionate, difficult Bruckner, we, without ambition and with so much already done, were free in a way a 20-year-old could not imagine.
We Hear You!