k a t h r y n    r a n t a l a

In Hartmann Hall


Normally the Salle Hartmann is used for boxing and wrestling matches, occasionally the ballet, but the advancing scouts of sound technicians declare it ideal for symphony recordings. Its many wooden surfaces reflect deliciously both timbre and texture. The technicians themselves are not particularly fond of music but they do like perfection.

During the Concerto for Two Violins in d minor, through a window open to Mainzerstrasse Allee, trucks stacked full of office supplies are heard accelerating through various gears as they enter traffic. The conductor has his own ideals of perfection and hears only his players. He shushes and encourages them, lost in his own ears. When he does look up, it is neither to the left nor right.


Small birds alight on the scroll of the Third Violin who is third for a reason yet content, his heart light and feathery in supporting passages. His name is Edgar. His father is a baker of the type of doughnut treats that emerge from ovens in twists. His mother died young. He pauses for the birds, reading the score silently. Between beats his eyes rest peacefully on the breasts of the Second Violin. It would bewilder him to think the initial arch of her violin was made with a long handled gouge.

Erika, for her part, does not regard herself as a vision of rapture. She knows her part in the piece but not yet her heart. Her eyes are wide as though staring at the score, her thoughts elsewhere—the participation of elements always obscure. Her head is turned sideways a little, eyebrows lifted, ears retracted. Her makeup is thick enough to be called paint yet she is rural, from an asparagus farm some distance from the city. In a dream she turns a page and prepares. The hardy crowns of the crop are now more than two years old and ready for harvest, their roots down deep in the sandy loam. She draws her bow quickly across the strings. The cut is made near the base at a steep angle; a wintering rye is good.


The page turner has no work—the strings having taken over everything, and they dont want her. A piano was not even moved into this building. Ingrid waits and waits behind a curtain where they have stored the weights. It is her fault, she supposes; pleasure hard to come by, guilt easy, defeat simpler. (No sooner had she stopped antacids, then she took up breaded fish.)

After the first pause, the orchestra resumes their seats, not one of the members aware shed been gone by then for the space of three miles westward by foot, craning her neck this way and that for the sun—the light exciting her glasses—perspiration patrolling her skin as she counts out coins at the entrance to The Succulent Gardens.


The second half of the recording is Ravel. Its characteristic is beauty, not power, not magnitude nor scope, though beauty may be vast. The small orchestra is wrapped by the elevated boxing ring—no one thought to dismantle it: canvas, ropes, buckles, spit buckets, towels. The conductor stands lower, on the exercise floor, his baton atop his mast of an arm. Boards creak, sweat lifts up under his feet.

In the performance he is tense, leaning to hear the ever tinier bits, jolted back by strengths hed dictated then forgot. Small as they are—little silicates of sound—the notes multiply, compound, coming forward in larger, surprising shapes he had no part in creating. As the piece goes on, his eyes, which had been facts, become interpretations or, shockingly, just intent; two dwindling, enticing targets.

Everything on earth moves toward destination, and all sounds to him, the destination of the pictures they project. And keep coming. They land on him as comets, as the missiles of brave new countries, as pixilated ages and floods scraped bare by winds he does not control. They rise on their own, flinging themselves his way. He freezes in place. He would duck but his knees have locked. He cannot stop, hum, strike or retrieve the sheets dropped from the stand. He cannot scream the dread excitement of topping seas, bottomless deeps, swallowing, eclipsing deserts; nor turn, near the last, to tell his family that he loves them; nor separate, in the end, place from traveler, travelers from the waves that brought them there—the sand so relentless on his legs.



KATHRYN RANTALA's prose and poetry have appeared in The Denver Quarterly, elimae, Cake Train, Siren and other places, will appear in the upcoming issue of Upstairs at Duroc and in book form this month from a small independent press in Albuquerque.

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