Rose Morello's gaze settled on her husband for several seconds. "You're quiet, tonight."
"Yeah. Just relaxed." He smiled at her.
"It was a great performance, Arman. Magnificent, really. Especially Gabriel's Oboe. I have to admit, I didn't think it would work well with a clarinet."
He nodded. "I knew the lower register would need a different orchestra mix. No cellos or French horns. I tried to shut down the saxes too, but Harrison wouldn't go that far."
"You do have a lot of pull," Rose said, "but after all, Harrison Walters is a revered conductor. As esteemed as you, wouldn't you say? Besides, it's his orchestra."
"I have to admit, I think he was right about the sax. Its tone added depth without washing out the clarinet."
She smiled and looked down at her glass. "My husband, the most prestigious clarinetist in the world."
"I wouldn't go that far."
She raised her head. "I would. I'm biased."
At this point, the waitress arrived. "Are you ready for an appetizer?"
They ordered their meals and returned to their drinks.
She looked around the restaurant for a couple of minutes, particularly at the walls. "I always love this restaurant. Especially the sculpted wood art." She had always loved wood, its grain, and figure, the reason she was drawn to the cello in her teen years. She loved the instrument, and had become skillful enough for small orchestras, but not sufficiently adept for the majors. She had decided she needed, as the saying goes, 'a day job'. It was not a big disappointment. She had never set her musical aim high. She just loved the instrument, loved cleaning, and polishing it almost as much as playing. She turned back to him. "You know Arman, and I'm not just saying this as your wife, but this might have been your best performance ever. At least, among the ones I've attended. Your Gabriel's Oboe…my God."
He said nothing. By this time, their salads had arrived. He idly pushed its components around with his fork. "Something came over me. It's like, I wasn't aware of my body. Hard to explain."
"It almost made me cry. It was that good."
"Yeah. I got a little emotional too."
"I noticed," she said.
He looked into her eyes. "Somehow, I feel as if this concert was more important than any of my other performances."
She wrinkled her brow. "Well, it certainly was one of your most moving ones, but..."
"This one was different."
"Okay…" The word came slowly. "I know that Gabriel's Oboe is one of your favorite pieces, but…"
"I don't understand, but it's not just music or even this particular piece of music, but that…somehow…tonight's performance was the purpose of my career." As she tilted her head, he said, "I know. It's crazy. But I was more emotional as I played than I've ever been before. It just welled up in me. I was afraid I was going to lose technical focus, but as I said, my body seemed to do what was required."
She grinned and said, "You're right – it does sound crazy." Then she paused. "On the other hand, I teared up, and when I looked around near the end of the piece, a few women were actually crying. Even more of them when we stood and applauded. I hate to use the modern cliché, but it was awesome."
He was silent.
"I kind of think we were entranced the same way you described being captivated as a boy."
He nodded, remembering as if looking down from the height of time to the day that had led along a winding path to this night.
The students turned their heads left, right and upward, gaping at the wall curtains and the ceiling carvings. They had never been to a concert hall. Though only a modest small-city auditorium, to the fourth-grade class in Parkerton in 1979, it was like the Konzerthaus in Vienna. It was also the students' first field trip. The curtain rose, and their mouths opened at the well-lit array of formally-dressed musicians and their instruments. The children didn't recognize the music, but they knew it was somehow important. The last composition was a Mozart concerto. After the conductor had bowed and the applause had withered away, the students exited to the waiting school bus.
"Arman," Mrs. Langer said, "the music's over. Time to go."
He looked around and realized he was the only person left sitting. He pointed toward the stage. "That's what I want to do."
"Do? What's that?"
He rose and walked to the aisle. "I'm going to play that horn," he declared.
She smiled. "That's good. Come, come. They're waiting for us. And it's called a clarinet."
He pestered his parents for almost a year. Alice and Martin Morello finally realized that this was not another childhood fad fated for replacement by an equally transient one. So, for his next birthday, they bought him a beginner's clarinet, about two-thirds normal size. However, they had been unaware of his time spent the past year perusing books, talking to high school band members, even entering the local music store to stare at the real thing. He had learned too much. He unwrapped the present, silently looked at it for a few seconds, then threw it down. He cried out and ran to his room.
