Aug 31, 2009

The organist's applause

Her feet find all the pedals. She finds them, knows them, taps them and plays them, heel and toe and here and there, right, left and right, moving and taping without even looking as the organ exhales this sound she makes.

She plays. She sits at the organ in the loft where she has been sitting and playing for longer than she's ever done anything she had a choice about. She owns the organ, not the papers but the wood and the metal, the keys, stops and pedals. She is a mother, but before she was a mother she was an organist. She is a student, but she played the organ before school and will play it after too. She is a Lutheran, does yoga and likes yogurt with her cereal; she lives in the Weststadt, drives a Peugeot and owns a calico-colored cat, but she is, more than anything, an organist.

When she sits up there her feet dangle, like a child's from a tall chair, and she cannot see the church behind her, below her, except for in the mirror where she watches for the pastor's raised finger for a sign to start. She plays the intro, and the opening note for the chant for the psalm. She plays the hymns that everyone in the congregation knows, with her hands stretched wide over the keys and her eyes, always, on the notes she knows go dah, dah, DAH duh-dah. She plays what is written, except that she adds a little opening flourish she learned from an opera that no one here knows, and even though everyone is singing, for her the organ is like a secret. She alone faces this alter, knows the mystery of this instrument before the sound, and when the preacher looks up from the congregation to look at the pipes that look like a labyrinth, a manifestation of a hermeneutical maze, he finds she is already gazing there.

But then at the end, after the last song listed on the bulletin, she plays. She plays a solo. Something that she wrote, or maybe made up right there. It starts like a coyote chasing a roadrunner off of a cliff and then comes through, crashing through to the other side and there are bells there, a million bells where each is raising up and reaching out at an idea that is too perfect, too abstract and anyway slips away. And then it comes down low, like a heating-up bellow, like the sound of a whale swallowing water, falling like a somersault slowly through salt water, and also there are here people running, the sound of people running, faster and faster, running, more and more people, running, people running to see why and where all the people are going and then: the sun. A melody. A clarity. A shining simple song that seems like something everyone always knew. Like an echo of knowledge of contentment.

Her feet know these pedals. Her hands know the keys. They know the smooth places they have made smooth and the spaces in the song where she can pull out two stops and push in three. She turns the page. She stops. Her hands she folds in her lap. Her feet pull away from the pedals, and she crosses her ankles. The people, who know nothing of organs and the intricacies of Wagner and Bach, who know nothing of the three staves, polyphony, plein-jeu, or the sonic-foot, who know nothing of this instrument except, really, the phrase "pull out all the stops," they raise their hands as she puts hers in her lap and they clap. They applaud. She is the organist, the only one who prays this prayer, the only one who owns and understands these sounds, the only one who lives in this loft and plays in the dark church during mid-days. The people know nothing of this, but they applaud anyway, and she smiles, and is happy, and smiles like that applause means everything to her.