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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #328
Pavanne des ailes
David Gunn

Minerva was playing Ravel's Pavanne for a Dead Princess on her Uncle Neil's grand piano one afternoon when the A flat below middle C stuck down. It happened in measure 28, a crucial part of the piece, the transition between the somber introductory theme and the rascally first exposition. While a couple of earlier A flats hinted at the change to come, they functioned more as passing-tone filigree. Measure 28's A flat, on the other hand, stuck out like a locomotive in a china closet. Or rather, stuck down. Minerva tried to pry up the key, but it wouldn't stay. Worse, the note resonated noisily with every other A flat on the piano as well as with its A and G natural neighbors to either side. She reached into the piano and held the hammer against the strings, and that worked for a while, but as soon as she withdrew her hand, the hammer popped up again and the key stuck down. Minerva kicked at the sostenuto pedal. All of the hammers danced up and down like felt-covered Rockettes in a synchronized cancan routine -- all except that A flat hammer. She played the E major exercises from her Hanon piano etude book, pressing extra hard each time her third finger landed on the pesky key. But, down it stayed.

Meantime, the volume of the note had increased. The more she struck it, the louder it got. And not only was it resonating with its piano key acquaintances, its frequency had found commonality with numerous other objects in the room: the cuspidor, the rack of veal, the set of ninepins, Minerva's molars. Even the sheet music cover now depicted a sarcophagused princess holding her ears. Minerva at last stopped playing, but the cacophony of the A flats didnít abate. So loud was the sound by now that it attracted the attention of a flock of giant moths -- big as box turtles, and with comparable language skills -- that were migrating overhead. Uncle Neil lived in Kokomo, Indiana, a city that sat under the Canada to Belize flight paths of Yukon fruit bats and Madoc megrim moths. A critic from the East Village Other was in Uncle Neil's house during the performance and witnessed the bizarre spectacle of hundreds of moths prizing open the front door, making a beeline for the piano room and completely covering Minerva. She later said they didn't hurt her, and the delicate fluttering of those light, feathery wings beating against her face blocked out the clamor of "that darned A flat." But there was no doubt that the moths were aroused. And when they enveloped her in a cocoonlike web excreted from their hormonal ducts, attempting to pupate her, the Other critic sprang into action.

He had to claw his way through the fuzzy cloud of libidinous lepidopterans to reach the piano, which more than once he lost sight of. But finally he banged his shin on the piano bench and located the keyboard. The A flat below middle C was still down, still resonating loudly. He reached into the piano ... and quickly pulled back his hand, now swollen and bleeding. The moths had developed carnivorous tendencies! As they carted Minerva off to a corner of the room for metamorphous activities, the critic knew he had to act quickly. He unholstered his vise grips, plunged it into the piano innards, skewered a couple of the more aggressive moths, and homed in on the out-of-control A flat's tuning pins. A quick turn of the center rod and the pitch sagged 0.6 hertz. The room filled with consequent beat tones and, just as abruptly, the moth's moods changed from bliss to bewilderment. Abandoning their carnal inclinations, they swarmed to the window, unlocked and with great effort opened it, then fled back to the sky to resume their Canada-Belize pilgrimage, still vulnerable to the instinctive call of an A flat below middle C.

As the timbre in the piano room returned to normal -- that is, one rich in F sharps -- the Other critic helped Minerva scrape away the sticky pupal sac remains and untangle the light, feathery wings that now adorned her shoulders.

So I did it. I managed to scrape together an entire essay, number 328 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, if you're keeping track, without alluding to the shortening of the New York skyline. And before highly inappropriate humor, gallows or aqueous, tempts me, here's Kalvos.