Charlie and Kate are seated with a print behind them of a woman with sapphire eyes and a frilly collar. There is chocolate spread on the crackers they are hiding below the screen.

The class is sort of like the 70s’ program, Hollywood Squares, with all the celebrities staring at you. I expect to see Paul Lynde in the center making wisecracks and sexual innuendos, head quivering. It’s an adult school class on Zoom – “Romantic Music” — taught by Maestro Thomas, and most everyone has white hair.

Maestro Tom mentions something about Beethoven being a Romantic but also not a Romantic. He adds that just as people have themes and counterthemes, so does music – “that there’s always mystery to things.” The maestro plays sections of symphonies. It’s a world of music now, notes flying here and there.

The maestro takes a deep breath and nods to his orchestra – that is, the orchestra in the video now being shown to us on Zoom. The maestro is feeling the storm and thunder. The two audiences – the videotaped concert audience and our class on zoom now — are mesmerized. It’s a sensual thing, with the skin and heart aflutter. A few fellow students sink into the heart of the music, swaying, tapping, nodding, smiling. The two audiences look at the maestro the way an eager child waits for ice cream.

The first violin, like Audrey Hepburn, is slender and tall, with a black dress that was both sophisticated and minimalist. Flat shoes too.

In our zoom class: an old guy with silver-blonde hair stands up and thrusts his cane into the air, “Bravo.” Most of us smile, while a few are in musical ecstasy. Helen stands up in front of a painting with huge butterflies and flowers. Her kitten – enthralled with the actions — runs along the back of the couch.

The maestro pauses the video and asks for responses.

“It feels like we’re partaking in something bigger than us, feels like we’re in the music, its colors and vibrations,” says Marjorie Walters, wearing a Gardeners’ Club shirt.

Michael Lee, center row, says he hears the birds chirping and the dramatic water flow. Michael stands in front of Mad Ludwig’s Castle. Mary Treviso, sitting in front of the Statue of Liberty, takes notes. A few others comment on what they feel.

“How does it sound if we have a short break now?” asks the Maestro; “I have a call coming in, plus coffee or teatime?”
During the break, a few students stretch, sip beverages, vanish, appear and disappear. The maestro returns and, as a change of pace, gives us some of Beethoven’s biography. There are questions about Beethoven’s childhood, the time in Vienna when he & Mozart may have met, symphonies & operas, unrequited love, blindness, triumphs. “Beethoven is someone who didn’t give up,” says the maestro.

We all nod. No one likes to give up or admit to it.

“Maestro, if I may — how do Romantic composers create conflict and tension, drama, do you know what I’m getting at? I paint a little – it’s a personal question,” Mel says. “Does that make sense? I’m getting over Covid still.”

“Oh, sorry. I hope you are onto a speedy recovery.”

“Thanks. I’m feeling fine now.”

“Well then, so this is for all music, maybe for all art forms,” the maestro answers, looking at everyone. He glances around and brings one hand under his chin, as if waiting for the muse. “It’s about delaying the climax. You build up, you climb and go places, but then you go somewhere else — delay. It’s sort of mysterious. It’s that simple. It’s not that simple.”

“Is that planned or just good fortune?” Mel asks. “I want to paint a canoe race that really occurs in the river behind our house. I know it has tension.”

“Add people watching, and kids running along,” Betty says from the middle box.

“Make a video too?” Leonard said from the upper box on the right.

Suddenly the screen freezes. Real suspense now. After a few minutes, we are back to the zoom class. The schedule for our class appears and vanishes: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; Barber’s Adagio for Strings…

“Where were we? Oh yeah, it’s never automatic and clear when you write music,” says the maestro, tapping on his coffee cup. “Otherwise, any composer or artist would bottle it. You feel it. It works, the music takes you somewhere.”

Dr. Genesco’s chair leans back too far, but he catches himself before tipping over. His wife steps in back of him. They have snacks and tall glasses on a side table. Each knows what the other needs.

“It works like magic that you can’t fully see,” someone says.

“Yes, if only there’s a magic formula,” the maestro says, his face slanted with paradox. “Maybe a few times in my lifetime — it’s what you live for. As you can see, I’m older now, maybe this will happen a few more times before da da da da, the end.”

A few people, upon hearing thoughts of death, look intrigued or look away. Someone writes in the Chat: “It is sad that genius is a flame-tip that rises and falls suddenly.”

Max, Wendy, Mel, Franklin Jackson, Mr. Glickstein, Bob, Angelo, Sid, Vladimir, Guinevere Smith are smiling. Mel lifts his hat. Time is cruel. You want the universe to reply, to work for you.

“Maestro, I’ve dabbled in jazz and blues since I was young,” says Mary Anne, who has changed into a purple turtleneck blouse and wears butterfly glasses. Like the maestro, she has performed around the world. Her living room embodies Zen elegance with its soothing colors, wood and flowers. Water flows from a fountain. A giant aquarium – the length of the wall – holds fish and turtles.

Somehow, Mary Anne transitions to Frank Sinatra’s emotional range, breath control and storytelling, the sadness and triumph. Mary Anne’s knowledge is far beyond what any of the other students know.

A young guy emerges in one of the blocks – a sort of subterranean. He has a goatee and a black T-shirt with a cross and bones; “Maestro, I feel a great burden trying to be a musician. I love it but it’s endless work. Growth is slow, feels that way.”

“Well, you should,” the maestro says quickly. Pause. “Gee, I love your points. It’s quite a path being an artist. Yet, it’s worth it. The true artist is the one without a choice. The only time it’s bad is if you burn up like a moth. Everyone suffers whether they create a lot, or not. The artist can turn it into gold, right? Can we sit with that thought? Moment.”

Charlie and Kate become visible again. Charlie turns to Kate, who gives him a tap on the head. Must have been a dumb comment. They both are red-faced when they realize they are visible.

Jack Baxter, who has a photo of his much younger face on screen, becomes visible. He looks pale and desiccated and gets out of breath when he speaks: “Work on your life and on your art together. Art is also about the growth of your consciousness. Life is short, art is long. Make them both great.”

“I take that to heart. Thanks.”

“Well,” says the maestro. “Wisdom comes from suffering. Who said that, maybe Sophocles?”

“Nixon,” replies Charlie, teeth unclenched.

Ben Livingston stirs, looks around, smiles. He wears a New Orleans shirt and sunglasses. It looks like he’s in a sunroom in his house. Zannini, who’d been putting something on a bagel, claps.

“My daughter is in film school. She meditates and runs, says it helps her,” someone says.

“I paid a freaking fortune for my son to attend music school — he owes a lot of money too,” said Manfred Seitz. “One night, at a catering gig, he flipped out and started throwing chairs around.”

“Oh, so sorry.” The maestro considers us over the top of his eyeglasses. He puts his hand to his heart, his mouth tightens; “I hope he’s okay now. Tell me more by email later– if you want.”

“Better. His girlfriend helped a lot. We did too. I have him biking too.”

The maestro nods, “Did I tell you about my cousin, Wally, a mime? The police found him running around Brooklyn with a Superman cape. Artists pay a large price. But maybe they’re the lucky ones.”

Charlie covers his mouth, then lets loose and laughs. Everyone begins laughing, though we don’t want to.


Richard writes short stories (recent ones in TRP, Coneflower Care and DASH), essays, travel poetry, and makes videos with his family. In the last few years, he has been active with journalism on the humanities; and publishes with The; Ancient Origins; Popular Archaeology Magazine; The Archaeologist and more.