Classical Surprises

posted in: Fiction | 0

Detention, indigestion, and other muses with pieces by Leon Arden and Dennis H. Lee. 
5 minutes


First up, excerpts from Leon Arden’s story “If Music Be the Food of Love” from Passager’s 21st anniversary anthology Burning Bright. Here’s the background: The main character gets a week of detention. Each day for a week, he had to get to school an hour early and sit in the back of the auditorium —

“— with a little knot of boys, well on the way to becoming tomorrow’s deadbeats, felons, drunks and muggers.

It was a grim thing, detention. We slumped in our seats, yawning and disgruntled, or sat bent over our unyielding school books or, like the boy next to me, sketched on a shorthand note pad an assortment of buxom babes. Then it happened.

. . . A door opened and in came a small man who walked as though desperate to be unobserved. He stopped, stooped, opened the lid, baring its teeth, sat, paused and played. In Mr. Trundle’s hands the grand piano tilled every inch of that vast place with first one and then another and finally all of Chopin’s Preludes.

He had a delicacy of touch that filled the music with painful shivers of bliss. There was thoughtful sadness, restrained exultation and then that last splendid struggle with those final, devilish bass notes of doom.


Mr. Trundle stood, stooped, closed the gleaming teeth and walked off.

. . . When I returned the next morning Mr. Trundle reappeared to fill the place with Brahms. On Wednesday there was an hour of angry Beethoven. Next, Debussy, with his sunken cathedrals and reflections in water. And on Friday which was, sadly, my last day of punishment, I was treated to Scarlatti, Clementi, Schubert and Liszt.

Just think, I had only to be bad again to be given five more such mornings.

[Sometime later, he runs into Mr. Trundle.]

“I just wanted to say how wonderful it was. The Chopin. Everything. Someday I’d love to hear you play the four Ballades.” Although a sophomore, I was trying not to be sophomoric. “And the Debussy was magical. At home we have records of Rubinstein and Serkin. I couldn’t tell the difference. Between them and you, I mean. I just wanted you to know this.”

He stood up and was at a loss for having done so. “Very kind. Yes, very kind. Rare in one so young . . .”

“Were you ever a concert pianist?” I asked.

“Yes, well, no . . . Not really. Studied for that. Yes, But no.” He shook his head . . . and looked away. “It was nerves. A case of nerves.” He brightened. “Schnable was my teacher for a time . . . Had high hopes. Ohers, also. But a condition of the nervous system just was . . . made it impossible, you see.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh well,” he said, making light of it all, giving a tooth-gapped smile. “Never mind. Gave it a try. Good memories . . . Played for Rubinstein once.”

He stopped, as if ashamed at some indiscretion. I didn’t know how to continue, either.

“Well, thanks again,” I said.

“No, thank you. It is I who should thank you.”

“If Music Be the Food of Love” by Leon Arden from Passager’s 21st anniversary anthology Burning Bright. Arden said that some of the material and concepts from this story led to his novel Walk in the Paradise Garden.

That last story alluded to several classical composers. Here’s Dennis Lee’s poem about one of them: “Gut Music.”

Beethoven’s wife was a great house cleaner.
It may be well documented that she would
push her vacuum cleaner (one of
the best on the market) near the piano
to suck up all those cookie crumbs
and cigarette ashes created by the composer
during his long arduous sessions
at the piano. He would just lift
his feet and keep on tinkling the keys.
But not much has been written
about her bad cooking. She did
not combine (shall we say compose) complementary
ingredients. Sadly this led
to Beethoven’s famous bouts
of indigestion. Of course they influenced his music —
and we are now blessed by her bad cooking
and his good taste.

“Gut Music” by Dennis Lee from his book Tidal Wave.

To buy Tidal Wave, subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.