His parents looked at each other, but neither had a clue. When they entered his room, they saw him on the bed sobbing. Bewildered and a little angry, they demanded an explanation.
Through tears, he said. "That's not a clarinet. That's a toy. You don't take me seriously. You don't understand."
His father sat on the bed. "Look, Arman. It's for practice. You don't run till you've learned to walk."
"It's not real. It's a toy."
"It's not a toy," his mother said. "It's a beginner's model." She saw she had to negotiate. "Look, honey, if you want to play the clarinet, you have to take lessons. You can learn on the beginner's model. Maybe later we'll get you a real clarinet."
Martin looked at his wife. "We don't know how much a clarinet costs."
She dipped her head and gave him a hard stare. "If he really wants to pursue it, Martin." She restrained herself from mentioning that the toy clarinet had been his idea, prompted by his bargain-hunting nature.
He inhaled and compressed his lips. He nodded, then turned toward his son. "Tell you what, son. We'll pay for lessons. If after a year, the teacher says you're serious about learning, we'll get you a regular clarinet. But you will have to practice. Practice hard. If you aren't willing to put in the effort, then it's 'no deal'. Understood?"
Arman nodded, unaware of the hundreds of hours of practice he had just agreed to.
Nor were they the kinds of hours he had imagined.
Mrs. Knowland was patient but reluctant to take on such a young student. "It's really too early. His body isn't ready yet."
To her suggestion that they wait five years, Alice said simply, "He would never forgive us."
Mrs. Knowland, facing the student's insistence and his parent's anxiety, acquiesced. She knew that Arman would become frustrated and quit. 'Three lessons, before he gives up,' she guessed. The first one went badly.
How difficult just to produce a sound, any sound, other than wind coursing through a tube. And when Arman did achieve his first note, the tone was horrible. His lips could barely apply sufficient pressure on the mouthpiece to produce a raspy screech. And his ten-year-old lungs only had the capacity for a couple of notes. He repeatedly puffed, trying to shape his lips as she directed. He sat back dejected. Mrs. Knowland said nothing. Then he picked up the instrument, wrapped his lips around the mouthpiece, and blew again. And again. He turned red and sat back. After a half-minute, he tried again.
Mrs. Knowland realized this student was different. She gently took the instrument and said, "Let's try something." She opened the closet door and took a small cardboard box from a bookshelf. When she removed the lid, Arman could see some black disks within. "These are lip cushions," she explained. She picked up one, pulled a bottle of rubber cement from a drawer, and applied it to the cushion, which she stuck to the bottom of the mouthpiece. She wrapped it with rubber bands. "Let's give it a few minutes while you rest."
Arman looked around. He became aware that this room was different from the rest of the house. The chairs were less stylish, of brighter colors, and their cloth coverings showed signs of wear. The contents of the two bookcases seemed simpler, more practical than the books in the living room. The latter had covers similar to the encyclopedia in his home, while this room contained notebooks and sheet music and paperbacks. He realized the living room was decorated for display. This one was clearly arranged for work, and it also fit Mrs. Knowland's persona. She looked like a taskmaster. Her square jaw and thin lips gave her the appearance of sternness, but her eyes were gentle, and the early wrinkles of her 45 years gave a pleasantness to her face. She was a teacher at the middle school in a nearby town and gave private lessons on Saturdays to a few students. However, Arman did not appreciate that he was part of a select group.
"Where is Mr. Knowland?"
Her back straightened slightly. "Mr. Knowland and I no longer live together." Seeing him attempt to understand, she explained, "We had too many differences and couldn't get along."
He saw a cloud cross her face. "That's too bad." Somehow, he understood the inadequacy of his words, but it was all he could think of.
After about ten minutes, she removed the rubber bands. "Okay. Try it again."
This time, the instrument produced sounds fairly consistently. They were unpleasant, more like cries for help, but at least they were sounds. Arman removed the instrument from his mouth and stared at the cushion. He had gained his first insight into the nature of the instrument, and what it would require from him.
She went to the spinet piano and lifted the keyboard cover. "You said you can read music. What can you play?"
