I was walking with my son Alex on Washington Street and we’d just come to the bridge leading into St. Paul, a Sunday afternoon stroll. It was 78° and sunny, a beautiful summer day in Minnesota. We didn’t get all that many of them and I liked to take advantage when I could.
Alex was 17 and the apple of my eye. I loved him to death. I’d never thought I’d have a son, a biological son, because I was and always had been as gay as it was possible to be. Yet circumstances and a fickle Greater Being with a wry sense of humor can combine to have their way with us worldly creatures. But none of that mattered; what was true was that I loved Alex, and he me, and that was that.
We were heading for the University of Minnesota, in St. Paul, across the river from Minneapolis where we lived. It was a great day for a walk, and it was good for me to get out. I did way too much sitting around now that I was rapidly approaching my forties and didn’t seem to find much time to exercise. It was so easy to fall into sedentary habits without realizing it.
I wanted Alex to see the U of M; he was entering his senior year in high school in a month and thinking about college was something he needed to get serious about. He didn’t like being serious. I was introspective, perhaps even a bit dour. He was sunshine to my gloom. Getting him to think ahead about something important . . . well, he lived in the moment. Visiting the U might at least give him the idea of what was available for him. The idea that he might choose to go far away was anathema to me. That was another reason for this amble. If he liked what he saw, perhaps leaving wouldn’t be so attractive.
A third reason? He’d be giving a concert in the school’s Opera Theater soon, and he wanted to check out the venue.
He was in a talkative mood. Nothing at all surprising there. But his usual modus operandi was to speak about what was happening in his life. This day he was more reflective. He’d even asked about my life at his age. He was rarely interested in boring stuff like that. Maybe he’d brought it up because I’d told him while we were crossing the river that at his age, even though living in Minneapolis all my life, I had only crossed the Mississippi River once. He wanted to know why.
Times were different back then. The Twin Cities were different, too. I came from a musical family, but when I was a kid, all of them were amateurs, if well-respected and talented amateurs. They all played in local orchestras and chamber groups. Unpaid orchestras. Unpaid chamber music groups. Minneapolis had many of them. It was a vibrant city for the arts. My family of musicians was a perfect fit for the city. Except financially. Many people who support the arts are well off. My family wasn’t.
The only time I crossed the river was for an event at the University of Minnesota. There was a Young Artists concert at the Ted Mann Concert Hall. I was there because I was participating in it. I’d been chosen through auditioning to be part of a select young persons’ orchestra.
Memories. I was in a meditative mood, too, and Alex had felt it, copied it, and respected my reticence. When I realized that, his question to me made sense.
We crossed the river and eventually ended up at the concert hall. That was where I’d performed with the youth orchestra, and Alex wanted to see it.
We walked up the steps, and as we neared the doors, I was struck by a sight from my past, one I’d totally forgotten. Here it was again. There was no reason for me to remember. It was a ceramic representation of a young boy, six- or seven-ish, tootling on a poorly-imagined, pipe-like recorder. Altogether, it was a pretty insipid work of art. I hadn’t seen it in years, but I’d seen it once when I was a member of that youth orchestra and we’d played a concert there. And seeing that piper pulled me back into the past where I was assailed by other memories, strong memories, of youthful musical events. One very much in particular.
I was six when my dad told me I was going to be musical like the rest of the family, and I could pick any instrument I wanted to learn. I don’t know why I chose the clarinet. I’m not even sure I knew what one was. It was too long ago for my reasons to be remembered. But I know I did choose it because I eventually took lessons on it.
But back then, my dad said to me, “You need to choose an instrument to play. You’re one of us. So, pick something and I’ll find a music teacher for you. Or, don’t, and I’ll pick one. I’m thinking the violin.”
Maybe that was why I said the clarinet. Even now, the idea of playing the violin makes me shudder. Did it then? Maybe. I like the violin, just not the thought of playing one. But, anyway, I picked the clarinet. And I learned that at six, you’re a bit young to play it because you need to form a strong embouchure to play it in tune with any semblance of a throaty woodwind sound. My dad, knowing that, said I could take a year or so of piano, learn some music fundamentals, and then move on to the clarinet.
My piano teacher was a starchy old woman, thin enough to need to stay in the house if the wind was above five mph, and ancient enough to smell of talcum powder. Her hair was white, now with only a thin scattering of strands on her head, and with about the same amount on her mustache. I didn’t know how to gauge a woman’s age, but I overheard my mother telling someone she was eighty-three.
