• Jessika Brust

I Think of You

Updated: Feb 13


To love a musician is one of the most painful, yet highly rewarding loves known to exist. Musicians are worse than sailors -- and sometimes even become sailors. Taylor Swift, of all people, said it best: to love a musician, you have to understand that you only get to love what is left of that person, after their music takes what it needs. Musicians frequently feel we observe life isolated from the rest, from inside a glass house -- and always go in search of life experiences, because they fuel our fire, and are the only way in which we can relate to the rest of the population; and therefor the only way our art can be relatable to others. But that's rarely, if ever, a conscious choice we make -- it's simply the way we were wired at birth. It causes as much pain as it does joy, and for us music is the only release.

To truly love one of us, you must be aware that we are hypersensitive to audio. One must understand that my brain crunches the music into mathematical relationships of rhythmic timing and differences between pitches, and organizes it into stacks of 3D geometric patterns -- which bear a remarkable similarity to the memories stored of my thoughts and feelings. Music is processed through this mental apparatus, then the data is compared with that of my emotional memories, and it trips my logical Aquarian mind -- because the elusive, ethereal realm of feelings that otherwise confounds me, is now diagramed mathematically, thus proving its validity. When I hear good music -- performed well, intelligently composed, packaged so that an audience finds it approachable -- the emotional response evoked is overwhelming. I cease to be a feeling-less, logic-computing machine and I transcend into being divinely human, addictively alive.

To be aware of this mental process and respect it is to truly love your musician. To be able to relate to this takes the relationship to a whole new level. And to be able to cater to this, and provide more material to process -- to participate in or even better, rearrange for the objective of exploring different artistic depths -- this gives purpose to my entire being. I will be grateful and indebted for the rest of my life.

I became acquainted with one of the world's most famous and complex pieces ever composed when I was playing with an orchestra just after graduating from college. The conductor had us preparing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor with a guest artist on piano. This particular orchestra had problems sight-reading, so it took several rehearsals before the musical elements came together. By the time the pianist joined us, we got enough of it aligned to give us a tantalizing preview of what this music is capable of being. At last with the pianist there, the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed. A melody was growing out of the orchestra's framework that I recognized, but couldn't place. As it haunted me, lyrics drifted into my consciousness and joined the melody, but where I'd heard them before, I couldn't recall.

In the hush of evening,

As shadows steal across my lonely room...

After that, the melody as I knew it stopped!

Then a few measures later in the first movement, when the second romantic melody theme crescendoed at the hands of our conductor -- with the pianist joining forces to peak the listener -- my world swirled. I floated off my seat as my throat constricted with intensity, of the composer's hunger for the object of his desire, and tears trickled from my eyes. I fell in love to stay.

After rehearsal, the melody I'd heard somewhere else, previous to studying the concerto, revealed its origins: it was from a tune called "I Think of You", on Tierney Sutton's debut jazz album Dancing in the Dark. Her album was a tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra that was less well-known than his classics like "My Way" and "New York, New York". Elliot-Marcotte got the first four bars of this tune's melody from the beginning of the first movement of the Rach 2. The effectiveness of it in each piece is enough to leave you weak in the knees.

I craved religious experiences like the one we'd shared. A few years after that concert, I found myself working as the live-in entertainment on a ship. To my surprise and delight, I learned there were such things called "guest entertainers", who joined the ship for a voyage every so often to provide a fresh show in the midst of the usual live-in entertainment. To my sheer ecstasy and personal gain, it just so happens that many of them are concert pianists.

One such pianist was a man with a timeless look about him. He carried the burden of heavy life experiences and the quick wit of youth in his physique, simultaneously. His posture was weighted with weariness, yet there was not a wrinkle in his pale skin. Dark purple circles hung under his large, expressive, and sharp eyes, dusty blue with a distinct brown freckle in each one. He was neither tall nor short, his hair was a rich blond yet was thinning, he was neither fat nor fit. If he had told me his age, I would've believed him if he said he was 25 or 55 -- you simply could not tell.

When we met serendipitously in the sound booth, Friday the 13th of December 2013, his eyes opened wide and his furrowed brow smoothed into a mischevioius smile. The sound engineer introduced us, I accused him of being a lesbian, he befuddled me with his distinguished New South Wales accent, and just like that we became busom buddies.

You flirted with a man you just met while wearing stage makeup, I scolded myself as I walked away. That never ends well, you should know by now... But to be honest, I wasn't worried. I felt drawn to him, but not attracted, so I didn't perceive myself to be in danger of a heartbreak.

Our friendship deepened quickly via jam sessions, lasting until the wee hours of the morning, resulting in musical collaborations, new charts written, and plans to put a show together the next time he was aboard my ship.