He hesitated. "I don't actually know any pieces. It's my mom's piano. She taught me chopsticks." He looked down. Then remembered. "I know which notes on the page are for which keys."
She compressed her lips. "Okay. Tell me, if you can't read music as fast as you read books, how do you expect to play as fast as the music flows?" She let the question hang in the silence. Finally, she said, "I'm giving you two kinds of homework. It's going to take time and be difficult, but it's absolutely necessary if you're serious about learning the clarinet." Again, she paused. "Do you still want to learn the clarinet?"
Without hesitation, he nodded
"I need to hear you say it."
"Yes, I do want to learn to play."
"Okay, then you'll need to do your homework." She then gave instruction for two soundless exercises, which seemed pointless, until she explained. "Your two weak areas, the ones you need to strengthen most are your lungs and mouth. The clarinet doesn't make the sound. Your lungs and mouth and the clarinet make one complete instrument. Without having those two parts of your body working properly, you can never play the clarinet."
He nodded slowly, his understanding beginning to grow.
She wrote something on a piece of paper, then handed it to him. "Have your parents purchase this beginner's piano book, unless she already has one. They carry it in the music store."
The breathing exercises did not require the instrument. They could be done anywhere. The other exercise – wrapping his mouth tightly around the mouthpiece without blowing – made sense to him after that day's experience with the lip cushions.
The homework was frustrating. He wanted to sound out notes, to make the kind of music in his slowly growing record collection. Despite his frustration, his confidence in his teacher continued, especially after she gave him a demonstration, a short performance of a Bach piece. Her flexibility and range thrilled him. Afterward, she turned to him. "When I started," she said, "I was almost as raw as you. I was older, so I had stronger muscles. But still, pretty bad."
"How long will it take me?" he asked.
She softly smiled. "The rest of your life." She disassembled her clarinet and reverently placed each piece in the case. "I still practice, though not as often as when I was younger." She could see him trying to digest this new aspect. "It's a love," she explained. "Just like yours. But more mature. Over the years, it will grow down into you. I know you are impatient. That's natural for someone your age." She put the case in the closet. "My father was a violinist. He pushed me in my lessons. I resented his pressure, but he was a stubborn man. And then, one day, I realized I was improving. I was filled with the certainty that, eventually, I would produce something beautiful. That's when I fell in love with the clarinet." She had grown quiet as she recounted her experiences. Then, she brightened. "Now, get your clarinet and we'll make some notes."
The sound was still screechy, but he felt he was on the road to making the kind of music she had just played. She spent the rest of the hour showing him how to place his fingers and hold his arms to make the C, then the D, and finally the E. He knew it sounded awful, but also recognized he had gained a small degree of control of the instrument.
Over the next ten months, Mrs. Knowland guided Arman toward a carefully monitored degree of confidence. When he became too full of himself, she would give him a challenge she knew was slightly beyond his grasp. When his ego had settled down, she would give him a challenge she knew he could surmount. This, too, was her art.
Nearly a year after she had begun working with Arman, her parents wanted to discuss his prospects. She was unequivocal. "I can't speak to his natural talent yet, but he seems to feel the music deeply. And, I have to say that he's one of the hardest working students I've had, regardless of instrument."
Alice and Martin looked at each other. Alice turned back to Mrs. Knowland. "We've been looking at a clarinet. He thinks he knows the one he wants. But, my heavens, it's 360 dollars."
Alice pulled a paper from her purse.
"It's called a Buffet Crampon E11." She looked up at Mrs. Knowland. "Is that a good brand?"
"Absolutely. I own one myself."
"Is there a cheaper model?" Martin asked.
Raising her eyebrows, Mrs. Knowland replied, "That is the cheaper model. They do make a student model, but it would be a waste of money. In a year you'd be buying the E11."
"How high do they go?" he asked.
"The professional model is about 1200." To his obvious surprise, she answered, "It's used by professionals around the world."
"1200!" he said, shaking his head. "That's twice as much as a stereo TV."
Mrs. Knowland had witnessed this before. "Would you expect to keep a TV for the rest of your life?"