I didn’t like her. That was one area where we were on the same wavelength—she felt the same about me. She expected six-year-olds to be little gentlemen and acquiescent. I was anything but. I was very happy when my time with her came to an end. I was annoyed and a little surprised she was still alive by then at eighty-four.
After I began playing clarinet, Dad labeled me a progeny. I guessed that I’d have been so designated no matter what instrument I selected. I was now a full-blooded member of my tribe.
It was something else that led me to move on from the clarinet to the oboe after a little over a year. Dad had a discussion with the powers that were in the music programs at the area schools and was told that clarinetists were a dime a dozen and oboe players scarce as hens’ teeth. So he switched me to oboe.
I’d liked the clarinet. I soon discovered I liked the oboe even better.
It’s lonely playing oboe in elementary and middle school. Lonely because almost no one else plays it. I was always a section unto myself. There was a trumpet section and flute section and percussion section, all with multiple occupants, and an oboe section that was just me. I didn’t mind. I was already a nerd.
When does a child become a nerd? I don’t know. I just know I was one and probably a fully-formed one even before I hit middle school. I also don’t know if there was a classic definition of nerd, but if there was, I was the perfect example of it. I could even imagine my picture showing up in an illustrated dictionary: nerd - noun; see photo below.
I went through middle school a shy kid without social graces. Most of the time I was growing up had been spent by myself, practicing my instrument and only associating with my family.
High school isn’t a place nerds like to revisit, either in person or in their memories. But for me, I didn’t care if that was how everyone saw me. I was used to being alone, used to only having an interest in playing my oboe, and otherwise staying as far below the radar as possible.
I joined the two musical groups my high school offered: the band and the orchestra. The band was just a way to spend time. I played clarinet there because most band parts, especially the marches, had the oboe duplicating the trumpet part. That was exceedingly annoying, and as we played mostly marches, I refused to play oboe in the band and sat with the second clarinets instead. I found playing oboe in the orchestra exhilarating. This was my first chance playing with a large group of serious musicians playing serious music. Being part of that orchestra turned out to be a life-changing experience for me.
All freshmen who wanted to play in the school orchestra had to audition. I did, and the orchestra’s conductor started smiling about ten seconds after I started playing. He kept it up till I finished my piece, then told me I’d be his first chair oboist starting now and probably for four years, and he shook my hand.
That was my introduction to the high school orchestra. The youth orchestra, when I first saw the ceramic tootling boy, came later. I still remember my first rehearsal with the high school orchestra. That was a day I’ll never forget.
At our first rehearsal, the conductor welcomed us, told us he expected a lot from us, that he had high hopes we’d be as good as he thought we could be. He then listed what music we’d be practicing and performing. He said we’d probably go to the Minnesota State High School Music Festival where all the school orchestras would compete to determine which was the best in the state. He told us the competition piece all the schools would perform at the festival would be the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.
He then talked to us about what a tragic figure old Pyotr Ilyich was, and how his melancholy manifested itself in so much of his music and especially his last symphonies. His Sixth, which was his last, clearly showed the man’s despondency, and that revelation was preceded in the second movement of his previous symphony, his Fifth.
Our conductor said that for the first time, we had a strong enough group—meaning us sitting in front of him—to play this masterwork. He referred to us freshmen orchestra members as his new blood and pointed to several sections of the orchestra. He said with the players now in the winds and brass, we could pull this off. I was one of those new bloods that he was speaking of. But he said we had new and accomplished first chair players in the horns, the clarinets, the bassoons and oboes. All of us had significant parts in this piece.
I knew the Andante Cantabile, which is the shorthand label as well as the tempo and style marking for the second movement of the Fifth Symphony. Those two words, incidentally, mean moderately slow and songlike. I was a nerd, remember? This was the sort of thing I knew, and why the label defined me.
Tchaikovsky actually wrote two well-known pieces that had the Andante Cantabile name: the second movement of his Fifth Symphony and the second movement of his First String Quartet. My dad the pianist grew up on classical music, and it was the only kind of music we had in our house, which is why I knew this. Question: which came first, classical music or the nerd? Did the one cause the other?
But I digress. I knew the Tchaik Five. And I especially liked the Andante Cantabile section. What oboist didn’t? It has a marvelous duet with the horn near the beginning and a solo later on. And the piece itself? Wow. You can feel what Tchaikovsky was all about when he wrote it. It’s sixteen minutes of Tchaikovsky at his strongest, most romantic and most heartrending. His despondency lives in his music and is transparent throughout the piece. I loved the piece and was looking forward to playing it at that first rehearsal. I was psyched.
