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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #106

[Allegra Shapiro is playing the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D in a young violinist competition.  The book describes her journey to making the music her own, finding where it resonates with her own life and family history.  Elter Bubbe Leah is her much beloved grandmother from Poland who came to America to escape persecution.  Heavenly is Allegra's pet cat.]      I thumbed my strings and heard the D string a shade flat.  While I was tuning it I closed my eyes and saw Elter Bubbe Leah's photograph with the purse and the goose and the broom, and into my vision came a teenage hand with a quill pen in it, just at the edge of the photograph.  Music being written.  I listened in my mind for the rhythm and I took a medium-size breath and started.      The start was a good one; notes came up out of the violin on time, in time, things weren't blurred, it was fun.  Through the notes I saw Elter Bubbe Leah shooing her geese up a slope with her broom in Poland; the notes went scooting along.  It was strange: I was able to hear every note clearly, every group of sixteenth-notes, every little sforzando, and at the same time I was seeing a movie of pastures and the little house in Suprasl.       The second movement.  How many times Heavenly and I'd gone to sleep listening to it, with our arms around each other.  I reached inside my body for the key change and the rhythm change and I felt for the gentleness of it.  I saw Leah, a little girl in a long white nightgown, climbing into her bed by candlelight, and I took a medium-size breath and played.  The notes sounded like little flickerings of flame from the candle, little bright lights floating in a dark room.  I played it for her to drop off to sleep in her feather bed with her braids spread out on the pillow.       The third movement, the Rondeau.  If you turn on the radio just in time to hear this movement, you think it's such a happy thing, those alternating sections, dances.  And yet, when you pay close attention, there's a kind of fragile sound -- as if something's going to break somewhere but you don't know where.  And little silences come up between the sections.  I looked into what was going on in my mind and I saw the early morning waking Leah up with the sun coming in, a blessing.  I took a medium-size breath and began.  She woke up in the sunshine and she was a real girl in a real house, and I could see the grass and flowers growing as she walked outside, and I could feel the solid ground under her feet, and during the cadenza she was scampering along, very happy.  And I got so carried away with the little girl in the story in my mind that I played an E-sharp a little bit askew, my finger came down on it too sideways.  But I was happy.  I was happy with the sounds of Mozart coming up out of the wood, and as I moved toward the ending it felt right.  The last three notes came out just the way I liked them, balanced, even, each of them getting softer until the last one just skips away into the air.        I took my violin down off my shoulder.  I was in Portland, Oregon, and I'd just done what I'd promised and feared to do.  I was twelve years old, standing with my two feet on the floor and my arms hanging down.  I might never even tell anybody about Leah and her goose and her feather bed in my mind.  A whole story about her had happened inside the music.  I looked down at the scroll of my violin.  It's like a seashell, as if there's such a story inside that you could never find out all of it.   Virginian Euwer Wolff, The Mozart Season (1991), pp. 229-230

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