He disembarked, then a few days later we docked in his city. He took me out for coffee, delivered a stack of his albums with his fingers stained from the marker he used to write personalized messages in each one, and handed me a bag of almost 200 candy canes for my cast to use in our upcoming Christmas show. He didn't have much time to linger, as he was headed to the studio to record a new piano concerto by an Australian composer, but he stayed as long as he could until he would, without a doubt, be considerably late. His burdened physique was suddenly brimming with eager enthusiasm, while I sat there in my morning grogginess. I was happy to see my friend despite being tired. I had missed his humor, his strength, his sanity, and his sense of endless musical possibility -- but nothing could've prepared me for this kind of reception upon my first arrival in Sydney. He payed for our coffee and breakfast -- not even men I'd been in serious relationships with were in the habit of doing such a thing. He was alert and attentive, eager to make me laugh, and visibly anxious when I wasn't outwardly showing any response.

Conversation naturally drifted back to what we were going to play during our cabaret when he was next aboard. I pulled out my iPad to peruse my charts, and he saw I had an entire file set aside for the score of my favorite Rachmaninov piece. He opened it in surprised delight, and I confessed it was my all-time favorite guilty pleasure of music, to the point where I had to keep a copy of the conductor's score even though I never had occasion to use it. He scrolled through the PDF deftly with his fingers.

"These melodies are absolutely gorgeous," he said. "And this one," -- his fingers found the second movement -- "this section is very sexual."

I know I blushed. He was so confident in his own skin, not at all insecure about rejection. Despite his slight build, he wasn't intimidated by my tall, curvy, flashy appearance. I'd dated many who were better looking than him, yet completely terrified of me. This man instead seemed invigorated by it. It was one of the dynamics between us that was captivating.

Of course you play it and think of sex, I thought. I wasn't yet comfortable plunging to those depths with score analysis, let alone in conversation with him.

Sensing my tension, he said, "It's very dark, achingly beautiful. You know he had a woman in mind."

I smiled sheepishly, and asked, "Can we jam on it?"

"Yes. For you, I'll play whatever you want."

I blushed again.

When at last he had to go, he sighed with the insecurity of maybe not having played the right moves, kissed my cheek with affectionate, endearing aggressiveness, and left.

I was bewildered. He was into me, and wasn't seducing me like a temporary convenience; instead he was pursuing me like a lady with whom he had noble intentions. It all happened so fast without the luxury of leisure time like we'd had onboard, and I almost missed it. But were his feelings reciprocated from me? I honestly couldn't tell. Was I willing to do anything that would jeopardize our connection, and his high esteem of me? Absolutely not.

After working my embarkation shift in the afternoon (or "arvo" as this Aussie corrected me), I logged into my email to send him a thank you -- and he'd already beaten me to it. Maybe he was in a rush, maybe he was feeling down, but he'd sent a short message, atypical of his usual communications, wishing me bon voyage, and looking forward to jamming together next cruise.

What was happening between us got a slow start in becoming apparent to me, and while I wasn't yet comfortable taking the risk of intimacy with him, I had to thank him for all he'd done. He brought me new CDs to submerge my brain into, he bought (and refused to be reimbursed for) the props for our Christmas show, he tutored me in figuring out chord changes when writing charts. But above all, I wasn't isolated and lonely anymore, I was laughing and smiling again, and I didn't want to loose what I'd just discovered in this stoically beautiful man.

My ship sailed further from his port and crossed the Tasman Sea while we emailed each other lengthy stories of our lives and ideas for the show. Christmas passed, then New Year's Eve was upon us. Arrangements for the cast to be able to join the guest celebration had been made in error, so one lucky person had to be chosen to sit the event out. Since I didn't drink, and I would've rather spent my time talking with my concert pianist, I opted to spend the holiday in my cabin. A kiss was promised to me for the new year upon my pianist's return, and despite my initial reluctance, his witty and affectionate correspondence won me over -- and I found that kiss to be the only thing that occupied my mind.

All voyage long, I'd been working on the orchestra part for the Rach 2. I knew both violin parts well enough, but what if the violins weren't carrying the melody -- then what should I play, when I'm the only instrument representing the orchestra in our two-person jam? I meticulously went through the recording with the score, and determined which part I should transcribe and/or transpose for violin. The process was intense -- and extremely sexual, as he'd warned -- more so than I thought could be possible. My appetite was wetted, and more than ever I was lusting after this piece. I had to work with it every day, I had to ride it's ebb and flow.

My concert pianist boarded the ship at long last, on January 4. I got my kiss, but I'll spare you the details of a combustable romance that opened for us the windows across time and space. Between chart cramming sessions in the office and practicing in the theater, we put together a show while inevitably falling for each other.