Anyway . . . I was a freshman in high school. A freshman nerd. I was a social nothing personally, but a musical progeny. My father was a very good pianist. My brothers all played. So did I. I’d taken lessons since I was seven-and-a-half on the clarinet, nine on the oboe. I liked the clarinet but the oboe even more because it had better parts and more solos; being a nerd doesn’t mean you don’t like to shine when you can. I couldn’t shine out in public with my peers, but I could sitting on a chair in the middle of an orchestra.
Being a proficient oboist in high school wasn’t common. I was a confident player, and confident in absolutely nothing else in life. But put a sheet of music in front of me and I was in my element, and my insecurities fell away.
After telling us about the tragic Mr. Tchaikovsky—he even told us he was gay, rather daring for a high school orchestra conductor, I thought—he had us tune. That meant our first oboist, that being me, had to provide the tuning note, a middle-range A. I did so, and after the cacophony ended (you have to experience a high school music ensemble tuning to know what cacophony actually means) we were ready to begin.
The members of the orchestra were all new to me. I didn’t know a soul in the group. We had four middle schools feeding into our large high school. I was the only one from my middle school band—we didn’t have an orchestra—who was now in this group. I was also one of the youngest. But I didn’t feel out of place.
There was another oboist, a sophomore named Gavin, and this beginning rehearsal was our first meeting. He said hi, introduced himself, and told me he was happy when Mr. Collins, the conductor, had told him I’d be taking first chair; Gavin said he hated playing solos and second oboe was fine with him as there was far less pressure. I sort of stumbled through introducing myself—“Hi, I’m Taylor”—trying hard not to blush while actually meeting his eyes for a second, and that was that.
We started the Tchaikovsky piece. We weren’t playing the entire symphony, just the second movement. Our school had never won in the state competition even though we were one of the state’s larger schools, but we had been in the running three times. This year? Would we be good enough? Time would tell.
The second movement of the Fifth Symphony begins with quiet strings. Right off the bat, Tchaikovsky’s depression is evident. No question about that. It smacks one in the face. The music slowly builds till the solo horn comes in with an evocative melody that supports the mood the strings have already established. The entire movement is just a stirring musical expression of the feelings the composer was dealing with.
But we were high school kids. Yeah, I suppose some of us understood depression, but certainly not many. Confusion? Yes. Uncertainty? Obviously. Fear? All of us had experienced that at one time or another. But the black pool of a deep depression? No, that was to come later if at all.
After those first few notes in the strings, the horn began, and I shivered. I didn’t know the horn player. Not only was his name a mystery, I didn’t even know what he looked like. I had a tendency to look at the floor when moving around. I rarely raised my eyes to look at other kids. Hell, they might be looking at me, and then what? No, I looked down or sideways but not at anyone. So I hadn’t looked at the other orchestra members. I didn’t know what the horn player looked like.
But, man oh man, could he play the horn. I’ve heard it said the horn and the oboe are the two most difficult instruments for young musicians to master. So maybe this horn player was a senior? No, the conductor had said we had new blood able to play this piece and had mentioned the horns specifically. Maybe this kid was my age. Incredible.
He played the solo, and I shivered, then quickly had to get hold of myself because my part was coming up. I was going to play with and off him. I had to match his quality if our duet was to really sing. I was going to do that. This was my chance to make an impression. I could play the notes. But simply playing them wasn’t my objective. I wanted to make music. I wanted to make a musical statement with the horn player, to match what he was doing, to complement his phrasing and mood, to match his rubato perfectly, to make the two of us sound as one voice, one musical idea, each feeding off the other, singing a mournful duet to Tchaikovsky‘s dirge. The horn player was capturing Tchaikovsky’s melancholy. I needed to do the same in concert with him.
I guess I succeeded, because when the duet ended, the piece moved on, but only two measures later, the conductor tapped his baton on his stand and stopped. The orchestra stopped, too, and unlike my middle school band where it took almost a minute for all the instruments to be put down and the noise to abate, everyone stopped together. There was silence, and then the conductor waved for the horn player to stand and for me to rise as well. Then he did something I’d never seen before nor have I seen since. He began applauding.
The orchestra members followed in the way they do to show acknowledgement and approval of their fellows: they shuffled their feet. What did I do? I blushed. Red as a fire truck. But I did take the opportunity to swiftly glance at my partner in crime.