He inhaled, wrinkled his brow, then looked at his wife. "Let's go down the end of the week. They're open late on Friday."
Alice looked at her husband with raised eyebrows. "You're okay with this?"
"We decided to support him if he's serious, and he is." He turned toward Mrs. Knowland. "He practices and practices. We have to limit his time so he gets his schoolwork done."
"I know. I can see how he's improving each week. I don't think it's something he'll grow out of. This is his path."
The path continued on into high school, where he studied music theory, which he found fascinating. Of course, he joined the school orchestra, where he learned the importance of making his instrument one of many, of giving attention to the sounds and techniques of the other players, of playing with them. After high school, he learned about disappointment – he was not accepted at the Juilliard Art Institute, nor any of the other prestigious music schools. He was incredulous. He carried his dejection to Mrs. Knowland.
"I thought I was good. I was a star in the high school orchestra. You encouraged me to think I was first-rate."
Mrs. Knowland ignored the reproach. "Honestly, Arman, I can't understand all the rejections. Juilliard, sure. And Cleveland is extremely picky. But the Conservatory? That surprises me. But I certainly did not mislead you. You know I was tough on you. I'm not in the flattery business."
"What am I to do?"
She leaned forward. "Use it."
He looked at her, puzzled.
"Use it," she said with greater intensity. "Your art must not depend on other's opinions. Continue improving. When you hear masters play, learn from them." She sat back. "You know, volcanic eruptions are spectacular events. I visited Hawaii at the tail end of one. I cannot describe how deeply it moved me. But though eruptions attract the eyes and ears, it was not eruptions that raised those islands. It was the slow work underneath the crust."
He looked at her for several seconds, then nodded. "Yes, but what am I to do?"
"Ah, yes, there's still that, isn't there?" She rocked forward and back for a few seconds. "I had a woman student. After graduation, she entered the music school at the University of California. It doesn't have the prestige of the Cleveland, but it's highly rated and she ended up getting well placed. I think it was UC Los Angeles…Don't get that look." She chuckled. "It's not like I'm suggesting you eat dog food."
"How many prestigious orchestras take UC graduates?"
"Arman, you're going to have to start a few rungs down from your expectations. If you achieve excellence, nothing will stop you from reaching the top. It's just going to take longer than you thought. Actually, longer than I thought."
He remained silent, looking at the floor.
"Promise me you'll at least look into it," she said.
"Okay. I promise."
However, he didn't apply. Was it pride? Or disappointment in himself? Or anger at his fate? He had no idea what he would do.
A week later he received a call from Henry. "Hey mate, how's the school fishin' going? Catch any good acceptance letters?" Henry Sutherland was another rejectee Arman had met at the audition for the New England Conservatory. A red-haired, stout Australian, he always sported a cheery attitude. Arman wondered how much of it was method acting, and how much an ingrained optimism.
"No bites, Henry. Not one."
"Are you shittin' me? I heard you play. And the Hawkins guy got accepted, but you didn't? That's fried, man."
"Yeah. Pretty much."
"So, what're your plans, mate?"
"None. My teacher suggested the University of California system."
"Well, I got in Oberlin, but we've got the summer left. So how about you join me on a little detour? You have two choices, chappy. You can feel frustrated at the promotion of your lessers, or, you can come to Peru with me."
"Peru? What's in Peru?"
"Well, Peruvians, for one thing." He chuckled at his own joke, a habit that always radiated mirth. "But also, a small traveling orchestra. I've got a gig for the summer, and the agent called me yesterday, wanted to know if I knew a second clarinetist. I instantly thought of you."
"I'm not sure I can afford it."
"Just the airfare, bloke. The tour provides the food, transport, accommodations. Though the latter isn't five-star, you understand. Not that we'll be sleeping in caves with snakes. Or even without snakes." He chuckled again.
"Let me think about it. I'm feeling kind of depressed. Might not be great company."
"Before you think too long, mate, there's a cherry on top. During the tour time, there's going to be a solar eclipse visible in South America."
Arman thought about it for a few seconds. He imagined spending the summer in Parkerton, brooding. "Count me in."
"Thank goodness. We'll make music every pair of ears will remember."
Arman was unsure of his parents' reactions.