While our cruise director, or CD, was delighted to see this romance blossom (apparently he'd called it the moment we met), and seemed happy about us putting on a show together, he was less supportive of our rehearsal needs. The show was scheduled to be just days after my pianist returned, and our collaborative process left room for only one run-through of the final product, from top to tail. We were in the middle of said run-through while docked in New Zealand one arvo, when the CD came barreling into the theater, announcing that he'd agreed to air some sporting match on the big screen at the last minute -- and we'd need to find another piano elsewhere to finish our rehearsal.

The stakes were high as we prepared this show without ever getting the chance to put it on its feet, in the actual space with all the technical elements. We made original arrangements for this collaboration that we were ready to debut. We began experimenting with the bizarre organic sense of humor we shared together. Now there was nothing else left for us to do but put on formal wear and hit the stage.

The audience responded well, and we began to loosen up and have fun. We poured all our energy into the performance. It was, to date, the only chance I had to collaborate with someone so prestigious and critically acclaimed, and I wanted to be at my best -- not just for my sake but also in hopes that he'd be willing to perform together more often. When our last tune ended and we finished our bows to genuine applause, we went backstage and collapsed on stools, completely winded. We whispered about what we had hoped had gone differently and what we'd like to modify in the future, while catching our breath before going to the front of house to thank our audience. During our recovery, our cruise director stumbled backstage, wrestling with the curtains in his search. Once he spotted us, he swaggered over.

"OK, first of all! How dare you perform not one, but two songs that are in my cabaret!" he bellowed.

I blinked at him, jaw ajar.

"And how dare you reference my bit!" he raged on.

My pianist stood up, putting his hands in his suit pockets.

"I did enjoy your rendition of 'Send in the Clowns' -- that song is so dangerous to do because it's overdone, but you reharmonized it and gave even me something new to find in it..."

As soon as the complement came out, he was done with the positive feedback, and switched back into reaming us about how we completely disrespected him and his show. My compatriot in this assault stood up straighter and moved protectively closer. The CD rattled on, ripping us a new one in his perpetual inebriation. He was difficult to listen to, his speech didn't follow logical trains of thought, and we were unable to get a word in edgewise.

"How dare you..." this, and "How dare you..." that -- his accusations all ran together after a few minutes.

"But I put a plug in for your show..." I attempted.

Eventually we were stunned into silence. Eventually the CD ran out of alcohol and had to leave to find more. How was I supposed to have the set list of his show memorized? Since when is performing the same standard in completely different arrangements, during the same cruise but on different nights, an unheard-of calamity?

My spirit was entirely shattered. We'd had a romantic night planned for after the show, but now I didn't have the heart to do anything but drown in a bathtub. I couldn't stand to be seen in public if my show, which I'd invested so much of myself in, was such a disgrace. Maybe I wasn't good enough to have an act with the greatest pianist in the South Pacific, and I'd been a fool to throw myself at the opportunity.

He knew I needed patience to come through after this downfall. My pianist held me, comforted me, and debunked everything the CD had just said. Finally he suggested we have a jam.

"Would you be willing to try the Rach 2 with me?" I implored.

He gave me a kiss and said he'd do anything I wanted. I pulled out the orchestra parts I'd edited, and he sat down at the piano, and began to indulge my favorite musical guilty pleasure.

He hadn't played that piece in 13 years, not since he was 19 and had decided to back out of the concert for which he'd been hired to learn it -- and already he displayed more prowess and emotional depth than had ever been played with my little former orchestra. He brought more colors and tones out of the rickety untuned ship piano than anyone ever evoked from the gorgeous Steinways at college.

My orchestral transcriptions were only partially accurate, and needed much editing, but the music's angst relieved my heartache. My pianist was attentive of me in his phrasing, crescendoing just loud enough to achieve the effect but not drown out my instrument; serenading me with his transcendental empathy when the orchestra was resting; bringing accelerandos to the brink of what my sight reading could handle.

Occasionally he apologized for missed notes, but I never heard any coming from the piano. I let myself get swept away, and hung on by just my thumbs trying to keep up with his virtuosity. There was no limit to his skill, and sitting beside him while he effortlessly read through a Rachmaninov that he hadn't even glanced at in over a decade, truly put it into harsh perspective.

With all he'd given me, with all he shared of himself, I truly was the luckiest woman in the world. To cheer me up when I was crushed, he gave me the greatest gift I could ever receive. Now the intimate memory of his brilliance during the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 is forever mine. Not only had he catered to my addiction of processing music with my favorite piece of all time, but his radiant mind one-upped my ability dozens of times over, and blazed new trails of comprehension that I carry with me to this day.

We played every note on that score, and it took over 40 minutes to complete. Without a word, and with a gentle smile, he helped me carry my instrument back to Cabin 407. I fell for him completely that night, as he made love to me through my tears of gratitude until we feel asleep.

From afar the music

Of violins comes softly through the gloom.

All I can do is think of you.

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© 2015 by Jessika Brust

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