Sport 17: Spring 1996
Huberta Hellendoorn — The Organist
‘It's time you learned to play the organ. All you do is sit and read.’
On a cold Sunday afternoon in February I sit with a translated Jane Eyre in a deep armchair near the fire. Outside it's freezing. Icicles like thin tapered pegs hang from the gutter. I have no desire to play the organ but I suppose organ music is better than nothing. A piano would be better. No hope though. There's something worldly about a piano. We don't have worldly things at home.
But who will be the one to teach me? I hope it will be somebody nice. I don't want to have my fingers hit when I play a wrong note. This happens to my best friend. Her teacher has a false bun on her head. She barks at her during lessons and bends down to whack my friend's fingers. That's when my friend sees the false bun. I want somebody who listens to me without letting his false teeth drop on his chin, who will nod his dark but slightly greying head and make understanding noises. Ja, ja, ja.
But what then?
A young man is found who will teach me. He has returned to our area, fresh from a music conservatory in Paris. He must know so much, having studied there for many years. He is told there is no need for me to learn frilly fugues and fughettas.
‘Just teach her to play simple and solid basic hymns as fast as possible.’
The lessons are at his house. During the long bike ride after school I wonder what he'll be like. Already I feel hot and sweaty. What will it be like when I get there? I hope he won't speak French to me.
I learn to play real music, first the long open notes, then the half open notes with a handle. The little black notes take longer to master. My sisters learned to play music by numbers, not by notes. I soon play more pieces than they do.page 45
My teacher's parents work around the house as I have my lessons. I sit quietly and demurely in the best room of the old farmhouse. A big clivia with a large red flower stands in front of the window. There is a real church organ. Foot pedals, two keyboards. Solid furniture with its plush beige covers fills the room. Little round tables with white crochet tablecloths hold ornaments of china and brass. White lace curtains hang on either side of the window. A completeness is locked inside this room. Nothing else can come in, nor can anything escape. The mother puts her head through the door.
‘Would you like a drink? You are doing so well. I hear you play. Are you all right in there?’
I hope she's not worried about what I'll do to her son. I look sideways at him. Fresh from Paris he is and he looks fresh too. Reddish hair, pink moustache, dark eyebrows and very white teeth. The seat is big enough for two people. I keep my distance but I am sure I can smell his French soap. His arms look strong. I notice the soft red haris on his hands and on his wrists. He wears a starched white shirt with a striped tie.
But is he my type? I hear girls at school talk about types they like. I don't know what my type is. Dark, handsome, mysterious? Tall, blond and athletic? His father is short and thickset, his mother short and cuddly. My sisters tease me about him:
‘He likes you. He told us so. He might want to marry you.’
They make it sound as if I don't have any choice. I don't want to think about those things right now. I am here to learn to play the organ.
The progress is slow. Fingers get looser and wrists not so tight. The sound of the organ is beautiful. I move from basic scales to elaborate finger movements. I cannot be stopped. Revival songs collated by John the Gentleman I learn quickly. I can play those at home now on the harmonium in our dining-room. Visitors come to our house. I have to play hymns for them on the highly polished organ with its green plush runner with lots of photographs on it.
But there is more to learn. I like playing other music. In the farm house along the river bank I learn to play a piece about sheep that may safely graze. Gentle minuets from Boccherini and Beethoven page 46 arise out of the pounded keys of the church organ. Happy and light. Cheerful.
Several springs and summers later I am told: ‘I want you to play in the local church. You have to play an introductory voluntary and accompany the hymn singing. You have improved so much, you can do it now.’
What do I say? I am scared. I like playing but this is too sudden.
‘I don't think I'm ready for this. I'll make mistakes and I'll feel stupid.’
‘I'm there right beside you. Nobody can see you when you are playing. If you make a mistake, people will think it's me.’
He's too nice. I have begun to like him. I blush when somebody mentions his name. How can I let him down? Three days before the event I beg my mother to ring him. I hear her voice on the phone:
‘She doesn't want to play. She is so stubborn.’
I'm not stubborn. Only full of fright and frenzy. I wake at night. Will I or won't I?
He waits for me as I come out of school the next day. Sunlight streaks through his reddish hair. The pale green cotton shirt and the rust coloured cravat must be from Paris. My feet don't want to move. I feel awkward and I know I have dirty shoes. Girls from my class look at him.
‘Who's he? What's he doing here? Doesn't he look smart?’ I wished I'd never learnt to play.
‘Can we talk? We'll go to the park.’
We walk slowly. My schoolbag hangs between us. I know I love him but I have made up my mind. I won't play. We pass the pond with the strong and powerful white swans. Softly they glide over the water like a passing summer breeze. Thoughts in my head give shape to music. I hear myself humming: ‘Leise flehen meine Lieder, durch die Nacht zu dir’.
His voice is gentle, his blue eyes have a smile in them.
‘You know you can do it. I would not ask you if I wasn't sure.’
I want to grow up. One more year at high school. But I am frightened. Love is too complicated with its reality as spiked as a freshly sharpened knife.page 47
I only want to hear music. I only want to sit at night behind the organ in a room that contains everything. Windows wide open I will play Schubert softly, while I smell the river breeze. As I sit alone on the large seat the lightness of the music fills the room and I will dream about the mystery of a love that has not got a cutting edge.