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"CECI'S CONUNDRUMS" (AKA "THE BORN-AGAIN PIANIST", a self-deprecatory moving flight of fictional fancy)

Updated: Jan 17


(The first and last fabulous Fazioli I ever played in 2021 while testing grand pianos for purchase.)


It was a dark and stormy night. Everyone was cringing (not because of that!) because “CiCi”, as she had been nicknamed shortly after her birth, shortened from the more formidable “Cecile”, was going to give a little piano concert after dinner with the family.

Her mother, the redoubtable Mrs. Promenade, had cooked her favorite meal of fried caterpillar eyeballs and pickled chicken feet, but CiCi’s pre-concert nerves had turned the sumptuous feast into a gurgling, burbling mess of burps and hiccups at the table. Everyone looked down when CiCi passed gas, and to a furry person they wished she had not declared herself ready to perform so early in her two-month-old career as a born-again pianist.


Actually, just two long months ago she had been innocently sitting there at the kitchen table one morning when a lightening bolt came down and struck her in the teeth. She jumped sky high, bit her lip, and music took hold of her. She was energized by the electricity and started hallucinating that she wanted to play the piano again (it had been five years ago when at eight years old she had refused to continue playing the piano in favor of playing soccer) and walk onto a concert stage in two months. Or into the living room where the gorgeous 500-year-old broken down, disheveled, black Fazioli sat awaiting her touch.

Now, Fazioli was trying to think of some way to avoid the whole evening, but the Raven, in a fit of mischievous pique before dinner, had closed and locked all the windows in the house and there was no way now for Fazioli to escape.


Raven had a bone to pick with Mamman but decided to take it out on Fazioli who was accustomed to teasing Raven mercilessly on occasion, Mamman deserved it more because she had shorted his–Raven’s not Fazioli’s–ration of entrails by ten inches a week ago; of course, it was in error, but Raven didn’t see it that way. Raven knew that Mamman hated him, but why is another story for another day....



So while everyone was salivating and finishing off the last eyeball and licking their plates, CiCi excused herself to get ready for her concert and collect her bodily parts, including her hand-servant, Chief Five-Digit, who was from the Shocking Saginaw Native American tribe who hailed from this same area. In fact, quite a few generations ago the Promenade family had stolen a plot of land from the Shockings and started to farm eyeballs on it, with much success. The greater the drought from global warming, the larger the ’balls grew until they were plush and lush on the vines and dripping down, ready to be harvested and served up in Mamman’s delicious fry.


Of course, that being the family history coupled with interminable arrogance, Mamman refused to pay reparations that the city council had levied on her family, money that should have gone to the Shockings to pay for the land that was now quite valuable. So far she had refused to budge and no one was quite sure what was going to happen in the future, that is, if the city attorney would screw up her courage to litigate the matter, or just exchange her power to do so for weekly invitations over to enjoy Mamman’s famed fried eyeballs and pickled feet dishes.


By now Fazioli, hearing the scraping of the chairs against the plank floor, knew that dinner was finished and people were coming and he was in for certain punishment. CiCi was also on her way, but Chief Digits had already escaped her post-dinner sticky grasp and being the hand that he was (no, really–he was just a hand with five fingers; well, of course, those were his legs, if you get my reference?), he scuttled in ahead of her, and was now dozing beneath the piano. Fazioli had no time to notice because he was trying hard to remember how to lock down the key cover, but because he was suffering from a recent bout of Alzheimers, he got flustered and couldn’t remember where he had last put the key. It was clear that piano doom was in store.


THE FIRST CONUNDRUM: WHAT TO WEAR?


When CiCi entered the living room she was resplendent in her new concert outfit, an all-pink all-ostrich feather, sleeveless, plunging mini dress. Of course, she wobbled a bit because she had—with permission—borrowed Mamman’s pink stilettos for this important occasion. Her hair was freshly washed and frizzled up about four inches above her head with a two-foot pigtail hanging down her back. She had added a dash of Passion Pink lipstick and was jangling noisily in Mamman’s jewels which she had helped herself to just for this occasion, intending to put them back immediately after her performance. Not that that would happen in reality..

