It plays who, when, where I am. Maybe why.
They call it being in your “late teens.” As if your adulthood were somehow hurrying to arrive, to get past the protected pop songs of childhood and into something serious.
I’m in my late teens, in the evening, late in the year, which means it’s already darkening and cold down Main Street, with not many people walking with me towards what can be seen and heard of the sea my town looks out on. But that’s okay, because this is between me and the sea. Well, it’s probably between me and girls, not one particular sophomore at Bar Harbor High School, but girls in general. All of them that are out there on the ocean, somewhere unreachable.
And what’s playing, in my heart or my head or wherever it is we carry it in us, is César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. It’s on heavy rotation in there. I can’t remember who’d introduced me to it—it wasn’t my piano teacher mother. But on our last semiannual trek to see the relatives down in New York City, I’d acquired the LP recording of the work, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (entreating passionately, in the cover photo, with closed eyes and open hands) on the Angel record label (yes!). And I’d listened to it, again and again, until it had become me, and where it was I was growing up.
Passing the closed office of the Bar Harbor Times and all of the small shuttered shops, I look upwards at the blue-blacking clouds and see the wailing melody and the sad sodden chords of the Symphony’s opening movement, and I feel as though I have company, something grand which understands me, something I can’t expect from my parents, or anyone else. The music draws me like gravity down the sloping last few blocks of Main Street, past the cold shoulder of Agamont Park, to the intersection of West Street, which at its eastern end provides parking, in tourist season, for those spectating the town wharf and the Porcupine Islands on Frenchman’s Bay. (Franck was a Frenchman, though his surname reflects his Belgian-German background.)
And there are Franck’s endless modulations, as if he were looking at his orchestra through a musical kaleidoscope, constantly turned to tumble the key signatures, even when the shuffled colors, as in this movement of the Symphony, are mostly in shades of blue. They’re like my tumbled thoughts as I amble on.
Why do I think about all these things, when it seems like no one else is bothering to? Why is it so hard for me to say what I’m thinking, to put all the different parts together so they make sense, so they can be part of something I can do something with? Why can’t I find anybody to talk about it all with, so maybe I could learn how to think about and talk about it all? Especially girls, because I’d like to be able to be with girls, and talk with them, maybe do other things with them. Why can’t I talk with my brother or Mom or Dad, about girls, and about all the other stuff? They don’t understand. And even if they did understand, they wouldn’t care. Would it be easier just to sit down and write about it? I’ve tried, but it’s not easy, and I’m always afraid that my brother or Mom or Dad will find my journal and read it and make something bad of it, because they don’t understand.
When these thoughts come through me this way, I can almost hear them, as if they were coming from someplace else, they almost sound like music. Why wasn’t I born to be a composer, like César Franck?
Where West Street ends, the Shore Path begins. Right now, it’s where the second movement of Franck’s Symphony begins. Harps and strings, and it’s so romantic, so romantic. The Shore Path is the Lovers’ Lane of Bar Harbor, Maine. You take girls out there, whether they’re tourist girls or town girls, you take them out there, at least when the weather is warm enough. And if you don’t have a car, where maybe you could just stay parked by the wharf and make out, or begin to make out, if you don’t mind some people looking at you. Out along the Shore Path, you’ve got more privacy, you’ve got the big outcrops of rock you could both sit on, right beside the water, or you could stretch out on one of the big lawns of the rich people’s summer houses, or you could find some side path into a shadowy grove of trees.
But it all leads to mystery, doesn’t it, to plucking at bra straps like the strings of those harps, hoping she likes it, hoping she likes you. Would she also need to like classical music? Or, when you’re out along the Shore Path with her, does that sort of thing really not make any difference? Can you take off all your thoughts and worries, the way you’d take off your clothes? I wonder if César Franck ever got to do that, way back then.
Written By: Jeff Kaliss
Jeff Kaliss was raised on the coast of Maine, He brought his lifelong love of music to a continuing longtime gig as journalist and author, and more recently returned to San Francisco State University to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. His Certificate in Creative Writing from CCSF is imminent.
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