I shivered again. The boy was dead cute! Small like me, blond (not like me), very young looking, also blushing like a bandit, and then his eyes met mine. I had to look away.
We got back to work, and eventually the rehearsal was over. I dried and packed my oboe and was walking out when I heard a breathy, “Hey, wait up,” directed at me. I turned around and there was the horn player.
We were the last two out of the rehearsal room. That was normal for me. I liked to avoid crowds when possible, and the other kids were always in a rush to leave. I always waited.
Turned out, the horn player had, too. He’d waited for me to get up from my chair.
“Uh . . .” He sort of looked down, back up at me, and then back down again. He was as socially inept as I was! But not as chicken. I’d not have been able to confront him as he was able to do with me. “Uh, I’m Paul. I . . . I wanted to know. Did you feel what I felt when we played that duet?”
His eyes actually fastened on mine after asking that. How I managed to meet his, I don’t know. But I did, and I was able to see into him as I knew he was reading into me.
I nodded. “If you felt like I was inside you emotionally and feeling what you were feeling and duplicating it, then yes, that’s what I was feeling. I’ve never felt anything like that before.”
Wow! That was bold of me, and I wasn’t a bold kid. Neither was he, I was to find.
“We need to get to our next class. But can we meet after school? There’s more I want to say. By the west door? Please?”
“Okay. I’d like to.”
He got to the door ahead of me, then turned. “What’s your name?”
“Taylor,” I said, and he grinned and walked off.
That grin. I shivered again. Three times now within an hour, and I couldn’t remember ever shivering like this before. I’d never really had what I’d call sexual feelings for anyone before, either. No longer could I make that claim.
I met Paul after school. He was as shy as I was. But there was a connection I’d never felt with anyone else. I was sure it had to do with the emotions I’d felt when playing our duet. The intimacy I’d felt when playing with him, off him, the two of us becoming one—the feeling of that lingered somehow. I was able to talk to him and he to me, unlike the usual stumbling awkwardness that was the norm for both of us.
I should make it clear. I was a nerd, a shy nerd. He was simply shy. He had a lot more going for him than I did. And, as cute and appealing as he was, kids gravitated to him, and with their acceptance, over time he began gaining confidence and losing his shyness. I couldn’t help but be a little jealous, but there was a good side to this that I capitalized on: he pulled me along with him in everything we did in high school, and so I benefitted from his social growth. I remained shy but did get better and was much improved by the time we graduated.
After meeting as arranged at the school door, I ended up walking home with him. No one was there. Both his parents worked and wouldn’t be home for hours yet.
We ended up in his room. It just seemed natural that we would. We’d talked while walking. In his room, at first neither of us said a word. We both felt the aloneness we had. My senses were so alive it was as though I could feel the substance of the air.
We stood, looking at each other, only about a foot apart. I was taller than he was, but only a little. He was blond and pale. I was dark-haired and pale. He was beautiful; I was plain. I was ravishing him with my eyes, which seemed odd to me as I’d never done that before. Never had any overpowering sexual feelings before, either. I certainly did in that moment.
He spoke. “I never felt before what I felt playing that duet. It . . . it was like I felt your soul. Like it was touching mine.”
“Exactly. That’s what I felt. I—” I stopped, not sure how to say what I wanted to say. I took a breath, then said, “I want to feel that again.”
“So do I! But how?”
We were so close. What I wanted to do, well, no, I couldn’t. But he was meeting my eyes, and I was meeting his. I could see in his what I was feeling. It was so apparent. My eyes were probably showing him the same thing.
We were a foot apart and almost unconsciously, I moved closer. Not all the way, but closer.
He did, too.
And then we were touching, and I kissed him. Way, way too aggressive a move for me to make. Too bold. Too assertive. But I kissed him. Couldn’t not, really. And he kissed me back.
We couldn’t even make it to the bed. We ended up on the floor, which, thankfully, was thickly carpeted. Soon our shirts were off, and I felt his skin against mine, his heart beating against mine, both racing, but racing synchronously. Our lips seemed glued together, but they separated when our tongues met and then danced.
I needed to breathe and pulled away. Just enough to get air. I sucked it in like a bellows, and he did the same. We were a pair, we were, a very passionate pair of inexperienced kids just finding ourselves.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” he murmured, and I tried to say the same thing back but gasped instead. Air was at a premium just then. When I could, I responded: “Me neither.”