.Just at the moment of her entrance, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” yelled the Chief who went scuttling out from under Fazioli and across the floor to the front door. Staring hard at the door handle, he made a magnificent effort and jumped as high as he could several times but couldn’t quite reach it. Nonetheless and just in time before he exhausted himself or had a heart attack, the door magically popped open (The Raven’s magic?) and there was Maestra Biszt, CiCi’s piano teacher, who had come to attend CiCi’s first concert presentation!

She wouldn’t have missed it for the universe but was almost late because her clueless Uber driver got the address wrong, thinking it was 777 instead of 77 (or was it 88?) and he had driven back and forth, top to bottom along the street while honking his horn, hoping the right person would emerge from the right house at the right time to hail him down in time to get to the concert’s kickoff chord (Idiot A.I.!). But all’s well that ends well, her piano teacher was here after all, and CiCi was now ready to begin.


Having been given a week’s advance notice from CiCi that she was ready to perform her first family concert on this night, family members had taken all necessary precautions. They now sat stoically in their seats in the living room, earplugs pushed way in and secure in their cozy canals. The most anyone could hear was the sight buzzing noise of silence, unless of course, they had tinnitus and then they heard a ringing sound, pleasant enough compared to what they expected would issue forth in a few minutes, judging by the sounds of CiCi’s daily practice sessions following her dubiously-effective weekly piano lessons pursued during the past two months.

Mamman was now fussing about pouring coffee and pushing her famed confetti cookies on the concert-goers; she was especially pleased that the piano teacher took six of them at the first pass. This was obviously a person of great taste, Mamman thought, and clapped her hands in delight (that is, after putting the cookie platter down first). Mamman was always a proper hostess-with-the-mostess, fitting because she came from a long line of East Coast elites that dated back to the Puritan days. She had proudly joined the Daughters of the Puritan Arrival and had even served a few years as the local chapter President, along with serving her famous cookies. But nothing could cause her more pride than to realize that in a few minutes her only daughter, a mere teenager at thirteen, would soon be giving her first piano concert.


Fazioli let out a low groan of despair, but no one heard it except the hand-servant who by now had scuttled back under his friend. CiCi sat down on the bench and almost immediately Chief popped out from under the piano again, took a magnificent leap onto the bench beside her and then bounced straight up to the side of the music stand where several scores had been placed. CiCi was not going to play from memory tonight because she was not smart enough to have memorized her pieces in under two months; just playing the right notes would be a great enough challenge for the young would-be virtuosa. Chief was by now panting from anticipation of turning the pages, alert, ready to rock and roll, and quite a willing hand-servant. Actually, in most all situations and as called upon fairly frequently, he was quite a willing and talented hand-servant and had played many roles for his young mistress.


By accident one day while just about falling asleep for her afternoon siesta, CiCi had discovered that he liked allegro quite a bit. It was her favorite tempo to play, and ever since then they had become fast friends. Truth be told however, eventually CiCi preferred him as a lento friend; she didn’t want to wear herself--or him--out too soon. In any case, there he was, holding his breath and waiting for the head-nod cue CiCi would give when she was ready for him to turn to the next page.


* * *

CiCi had to face and surmount a few other conundrums (although there was only one Main Conundrum to deal with sooner or later) before she could reach the “concert stage” sitting in front of ’Ole Fazioli.


THE SECOND CONUNDRUM: WHAT PIECE TO PLAY?


She originally thought about the lyrical classical genre favorites, “You’re So Stupid” or “Piercing the Bloody Heart” by the New Dudettes from the 50s,


but they both seemed a bit too raucous to match the solemnity of the evening. Besides, the songs were favorites of her twin eight-year old baby brothers (often referred to affectionately as the Twiddle Bros because Mamman had given up getting their names sorted and she would often call Dee “Dum” and Dum “Dee”). CiCi considered that no matter what kind of justice she bestowed on the pieces, she would be in for months of criticism after her performance. There was so much shade being thrown about on social media these days that she felt she could not endure any more of it directed personally at her, especially by two younger family members. Despite that fear, she set about practicing the pieces to see if and where they might eventually go in her concert lineup.


