Before I left São João del Rei I went for another little walk and came to a church where a wedding was taking place. The church was full and outside people like me were rubbernecking and taking photos of the service. The bride and groom were at the alter standing stiffly as the priest said those priestly things. Suddenly everybody stood and I thought it best to walk away so I went outside into the bright sunlight and walked around the side into the shade. A door was open and I walked in. Music started to play, I think it was a quartet but I couldn’t see but what they were playing unexpectedly me cry because it was Clair De Lune a piece my mother frequently played when she could still play. It made me cry because of how she is now, because when I speak to her on the phone she frequently does not understand words and yet she used to understand the abstract notation of music and translated it into something beautiful. It made me cry because the one short musical phrase with which it begins is indelibly associated with her and a specific part of our relationship.
I am the youngest in my family so I remember being at home with her in the afternoons while my brothers were at school and my father was at work. I remember how most days before lunch, she liked to play the piano while I played with my toys. When I got older, in the summer holidays, I would lie on the sofa and watch her carefully match the notes to the keys from sheet music that she already knew but wouldn’t play without. Some Satie, some Chopin but most of all Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
I am not keen on music the way many of the people I know are. I don’t put it on in the background or play it when I am working. I much prefer the spoken word when I am doing something, even if I pay it no mind at all. I find the sound of voices comforting. Music is always attached to things or actions; when I cycle or take the train, I wear headphones. I wear them to stare out of the window to enhance landscapes with. I listen more intently and can be moved by passages which I will repeat and repeat and then repeat some more. My playlists are chaotic, one moment a Chopin prelude and the next it’s Fuck Buttons Sweet Love for Planet Earth, Estelle’s Easy, Billie Ellish’s Bad Guy, Schuman’s Kinderszenen. The only thing that’s constant is the way it all loops back to a solo piano.
But each of those pieces is little more than a tic. Clair de Lune is a perfect column of sound that at once brings me back to something while at the same time shows me how lost all that now is. I’ve never heard anybody else play it the way she did and maybe it’s that lack that makes the piece so fundamental to me.