He didn’t talk again, just continued thrusting against me as we lay side by side, using his arms to pull me tighter against him. I wondered when he’d begun doing that, then realized I was pulling him against me, too, and that I was also thrusting. We were both hard and had been since we began kissing. I had felt passion before, but it had been for music or a book or a sunset, not the incredible passion of flesh for flesh.
I didn’t even know him, but, really, I did. I’d felt his soul as he’d felt mine, and they matched. Our souls had mingled and then interlocked. That had happened in the midst of about eighty other people, but their souls had remained their own. Ours had joined, had been shared.
And now our bodies were doing the same. I could understand and intimately relate to him now, and him me. Playing our duet, our togetherness had been intimate and spiritual. Now it was intimate and physical. Our fumbling became more intense, and our clothing a hindrance. Soon we were naked, our bodies pressed together. It would be crude to say we were making a different sort of music together now, but in fact we were. The oldest music ever performed. We writhed together—novices, inexperienced, innocent—but nature has a way, and our fumbling ended with glorious and overwhelming fulfillment.
We lay still, together, as one as our souls had been and now again were. Our hearts were
still beating together, slowing gradually but staying in 4/4 time. They moved from presto to
vivace to allegro to moderato to andante, our gasps slowly ebbing. I grinned, thinking about
what we’d just done and how lying together as we were was putting a musical coda on it,
and he said, “What?”
I told him, and I got to see that spectacular grin again.
Alex brought me back to earth, grinning at me. “You’re not that old yet, Dad. Going into a trance out in broad daylight isn’t like you.”
I laughed. “How long was I out?”
“Almost a minute. What were you thinking of?”
“Remembering. I’ve told you about how I met Paul. Well, part of it. You’re not old enough to hear all of it.”
“Hey, I’m seventeen, and today kids my age know much more than they did when you went to school. You didn’t even have Sex Ed.”
“Maybe because we didn’t need it. We learned the old-fashioned way: by doing.”
He laughed, and we walked on. We saw where he’d be playing and then walked back home. It was a very good day for both of us.
Paul and I both continued our careers in music after high school. We separated briefly after graduation. He went to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I went to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia on a full scholarship, the only way I could afford college. Neither of us realized how much the separation would hurt. We both returned to U of M and its terrific music school after one school year away, but for different reasons.
He returned because I was back home, and that was reason enough for him. My reason was quite different.
Early on at Curtis, there were recruitment parties at frats where openings created by seniors who’d left the houses needed to be filled. I’d never been to a party anything like the ones that were thrown in colleges. With Paul’s guidance and support, I’d lost my nerd identity and label during my high school years, so I’d been to parties with him where alcohol was available, but neither Paul nor I found getting drunk to our liking. We’d mostly just left that to others.
This meant I wasn’t prepared for how the fraternity recruitment party I attended went. I was constantly being given cups of punch. And being encouraged with shouts of ‘bottoms up’. All of us freshmen were soon loopy. The others were obviously more familiar with alcohol than I was. I’d never had nearly this much, and I was about entirely out of it when I was led to a frat member’s bedroom. I was taken there, slapped on the back and told to have a good time.
Then the door was closed, and I was left with the walls rolling a bit and the floor unsteady and a naked girl lying on the bed. The next morning, I had only the vaguest recollection of what had happened in that bedroom. A month and a half later, I was informed by a girl I didn’t even recognize that I was going to be a father. The girl told me her family was Catholic and she’d carry the child and give birth, but then it would be put up for adoption. She didn’t want a baby and her family was disgusted with her; they didn’t want the shame of an out-of-wedlock baby inflicted on them. She said she was informing me because I had a right to know.
I told my mother, and she was excited and happy, and she wanted the child! She couldn’t have any more of her own, and she wanted this grandbaby and to raise it—with my assistance, of course. She’d never expected me to produce a child and was overjoyed I had.
When the baby was born, I named him Alex and took him home with me. I transferred the college credits I’d earned at Curtis to U of M. They were so delighted to accept me that they reinstated the scholarship offer they originally made when I was graduating from high school.
Paul followed me back home and was accepted as a transfer student at U of M. We each graduated with degrees in performance three years later. We’d been inseparable in high school and now were again. And we were helping my mom raise Alex.
After graduation, we got what paying gigs we could. We were both soon on the list as Minnesota Symphony Orchestra subs. Eventually we became full-time orchestra members. In time we both earned tenure, I as principal oboe, Paul as principal horn.
