Manhattan Rhapsody

by GLSGareth

Tags: Fiction, Historical,

Desc: Historical Story: A short piece based on a dream.

Last night I had a rather pleasant dream, after spending the evening reading a time travel story and eating a large pastrami sandwich. I don't blame or credit the dream on either, but just saying.

I was living in the 1950s in New York, renting a small apartment that I was sharing with a young lady I had met in college. We both came to NY to pursue our dreams; mine, as a reporter, writing for the Times and hers, composing music and performing. Mary was a talented pianist and although I wasn't a huge fan of Neo-Classical, her compositions both amazed and moved me. I wasn't alone in this opinion, as she had won a national competition, beating out several graduates of posh music schools, a fact that I enthusiastically center-pointed for my first piece sold to the Times, which perhaps helped smooth the way for my hiring as the first full-time woman reporter on the culture beat.

Being exposed to the prejudices of the older, established reporters, had surprisingly little negative effect on me. Most of my friends expected me to be annoyed, angry or depressed at their attitude, but I found that it merely tempered my determination to succeed. If anything, their attempts to alienate me had mostly the opposite effect, actually stimulating many of the younger reporters to make my acquaintance, which knowing the conservative reputation of the Times, they would likely have not, otherwise. One of these younger reporters moonlighted periodically for The Beat magazine, probably just using the side-job as an excuse to hang out with jazz musicians downtown. Pete Elliot, writer and jazz enthusiast became my best friend at the paper, and often dragged me to smoky clubs, where stereotypical skinny men with goatees and berets hung out with statuesque brunettes with long long cigarette holders. Everyone dressed in black turtlenecks. I didn't get it.

Neither did the real musicians.

Pete and I met with many of the most famous jazz musicians of the time. Mostly I just smiled and shook their hands, not really recognizing their names or music, although I found listening to it enjoyable. (Really, though, who would name their child 'Bird'? Musicians.) At one club we abused our credentials, as usual, to meet the artists, but this time a there was an unfamiliar small combo led by a pianist. He was a short, dapper man with gray hair and a charming smile. Pete introduced us to him and we chatted for several minutes between sets. I hadn't heard of the guy before, but Pete was amazed that the fellow was playing a small club with a four-piece combo. The guy laughed and told Pete and I that he did it for kicks. While we were chatting, he mentioned he was always looking for new, original compositions for his 'real' band, a 39-piece orchestra that was currently between tours. I told him about my roomie Mary and the competition she had won. He smiled and told me to have her send him something to read. After getting the name of the hotel he was staying at, I excitedly dashed home to tell Mary.

"Who?" She asked, again, her gray eyes big and round.

"I never heard of him, either," I explained, dunking a cookie in a glass of milk, a nightly ritual for me. "But he wants you to send him 'something to read'. I assume that means music. He wants a fully scored orchestral piece, about a half hour long with room for an eight-minute piano solo. Have you written anything like that?"

Mary blinked at me, her eyes semaphoring her confusion, gradually flapping faster and faster.

"What do you mean you have never heard of Stan Kenton?" She finally stammered out. "You are on the bloody CULTURE beat!"

It turned out, that after Mary's rather lengthy lecture to me in modern music, he was fairly famous and even better, yes, she HAD written a piece for orchestra. In fact it was a piece she had been writing and re-writing most of her adult life. It was a little longer than Mr. Kenton wanted, but she messengered a copy of the folio to his hotel, as per his wishes. She didn't seem to expect anything back, but the next evening she had news.

"He wants it!" She grabbed me, as I entered the apartment, squeezing me hard in a hug, crushing a bag of groceries with one of those long loafs of French bread sticking out of it, that hadn't had time to set down,. "And he wants to use it for his next tour!"

The next two months flew by. Mary was kept apprised of the progress the Kenton orchestra was making, practicing with her masterwork. She wanted so bad to go to a rehearsal, but they were west coast and we were east coast and it was the 50s ... you just didn't do that. Still, they had booked two nights at Carnegie Hall and we were invited to both performances. Front row!

Opening night at Carnegie was packed. I guess New Yorkers enjoyed this kind of event. Stan Kenton and his Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra was a big hit, and Mary and I sat through the entire first half of the concert, enraptured by Kenton's Wall of Sound. (A term later used purloined by some mop-headed hippy that shot his girlfriend or something). As there was no program, we didn't know when to expect Mary's piece, but I was disappointed it wasn't in the first half, while I was still awake. The music wasn't bad, quite good, but Pete and I were out late and one thing led to another ... Not that! It was the 50s, remember?

The lights went down and the Orchestra started up again. Still nothing by Mary and I could tell, she was getting worried. She wore her best dress a black and silver gown, with gold piping across the bodice, somewhat reminiscent of a musical stave. I think she was expecting to get spotlighted, with the crowd yelling "Author! Author!" or whatever they do at such events. Song after song, though, went by and nothing.

"Heck," I leaned over to whisper in Mary's ear, during the applause after yet another non-Mary piece. "The concert is almost over! He had better get to your piece soon!"

Mary just looked at me, worried.

After the applause died down, Mr. Kenton turned to the crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen, our final piece is an original work by a talented local composer." Oh My God! This was it! Mary's worried expression disappeared as she hung on every word, her eyes bright with expectation. "Mary Selkirk is a name you will all hear again and again, if I am any judge. Now, lets play this for you and let you decide. Manhattan Rhapsody!"

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Historical /