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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Melody (08/24/06)

TITLE: The Old Maid and the C
By Shari Armstrong


The picture in the frame showed a young woman on a stage, not much older than me, in an opera house in Europe. The accompanying article read, “Miss Conway’s debut performance in Puccini’s masterpiece was nothing short of stellar. Her angelic voice soared over the audience, filling every corner of the hall. The audience was transfixed by her natural beauty and grace. She…”

“Hello, Jenna.”

I turned to see Miss Conway, white hair in a bun, enter with a crystal pitcher of water and two matching glasses on a tray. ”Good morning, Miss Conway. Sorry, I was just reading your clippings again.”

”That’s why I have them out, dear.” She put the tray on the table. “I’m sorry I’m running late. Maria has a piano audition soon and needed a few more minutes. Since you’re my last student today, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“That’s fine. I always enjoy reading your articles and looking at all your students’ pictures. Although, I should probably get you a new one of me.” I glanced at mine, still with braids, braces and about twelve, and cringed.

She smiled as she poured some water. “You can bring me a new one anytime. We should get started.”

We ran through my warm-up exercises, with an occasional “watch your posture” or “support” from Miss Conway.

“Let’s begin with the aria from Madama Butterfly today.”

I nodded as I began to feel the panic inside, as I always tripped over the Italian words, making it impossible to catch those high c’s. I started, fumbling again, “I’m sorry, I just can’t get it. I hate singing in another language, I have no idea what I’m saying.”

“Did you research the piece like I asked?”

I flushed. “No, I forgot.”

She shook her head, as she handed me a piece of paper. “I thought you might. Read this aloud.”

I took a sip of water and cleared my throat. “Cio-Cio-San ("Butterfly") has been waiting three years for her American sailor husband to return to her. She chastizes her maid, Suzuki, for her prayers on her behalf; Butterfly rejects the Japanese gods to whom she prays: the god of the Americans is more powerful, but she fears he may not know about them.” * I sat down, “So, this is a love story?”

Miss Conway’s eyes welled up, “Yes it is. We’re going to try something different. Have you heard the quote, “Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s Laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s Fire. God gave us music that we might pray without words.”

I shook my head as she motioned for me to stand next to her.

”We’re going to sing it without words, just focus on the melody. Use a warm-up syllable, such as “ah”. Close your eyes.”

We sang together, our voices in unison. When we finished and I opened my eyes, she had tears sliding down her cheek. To my surprise, so did I.

* New York City Opera Project, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, April 07, 2003, August 25, 2006,
< http://www.columbia.edu/itc/music/NYCO/butterfly/unbeldi.html >.

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This article has been read 1302 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Kevin Kindrick08/31/06
Ah, the power of music. It always seems to touch just the right heartstrings - whether in actuality or on paper.
Thanks for sharing.

God bless,

Lynda Schultz 09/02/06
Very good story loaded with interesting detail. I liked this quote especially: "Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s Laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s Fire. God gave us music that we might pray without words.”
Marilyn Schnepp 09/02/06
Ah...without music I wouldn't have made it through life; at least that's what I think. Great story, and although I do not like opera, the story struck a chord. Great job.
Nancy LaGree09/02/06
Liked the pray without words quote. Actually, liked the whole story. Good detail.
Edy T Johnson 09/04/06
Oh, this is special. In my favorites it goes, along with my other keepsakes. Thank you for a beautiful story with believable characters.
Ruth Renwick09/04/06
The title was intriguing. The story didn't disappoint. I liked the way that you transported us to different times eras so well within just a short story- classic composers, the teacher's past days of glory, the student in the past as well as present. Showed well how music transcends time and language and can touch our spirit when we really listen. The great quote used reminds us that God is the creator of music - we can only be partial reflections of His creativity. Great story.
Teri Wilson09/05/06
I am a great opera lover, so what a treat to read your story! (And Madame Butterfly is one of my favs). I LOVE your line about music being a way to pray without words. This will stick with me. Very creative - great job!
Debbie Sickler09/05/06
Love the title. :)

This was full of details that created layers of believability. As others have already said, I also loved the quote. Had to laugh at the name Suzuki though. Reminded me of the car company. lol Still a great piece though.
Rebecca Livermore09/05/06
I love this! Your use of dialog is excellent. I can learn a lot from your example. Thank you!
Brenda Craig09/05/06
I with the others love the quote. Most of all, as a music lover I was struck about music being prayer without words. As always you do an incredible job with such few words, using your great dialog skills. Wonderful job!
Shari Armstrong 09/05/06
Author's note -now that the hinting all clear has been given -I totally forgot to note that the quote about music and praying without words is an anonymous quote.

I discovered it in college in a music gift catalog as a poster. It had said that it was found in an opera house in Europe somewhere, author unknown. I've always loved it, I even did a cross-stitch version of it, with real music stitched into the background.

Thanks to all for the comments :)
Ann Grover09/05/06
Good job, Shari. I enjoyed this very much.
Jan Ackerson 09/05/06
Absolutely lovely, I could hear Madam Butterfly in the background as I read. This was a very aural piece, and beautifully written.
Karri Compton09/05/06
I love that aria, though I could never sing it! You reminded me of my voice lessons in college and long for those days again. Nicely done.
Joanne Sher 09/05/06
This is lovely, Shari! So atmospheric. Thank you for sharing the power of music - this really touched me!
Ann FitzHenry09/05/06
How lovely! Your descriptions reminded me of my many years of piano lessons. I love your title. (Cute musical take on: The Old Man and the Sea) Thanks!
Lynda Lee Schab 09/06/06
Wonderful piece, Shari! It was a very smooth read, packed with info and entertaining too. Well done!
T. F. Chezum09/06/06
Very well written. Great dialogue. I enjoyed this.
Suzanne R09/07/06
I love the anonymous quote! Not that it is a comment on your writing, but I bet the cross stitch was magnificent! The writing here is excellent too.
david grant09/07/06
Nice job. A DAVEY for you!