I had been a progeny. Alex, my son, was a prodigy. Maybe it was in the genes. He was fascinated with the piano we had in our house and started pecking away on it when he was three. At four, he started lessons—with an instructor who didn’t smell of talcum—and by nine he was on his third teacher, the previous two saying Alex had moved past what help they could provide him. His new teacher after that was the one all the top piano students at the U of M music school worked with. He was the first one to tell us that the gift Alex had was profound, and that with work and dedication, he could possibly be another Lang Lang, Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini or Alfred Brendel.
Alex was a different person when sitting at the piano. He’d had the work habits and dedication his new teacher demanded even before he began working with him. He’d risen past the more mundane abilities that Paul and I had, even though we were both professional musicians at the top of our game. Alex’s talents and skills were breathtaking, and he was still young.
When the evening came, he was to perform two Chopin pieces, a sprightly waltz and a nocturne. The performance was requested by the Music Society of Minnesota as part of a showcase of local young talent. Alex agreed to play and used the concert as a way of thanking people who’d brought him this far in his young career as a concert pianist. But he had another object in mind: he used the performance as part of an audition for Juilliard. Instead of sending them a tape, he’d told their admittance committee he was giving a concert in St. Paul, and he invited them to attend. Cheeky, I thought, but that was Alex. Much to his surprise, they’d accepted. Three of them were in the audience to witness the performance.
As the clock ticked down to performance time, I was waiting backstage, more nervous than I ever was when I was performing. He stood nearby showing no nerves at all, speaking easily to the boy who’d turn pages for him while he played. Most of his classmates were attending, along with some city dignitaries, Music Society bigwigs and members, and many of Paul’s and my orchestra cohorts.
At five minutes past the appointed hour, Alex walked on stage, accepted the applause with aplomb, and spoke briefly. “I’ll be playing two pieces by Chopin for you tonight, showing two different sides of the composer. Opus 9 number 2 in E-flat major is a nocturne showing a contemplative Chopin, while Opus 18, his Grande Valse Brillante, requires mastery of the piano as only Chopin could demand it. It is technically challenging and showcases Chopin at his, well . . . the word ‘Brillante’ in the title is very apropos and the work shows Chopin at his brilliant best.”
Alex stopped to smile, which probably caused hearts to throb in every lady in the audience and even some of the men. He waited a moment, then continued.
“I prefer the Opus 9, possibly because he wrote and performed it when he was my age, seventeen. It’s a piece that speaks to me and allows me to express feelings in a way I couldn’t without the piano’s assistance.
“I’ll begin tonight’s program with the more bombastic and challenging waltz. You’ll need to fasten your seatbelts for this one. I’ll end the program with the sensitive and sedate nocturne. Between the two Chopin pieces, I’ll be playing the delightful Trio for Piano, Oboe and Horn by Carl Reinecke, Opus 188. I’m truly honored to be joined in this work by my two greatest supporters, my two dads. The three of us will join together to play the trio as we’ve joined together throughout my life so far. I think you’ll enjoy this piece as much as we do.”
I was so proud of him! I don’t think I’d have been anywhere near that comfortable and able to speak so eloquently in front of a crowd of friends and strangers at seventeen. I’d still been a mess of a boy then. Not my Alex!
He played the Chopin waltz magnificently. He took it at a tempo I’d only heard Lang Lang match when he performed it with our orchestra; he’d played the waltz as an encore. After the waltz, it was Paul’s and my turn to share the stage with him. We both knew the trio well, and while our rehearsals with Alex had been more fun than work, on that stage he played the piano part with us as if he were as old and experienced as we were, as though he had been performing it all his life. For the two of us, well, the Reinecke was another piece that allowed us to rub our souls on and over and against each other, coming together stylistically and emotionally.
While taking our obligatory bow at the end, I felt the two of us had just played better that night than ever before, and besides the meetings of our souls once again, it was probably because we were performing with Alex, and he had inspired us.
He played the Chopin Opus 9 after that and was met with raucous cheering, whistles and a standing ovation. Alex made us return to the stage for that, a very unnecessary gesture. It was his night, and when he was called back for another curtain call, we refused to walk out with him.
As we watched him bow, we had tears in our eyes. If Juilliard didn’t accept him after witnessing this, then they didn’t deserve him.
Standing next to us as we watched him accepting his cheers from the audience was the boy who’d been on stage turning pages for him. I sneaked a smile at Paul. We two were almost certainly the only two people in the theater who realized that the boy was Alex’s boyfriend. That, I guessed, was definitely in Alex’s genes.