"Peru?" said his mother? "Just like that?" She looked at her husband.
"He's young, Alice." He nodded. "It's a fine idea." To her worried look, he said, "Before I met you, I spent a year in Alaska. It was a crazy adventure, but I'm glad I got it out of my system."
She sighed and turned to Arman. "Be sure to send us postcards. And take pictures while you're there. Oh, and…."
The ensemble included two violinists, a cellist, and an impressive French horn player. The six quickly learned each other's habits and styles, and the tour went well. They played in a different city every three days, eventually making their way to Cusco.
On their next day off, the first place they visited was Machu Pichu. "What's the matter, mate?" Henry asked Arman. "It doesn't get much more heaps than this."
"It's strange. I can't help thinking, they had all this, and then, poof! Seems sad."
"I sure hope you don't do a downer on me with the Painted Mountains."
That was their next stop, and all six agreed the mountains were even more spectacular than the travel photos.
Walter Kohl, the German violinist, said, "Tomorrow's the eclipse. I'm going into the city. The waitress said they are going to have some kind of big celebration."
Everyone agreed to join Walter, but after they had visited the Temple of the Moon, Arman changed his mind. "I'm going to watch the eclipse from here."
Henry objected, as did the others, but Arman said, "I really like this place. Sorry, but I think it'll be a choice spot for watching it." The others tried to sway him to join them, but at some point, he became adamant.
"Your friend here is rather stubborn," Walter remarked.
Henry stared at Arman with a wrinkled brow, and quietly said, "Yeah. I guess he is." A smile quickly filled his face, and he became chipper again. "Well, let's get on to the next attraction."
The next day, the bus was almost empty, a family of five the only other passengers. Arman had bought a pinhole eclipse viewer two days earlier in the town. With an hour to spare before the eclipse began, he decided to walk to the nearby ruins of Chukimarka, indicated on the guide map. There he saw a group dressed in what he assumed were traditional outfits. They held poles with feathers tied at the top. Curious, he approached them.
"Good day," he said in Spanish. "I suppose you're waiting for the eclipse too?"
"We are," said a short, stocky man of about 30 years. Like the others, he was dark complected. Unlike the others, including the men, his hair was short and curly. "I am Arturo Koshi."
"Arman Morello. A pleasure to meet you. I noticed your beautiful costumes."
Arturo chuckled. "Costumes. An interesting word. These are our more ceremonial clothes. For special occasions, like the eclipse."
"You live in Cusco?"
"No. We live north of here, in Humedal Wayarqocha."
Arturo smiled and shook his head. "Don't worry about how to say it. It's about a mile north of here. It's a village for our people."
Armand nodded. "I suppose city life would make it difficult to maintain your culture."
"Very true. Keeping our connection to nature requires separation from the crowded things of man."
"You have a separate religion?"
"Not exactly. We are Christian, but our people also pay homage to the sun. The two aren't separate. Without the sun, the Earth would be a frozen lump of dirt. For this eclipse, we will praise the sun and the moon together."
At this time, an older man approached them. He was tall, with shoulder-length hair, and deep black, penetrating eyes. Finally, he said, "Julio Pein."
Arturo turned to Julio. "He likes our costumes," he said, smiling.
Julio grinned. "And I like yours?"
Arman grinned and nodded. "It's true. We have our formal costumes as well, not as colorful as yours – mostly black and white with a tie."
"Julio Pein is our priest."
Julio stared at Arman. Finally, he said, you play a quena. Yes?"
"A quena. You play it like this." He gestured as if holding a tube to his mouth, his fingers wavering over the imagined instrument.
"Yes. It's called a clarinet."
"You must follow it." His stare was unnerving.
Arman looked at Arturo, then back at Julio. "Follow what?"
"You have a path, but you are uncertain. You need to do this."
Arman rejected the idea that Julio knew anything of his recent struggles. "Do what, exactly?"
Julio approached him until his face was less than a foot away "You were born to make music. It is your path." He stood straight. "Besides, you made a promise. You must honor it."