Once CiCi told her family that she was ready to perform her first family concert, of course, everyone wanted to know what pieces would be included, but CiCi refused to say. She loved springing surprises on them even if no one ever seemed to like receiving them. Then when the Twiddles found out that she intended to play either or both “You’re So Stupid” and “Piercing the Bloody Heart,” they threatened to have a JBF–a Jelly Belly Fit–that dread event which was by then anathema to the whole household excepting, of course, to the twins who always enjoyed it thoroughly because it inevitably resulted in an endless source of Jelly Bellies at least until they got roaring stomach aches and gave up the ghosts. It was their favorite way of not only getting attention, but diverting attention away from their older sister (did I mention “jealousy?”), and this time was no different from former times. Pitching a JBF was a pretty brutal and effective threat because it usually went on for weeks, making Mamman terribly distraught and her nerves jangled. Because CiCi loved Mamman deeply, she did not want to risk it and so she dropped the twins’ favorite pieces from her concert list in a speed akin to dropping hot fried eyeballs. (Which she never did because they were her favorite dish!)



Of course, one could say that this kerfuffle with the twins was CiCi’s fault because one morning she had overslept and left her diary unlocked on her night stand and when the twins found it, they read that on the precise date scheduled for the concert, she had listed the pieces she would play. In other circumstances she might be excused for her contributory negligence but the defense was likely applicable here and any jury could then consider it to reduce possible damages, or even decide it would support the twins’ complete defense to justify denying a verdict in Cici’s favor in any civil litigation that CiCi might file. That lawsuit have been based on some kind of actual damage she sustained and could factually allege from giving up the right to play two songs in the public domain. Barring the allegations, CiCi would never get beyond a defense Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, but that is another matter from the legal world not meriting further long-winded and reliably esoteric discussion herein.


To mitigate her part in creating the mess to begin with, CiCi alleged that she had had to hurry off to school which might reduce her contributory negligence, but not really so much. The school to which she was hurrying was held in the basement by Mamman who was the teacher. Home schooling worked better for CiCi because CiCi was a bit too weird and always got bullied to a great extent in public school.


For example, a week from the time CiCi turned nine and practically caught her classroom on fire by blowing too hard on her cake’s candles, she glommed onto and insisted on wearing a new dress Mamman had just made for her out of the rainbow flag, and that always brought down lots of social opprobrium from the youthful hoi polloi straights of the public school. What her idiot classmates were being schooled in was beyond CiCi and Mamman to understand, so they quickly figured out how to write a grant and receive one million dollars to set up an experimental home school in their basement. They were co-authoring a paper comparing CiCi’s academic progress while in public school versus while in the home school, and it was to be published next spring in NIH’s Journal of Insanity.


* * *

’Ole Fazioli was most assuredly ready for the concert before and on the date CiCi had set, especially after he realized he couldn’t locate the key to the key cover. After all he had to do nothing but show up and keep quiet on the evening of the concert, and CiCi would do the rest. Typically-noisy Raven was another matter, but the household was hoping he would be in a post-entrail-dinner stupor and forget to show up.


CiCi was ready, too! She had practiced diligently every day and to the family’s chagrin, long into each night for the few weeks leading up to her concert, including practicing to mistress the most effective and forceful gestural arm movements that could wake any Fazioli, even halfway dead ones, from the dead.


In fact, on one particular day of supreme enthusiasm, when reaching an unusual six-forte dynamic, she had pressed the C key in the second bass octave so hard that the key descended beneath the key bed, and when the bulleting hammer struck the fat brass-wrapped string, CiCi heard two loud “PINGS!” The stretched-tightly string snapped loose from the two pins, one at each end of the body of the piano, flew straight up and out of the propped-open lid of Fazioli, then continued on to the ceiling of the living room, and because of its precise perpendicular angle thereto, pierced the lathe and plaster and went right on through to the stars, leaving a neat base-ball sized hole in the ceiling.



However, the next time the RPT (“Registered Piano Technician”) came to tune Fazioli, he didn’t even notice because, of course, RPTs don’t often look up at the ceiling. Mamman had to point it out to RPT, and he verified that, indeed, the hole in the ceiling most likely exited to the roof and beyond to the heavens, but said he couldn’t do much about it and told Mamman to call the neighborhood contractor for a bid.


