Musical Inspiration from Beyond the Grave
April 20, 2015
RUTHANN HOPPED OFF her blue Western Flyer bicycle, worked the handle of her briefcase off of the handlebar and darted into the front screen door of Mrs. Whiteacre’s home, after an abbreviated knock. She crossed Mary Jane Luttrell in passing. “My turn!” Ruthann squealed at her friend. Mary Jane giggled and went on her way. “I’m not ready,” Ruthann added an afterthought. No matter how much she practiced the piano, she never seemed to get any better.
Mrs. Whiteacre set the metronome to three-quarter time and slid into the piano bench beside Ruthann. She showed the nine-and-a-half-year-old a piece of sheet music, “Moment Musical,” and then placed it on the piano rack. “Let’s run through this a couple of times, Ruthann,” she said.
The piece was not hard and Ruthann was able to get through it. Mrs. Whiteacre coaxed her along and corrected her, while beating time with a pencil on the edge of the piano.
“I want you to play this piece for the recital. So take it home and practice, practice, practice. Then, you must memorize it. The recital will be in three months. You have plenty of time,” Mrs. Whiteacre gave the instructions and added that her students would wear their best Sunday clothes for the event. Ruthann slid the sheet music into her briefcase.
Ruthann did as she was told. She practiced, practiced, practiced. She had not memorized the piece yet, but she could get through it without too many mistakes and the ones she did make were easy to cover up by doing some little flairs of the wrist and fingers—like it was on purpose. It was hard to keep from laughing when she did this, though. It reminded her of Liberace, and she did not do the flairs in front of Mrs. Whiteacre. Mrs. Whiteacre would nix them, so Ruthann saved them for the big event. It was her little secret.
The next week, a terrible thing happened. Her bicycle tire went flat. It would not hold air for any length of time and her brother had not had the opportunity to fix it. Her mother decided to drive her places until the tire was fixed. Ruthann was put out at giving up her independence, if only a temporarily.
When her mother picked her up at her next piano lesson, she actually wormed herself inside the door and struck up a conversation with Mrs. Whiteacre.
“Say, I love that piece you have assigned Ruthann for the recital,” her mother said. “It is unique. I have been trying to look up information about it and I can’t find it in any reference books. Did you tell Ruthann that it was by Schubert? I can’t remember.”
“You won’t find it. It is not by Schubert, but it is in his style, definitely. Try researching a London widow named Rosemary Brown. I have always thought the piece was lovely, myself, no matter what the origins, and it is easy to memorize. That is why I gave it to her.”
“A London widow, named Rosemary Brown?” Ruthann’s mother asked this question right out loud on their ride home.
“Huh?” Ruthann asked.
“Oh never mind. I am just talking to myself, Ruthann, dear,” her mother admitted. She did a lot of that—talking to herself. Ruthann could see that her mother had her eyes peeled on the road ahead, so she decided to practice doing some hand and wrist flairs. It was hard to keep from laughing. Then she imagined Mrs. Whiteacre’s delicate fingertips. She imagined how they moved over the keys so gracefully. Would she ever be able to do that with her own hands? And why did Mrs. Whiteacre’s fingers all turn up on the end—exaggeratedly so? Was it from years and years of playing the piano, and the church organ? She did not think it would be polite to ask her, so she never had, but still, she wondered.
* * *
Ruthann’s mother’s eyes combed the pages of a couple of books she had laid out in front of her on a table at the town library. “Oh my!” She exclaimed this aloud, then glanced about to see if she had created a disturbance. The librarian smiled at her, so she did not feel like too bad a criminal.
She had just learned from her reading that Rosemary Brown was born in London in 1916 to a family of clairvoyants, and Rosemary had the gift herself. When she was only seven years old, she started being visited by dead musicians. Franz Liszt was the first. Over time, twenty dead composers visited her and dictated lines of their own music to her—music that had never been published. One of the last to visit her, Igor Stravinsky dictated sixty lines. She saw the musicians as plain as day when they appeared and were wearing the clothing of their eras.
When Rosemary was first widowed she decided to get a secondhand piano of her own. She took lessons but was not very good. She struggled. She did however gain enough knowledge to be able to write down notes on staff paper. In 1964, her early childhood visitor, Liszt, began visiting her again and dictating songs. Then, along came Schubert, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Bach and even Beethoven. They all dictated songs to her, including sonatas and symphonies. Each composer had his own way of dictating. Brown said that some actually took over her hands during the process. Bach just named the notes to write down, aloud. Schubert sang to her, while she figured out the notes he was singing on the piano and wrote them down.
Even the critics that came forward said that the music was exceptional and in the style of the composer that dictated them. There have been music forgers in the past, but they all have very good musical knowledge, much the same as art forgers have art knowledge. Rosemary Brown did not have enough musical acumen to be a music forger. She was never thought to be cheating in any way, by knowledgeable people. Her abilities were one of those inexplicable enigmas, and one of England’s favorite unsolved mysteries. When Rosemary Brown died herself, in 2001, she did not attempt to contact anyone and dictate songs—not that we know of, anyway.
“Oh this is fascinating,” the woman mumbled to herself at the town library. She decided to check out some books and read further. “I don’t plan on telling Little Sugarcake what I have discovered. It is too strange a topic for a nine-year-old to handle. I will wait until she is older, but tell her I will.” Ruthann’s mother spoke these words aloud to herself in the car on her ride home. “And Mrs. Brown’s dictated music was apparently good enough for publishers to publish, or sheet music would not be available for Mrs. Whiteacre to buy and hand out to students.”
Ruthann memorized her piece, “Moment Musical” in the style of Schubert to the point where she could play it backwards and forwards. She had always had a bit of stage fright. Naturally, this caused her to mess up a small portion toward the end, as she sat there on the piano bench in her Sunday best performing at the piano recital. So, she rotated her wrists, dramatically, and put a fake ending on the song—one that required crossing one hand over the other as she went up the entire keyboard to the highest notes. It was not part of the piece, but an improvisation, you might say. Then, she got up and smiled at the audience. It was very hard to keep from laughing. She did not notice her piano teacher in the wings shaking her head. Mrs. Whiteacre did have a little smile on her face, but she was shaking her head.
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