“My Last Concert”

A short-short story about a November pivot.

Posted Mar 02, 2017

Max Pixels, Public Domain
Source: Max Pixels, Public Domain

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

In the wings, he could hear the orchestra’s tuning up fading.

“Damn!. It’s shaking more than usual. Bad Parkinson’s Day. Or maybe because it’s my last concert—I’m always a little scared... but today?!

I’m glad I decided on the Grieg, easiest concerto. But with these hands, especially today, even that will be far from easy.”

Sam had been a concert pianist his whole life---starting at 11 when he finished 4th in the Midwest Regional Young Artists Competition—and through 65 concerts, including the highlight, playing with the Kansas City Symphony. “All right, it was just in their summer festival when lots of the A players were on vacation but still. “

The audience applause and the concertmaster, who had been standing next to him, as much to keep him from falling as per protocol, strode out.

“Somehow I wish my ex-wife were here. How could she have dumped me after all these years? But still….Do I play it safe? A lot of note mistakes would make clear that I’ve stayed on too long. Or do I go for a home run, a last hurrah, a shot at the Olathe Herald---‘Roseman goes out with a flourish!’ I’ve played it safe all my life. What the hell!”

The conductor tapped him on the shoulder, gave him a forced smile, shook hands, and too strode to the stage.

Applause. “This is it.” Deep breaths, deep breaths. Damn, my hands are shaking more.”

More applause. “It’s getting awkwardly long. I gotta go. Stand up straight. Stride, don’t creep.”

And despite himself, Sam could manage little more than a plod onto the stage. He held the piano with one hand as he took a minimal head bow. More than that and he could fall.

And he sat at the piano at which he had sat so many times.

He used the old trick of adjusting the seat up and then back again, not because it needed adjusting but to buy a little more time to ground himself before the moment of truth.

And Sam began and took every not-crazy risk he could, and most of the time he won. Yes, that caused a few note mistakes but only the mean-spirited or ignorant would let that devalue his performance, inspiring at any age but for an 83-year old with advanced Parkinson’s? It gives me the chills just to write about it.

And yes, Sam got big applause, not just the usual obligatory extended applause bestowed as much to protest classical music’s dying as to acknowledge the performer, but fervent applause and then, yes, a standing ovation. Not a charity ovation a heartfelt one.  And Sam cried…and plodded off stage for the last time.

And he plodded into his dressing room, plopped down into a chair. “I survived….I can’t go to the reception. I’ve always hated them and now, it’ll feel like I’m attending a retirement party, where everyone tries to joke in deflection that it demarcates the beginning of the end, the staging area for the hereafter.

And then, a knock on the door. ‘Daddy?” He couldn’t bring himself to speak. Hannah opened the door and with a too effusive, “You were amazing. You were fucking amazing! Come on. They’re all waiting for you.”

Sam knew there was no avoiding it so he sighed and shuffled downstairs. The champagne was flowing and when he arrived, the din of chatter resolved into applause.

“I know I have to say something. I’ll make it short. No one likes long speeches. And nothing ungracious. I should be a good boy for a change.” I so appreciate your being here to support me. They say that when a bird chirps in the forest where no one can hear it, it’s not really a sound. Unless you are here to hear music, it’s not really music. Thank you.”

Everyone applauded and, although he was aware that would have been the right time to end his speechlet, the magnetism of an audience compels a performer to keep performing. He added, “Honestly, I can’t stand the thought that this will be the last performance of my life.” And he teared up.

In response, a three-year-old in the audience toddled up to him: “You can play at my school.”

And Sam Roseman went on to play a concert five days a week in preschools and elementary schools---first just locally, then all around the Midwest. He never got paid, indeed had to pay his travel expenses but he mused, “My daughter’s okay financially. I can’t think of a better way to spend my money than on this.”

HERE is a video of me reading this short-short story aloud.

And HERE I play a concert on my 70th birthday.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories with life lessons, are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net