All of the above being the case, CiCi settled on “Ivan Sings” by Khachaturian for her first piece to play at the concert. That’s because she and Ivan, who had attended the same public school, used to hunker down in the back of the classroom, make spit balls, and toss them at their mortal enemies, barely cloaking from the teacher their uproarous giggles. Meantime, sotto voce, CiCi would hum “The Sound of Music in the Classroom” until mayhem broke out, led by the two students who sat in front of Ivan and CiCi. One of rioters who always got blamed for CiCi’s and Ivan’s misdeeds was a certain Prissy Prufrock, who hated CiCi’s pretty chartreuse nail polish (really, she was jealous) and bullied CiCi mercilessly; she threatening to pull CiCi’s painted nails out, drill holes in each one, string them on a chain, then wear them to class as a necklace. Being an intrepid sort, CiCi was only slightly terrified but somewhat relieved when Mamman started home schooling her.


Stumped one day as to what second piece she might play, CiCi took a breather in the damp assault on her classmates, and asked Ivan for his opinion. Without one hesitation he demanded that she play Jennifer Jolly’s “March(Ed. note: "worth a listen" starting at minute 7). The composition tickled his militaristic tendencies, especially when the droning robotic voice took over the deathly drumming beat in 2/2/3 rhythm and soon enough turned it full-stop into 19/12 rhythm. But of course, “March” was impossible for her concert unless someone stepped up to transcribe it for piano since it had been composed for a full-fledged orchestra. No such luck.


CiCi was walking in the sun one day when all of a sudden a warm breeze came over her and it came to her to play “The Winds of Glenn Canyon and the Sands of Time.” That was Paavo‘s favorite piece when he had been alive, and now she knew in her aching heart that he had directed her to choose that one above all others, and that he would be with her throughout her entire concert. It was a lyrical ragtime qua reggae qua ska piece that ripped the emotional guts out of anyone who had ever listened to her Paavo play, and it transported the listener to the farthest star in the universe, always. Nothing could have been more perfect for her concert!


* * *

Cici set about practicing “Winds” diligently (and laid off Mamman’s fried eyeballs) for the few weeks leading up to her concert, being certain to implement the mental tactics she had learned from Noa Kageyama, a renown Julliard music psychologist, in order to stay focused, rather than floating out on her life raft into never-never land, taking her hands and fingers with her. Those needed to stay planted firmly on Fazioli’s keys whether or not he liked it. Besides, one hand-servant was in any case and often one too many.


Cici had also learned and practiced the most effective gestural arm movements that could wake any Fazioli from the dead, even a 500-year old one, but hopefully not gestures that would put another hole into ceiling like the one that Mamman had had repaired.


Finally the night was here! While CiCi played, Raven and Maman smiled. Ms. Biszt remained rapt at attention (CiCi wished that she had gone to sleep but instead, the twins did). Chief, of course, had joined the twins by going sound to sleep on the music stand;


his services had not been needed simply because the music had osmosed inside of CiCi and she quickly disappeared inside the piece that she was playing and carried on without the score. At one point, Mamman even got worried because she looked around the room and didn’t see CiCi because of the pink feathers flying everywhere. In a quiet moment of reverie when the feathers all floated to the floor, Mamman was relieved to see that CiCi was still there, sitting on the piano bench.


* * *

After the last chords of Cici’s presentation, the audience sat stunned in what Cici hoped was appreciative silence for a minute, then burst into loud and sustained applause. Hearing the bruhaha, the twins woke up and jumped out of their seats in pleasure, mainly because it was over and they could go play now; they wasted no time in running off to do just that. Mamman and Ms. Bliszt’s eyeballs jiggled uncontrollably and fur fluffed up, their hands trembled in unison and a cold sweat broke out on their forehead, all sure signs of approval. Mamman passed a Kleenex box around to every single person or bird remaining in the room, including hand-servant, Raven, and even ’ole Fazioli who by now was weeping profusely (in happiness of course, for the concert to be over).


THE THIRD AND FINAL MAIN CONUNDRUM:


As Cici stood up to take ten or twelve bows to thunderous applause and then looked around, she finally knew the answer to her last conundrum:


YES – she was a pianist, after all!



# # #

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