When it was time for me to move on from my Reverie Trilogy, I was very anxious, afraid I might turn out to be a ‘one trick pony.’ What if I couldn’t create any more characters? What if I couldn’t come up with a new, compelling storyline? Luckily, I had nothing to fear… at the behest of my editor, I created a story that was considerably lighter than the trilogy, but still steeped in music and romance.
Solo is the story of Kate Brenner, the daughter of a senator notorious for his anti-arts funding platform. To his great embarrassment, Kate decides to become a conductor, causing credibility issues for him in the senate and in the press. But this situation isn’t just problematic for him… Kate endures the disdain of her classmates and professors because of her father’s controversial views— especially because she’s not willing to discuss them. In the midst of all this, Kate finds herself at odds with one professor in particular, Drew Markham. She thinks he hates her because of her family ties… little does she know there’s something very different behind his feelings toward her. When Kate becomes stranded at Drew’s house during a blizzard, they both find out that things aren’t always what they seem.
Okay, so there’s the background. For this story, I wanted to go back to the well of JS Bach. I listened to all kinds of pieces to see what would resonate with me, so to speak. The one that I kept coming back to again and again was the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Now, I’d say just have a listen, but it’s important for you to get the visual so here’s a clip of it from YouTube. But don’t go anywhere—have a listen and keep reading, because there’s more to this than meets the ear!
So, that’s the great pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim playing. But in Solo, it’s Kate Brenner who plays the piece while Drew Markham, her jerk-professor-turned-love-interest, dozes on the couch nearby. When he wakes, he thinks he’s dreaming. But then he realizes it’s Kate who’s playing the beautiful music.
I must have listened to this piece a dozen times while I tried to describe it in words—no easy task, let me tell you! But it was so strange because, as I listened, I kept flashing on an image… it was a scene from the old movie The Miracle Worker, starring a very young Patty Duke. It’s that iconic water scene. Don’t remember it? Never seen it? Check it out here:
There was something about the way Anne Sullivan spelled out the word ‘water’ and the epiphany that followed that, to me, somehow related to the way Bach spelled out each note of Aria.
I just couldn’t help myself…I needed for Drew to make the same connection that I did—to have the same epiphany that I did when I really listened to Bach’s Aria. Here’s the way it plays out in Solo:
The fire is warm, the pillow is soft, and the music of Bach is filling my dreams. But somewhere from deep inside my slumber is the nagging sense in the back of my mind that I need to get up and check on Katherine. My eyes flutter open and I’m peering into the familiar glow of my fireplace. I’m wide awake now, I’m certain of it. And yet, somehow, the Bach from my dreams has spilled over into my reality. Because I’m not dreaming it.
I realize suddenly. I get off the couch where I seem to recall being with Katherine before we both passed out from exhaustion. When I turn around, I see her. But she doesn’t seem to notice me as I move slowly in Bach’s direction until I’m standing behind Katherine as she plays the piano. I don’t let on that I’m there, I just stand in silence, in the shadows, where I can see her hands on the keyboard.
There’s a famous scene in the old movie, ‘The Miracle Worker’ in which teacher Anne Sullivan tries, with unrelenting persistence, to reach into the dark, silent world of Helen Keller. In one iconic scene, Anne spells the word ‘water,’ with her fingers, into Helen’s hand. As she does this, she puts Helen’s hand under the water, trying to get her to make the connection between it and the word being spelled into her hand over and over again. Those five letters cause an epiphany, a moment of understanding so explosive that it blows a hole through the previously-impenetrable wall of darkness and silence, bringing color to Helen’s blind eyes and music to Helen’s deaf ears.
As I stand here my mind recalls this image so clearly, with such potency, that it nearly knocks me off my feet. And I watch. Katherine is seated on the bench, eyes closed and head tilted back rapturously. The fingers of her left hand walk the easy distance between the bass notes while, on the right, they actually spell out a trill, a line, a slowly unraveling melody. Her wrists arch slightly, delicately as she lifts and relocates them again and again. The gentle motion across the octaves belies the strength and commitment of her fingers as they spell out the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations from memory.
In a single, earth-shattering instant, it’s as if my world explodes, suddenly filled with the richest of sounds and the most vibrant of colors. Katherine Brenner has broken through a wall I hadn’t even realized I’d erected. When her hands come to rest at the end of the Aria, she stops. Sensing my gaze upon her, she opens her eyes to find me shocked and dazzled all at once.
I see the puzzlement in her eyes and she opens her mouth to speak, but I am sitting beside her on the bench before the words can slip free. Before I can stop myself from putting her face in my hands and drawing her lips to mine. She doesn’t fight me. Instead, her arms wrap under my arms and up my back to my shoulders, pulling my chest so close to hers that I can feel her heart beating underneath the white cotton shirt that she’s wearing. My shirt. She must have brought it with her from home.
She tastes soft and sweet, her mouth opening hungrily to mine. I hear a soft whimper from her and I pull back just enough to get a good look at her face. Her eyes are half closed, her lips cherry red and glistening from our contact.
“Do you…do you want me to stop?” I ask in a whisper.
She shakes her head.
“No. Please, don’t,” she says, leaning forward to find my lips again.
I don’t make her lean too far, pressing myself down to her while I reach behind and pull her closer.Before I know what I’m doing, I’m on my feet and taking her with me. We’re stuck together in a tangled, stumbling embrace as we somehow move from one end of the large room to the other. I grunt when my hip hits the sharp edge of and end table, and her wayward elbow knocks over a book that’s balancing on the edge of a shelf.
“Oh, to hell with this,” I mutter, suddenly bending down and scooping her up in my arms, the same way that I did when I carried her in from her car.
But this time she’s not fighting me. This time, she throws her head back and kicks her feet in joy.
Solo (by me!) releases on Monday, May 8, published by Entangled Publishing.