Last week I sold my guitar; my rosewood Alvarez guitar; my beloved, resonant, androgynous instrument. Its woman-shape touched me like a man. Arthritis had finally ended my ability to embrace or stroke it properly.
When I was 21 years old I heard a Julian Bream recording of Rodrigo’s “Concerto d’Aranjuez.” I had studied piano as a teenager but had not been in love. This music smoked of passion. Even the composer’s names were transporting: Albinoni, Carulli, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and my favorite, Villa-Lobos (vee-yah low-bus, pronounced with a long caress on the first syllable).
The Alvarez was not my first. I learned on a Martinez student guitar. Like the piano, it created melody from strings pulled taut and pressed with precision. But the Martinez vibrated with more emotion, begged for greater sensitivity. Held properly against my chest there was no distance between hand and chord. No keys, no hammer, only the immediate and sensuous rapport between fingers, strings, heart. I was an avid lover.
My husband and I moved from Boston to Indianapolis to San Francisco and finally to Cincinnati over the six years of his medical internship and residency. In each city I found a teacher and a companion with whom I could play duets. Other relationships were incidental to these musical rendezvous. I was very good for a beginner.
By the time our daughter was a year old, however, I was expected to be socially gracious, to cook gourmet dinners for guests, to go to teas with other doctor’s wives and chat about potty training, to volunteer for community service. I had no time for these activities, which bored me. Grateful that my daughter took substantial naps, I practiced two hours a day, first exercises to limber up my fingers, then pieces like Carcassi’s “Andantino in G,” even some flamenco riffs.
I wanted so much to excel. I’d heard all the masters, knew what was possible, yet lacked the spontaneity to improvise; my fingers would not fly. My fervor was admirable, my capability serviceable, my dedication commendable, but I was not a talented musician.
At one of my lessons I was excited to learn that not only would Carlos Montoya perform at Cincinnati’s Music Hall, but through the society connections of my teacher’s wife, there would be a reception for Montoya at their home after the concert. My husband and I were invited.
The concert was splendid and I was eager to meet the maestro. On our arrival at the party, however, our hostess ushered us past the living room, where Montoya was surrounded by more elite guests, to the family room where I took my lessons. We quickly realized she was not happy her husband had included us. She was gracious, of course. She explained the living room was full and made sure we had drinks.
We talked for about thirty minutes before acknowledging we’d been shunned and decided to leave. But I would not accept being so close to Montoya without meeting him. It was my intention on our way out to walk over to him, thank him for the concert, shake his hand. But there on the long, U-shaped couch was an empty space beside Montoya. Impulsively, I sat down next to him. He turned immediately, asked who I was and why we hadn’t been introduced. I told him I was just a student. No one else spoke. Montoya’s next question made it clear a student of music was to him an honored guest. “Will you play for me?” he asked.
Though I will never forget his kindness, I did not perform for Montoya. And I still grieve – for all the false hopes of my romantic fantasies, the life-long love I would cherish and hold, the rich talents that would surely unfold, the sweet recollection of a moment that might have been, when I played for Carlos Montoya, when he took up his guitar and reveled with me in the haunting tremolos of Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra.”
Mary Bast is a member of the Gainesville Florida Poets & Writers. A psychologist and author of four non-fiction books, her creative work has appeared in small print and online literary magazines including Waters, Woman’s Voice, Slow Trains, Dicey Brown, and Wicked Alice. Her poem “Dreams” is in Velvet Avalanche, an anthology published in Fall, 2006, and her poem “From a Slightly Masochistic Petunia” will be published in June, 2007 by Outrider Press in the anthology called A Walk Through My Garden.
The decision to sell my guitar brought lifelong memories of glorious enjoyment, particularly the music of classical Spanish composers. As often happens with creative writing, I didn’t know until the piece ended how deep my anguish would be, or that the loss of the guitar would signify other losses.