Arman found his behavior creepy, but he knew Julio's words were true. He had long felt he was born to 'make music'. But how had this Julio known he was a musician, and more, that he played a wind instrument? And what promise was he talking about? The two stared at one another. Julio Pein's gaze was strange, penetrating. Finally, Arman became aware of the growing darkness around them. It was as if he had awakened from a trance. Julio's companions were calling to him. Without a word, Julio turned and walked back to the others. They formed a circle and began stepping in some kind of a dance, alternately raising and lowering the upright poles to the ground. Julio Pein stood in the center chanting, his arms outspread, rotating in the direction opposite to that of the circle.
Around Arman, the sounds of nature shifted. He turned, suddenly aware that the birds had become silent. Small animals scratched their way through the grass. A slight breeze, warm and comforting, washed over him. He noticed the quality of the darkness was unlike night or even twilight. The boulders seemed slightly luminescent, the plants visible against the dark ground. He remembered his viewer. He took it from his bag and pointed it toward the celestial orbs. The image at the back showed a sliver of the sun's edge. He could see the moon moving! He slowly realized the scale of what he was witnessing. This same movement had occurred every moonlit night of his life, unrecognized and unappreciated through all his years. And within this gloom rose remembrance of that awe he had felt as a boy when he first heard the clarinet. And from that echo came an understanding of the true meaning of resonance, a principle governing far more than mere physical objects.
When the eclipse was over, Julio approached him again. "Come. I have something to show you." He walked past Arman, past the Temple of the Moon, to climb the hill above it. At the summit was a large stone, whose upper face bore carved shapes. "Our ancestors built the three temples around this hill – the moon, the sun, and the earth. This rock contains three animals."
Arman looked down, then walked around to see them more clearly.
"Julio pointed to each. "This is a condor, this a puma, this a snake. They represent the sky, the earth, and the underworld." He straightened and walked up to Arman. Standing directly in front of him, Julio said, "You are of the air, but unlike a condor, you have more to do with your life than fly and hunt. You are supposed to do something with your music."
"That I cannot quite discern. It is in a mist that I am not permitted to see through. I only know you have a purpose in this world."
"But, how will I know when I come to it?"
Julio grinned. "Do not trouble yourself about that, Arman Morello." He chuckled. "You are not going anywhere." He began walking back down the hill, briefly turning to say, "You will fulfill your fate. Just keep your promise."
Arman found his friends at the same bar they had visited the previous night.
"How was it?" Henry asked.
Arman nodded several times, wanting to share his experiences, but also, to avoid seeming strange. He settled on, "Intense."
"Same here," said Henry, raising his bottle of beer. "You missed the dancing, the firecrackers afterward…oh, and several of these." He again raised the bottle.
In the early days of their tour, Arman had been impressed by Henry's ability to hold his liquor. "I'll have one," Arman said. He drank with his companions, smiled, laughed at their jokes, but overlaying everything was the face of Julio Pein. And that night too, in his dreams. He tossed and turned, finally awakening at four in the morning. He suddenly knew what the promise was – the one Julio had mentioned, the one he had made to Mrs. Knowland. And he understood with a strange clarity that he must apply to the UC music school as soon as he flew home. Suddenly, it made sense, as much sense as his previous rejection of the idea. He lay back, wondering at the frailty of his certitudes, and drifted off.
After his return to the States, he did apply, barely meeting the final date requirements.
The day after he received his acceptance letter, he visited Mrs. Knowland. "I want to thank you for all the help you've given me over the years."
She smiled, and her cheeks became red. "Every time I see one of my students go off to begin their music career, I feel a deep sense of peace. It's my private students who give my life meaning. Teaching at the school – some with talent, some with none – is merely an income. It feeds my body, pays the mortgage, but my private teaching feeds the soul."
They were silent for several seconds. "One more thing I must tell you. Listen to your instructors' criticisms, consider them carefully, but you decide whether and how to take their advice." She raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Not that you should irritate your teachers." She turned serious again. "In the end, you must make each decision on your own. Experts are usually right, but not always. Blowhards are usually wrong, but not always. And that's the important thing. In the end, all the decisions must be yours. It's your art."
In his first year, he often had to remind himself of Mrs. Knowland's advice. He was not treated as anything special. Always third clarinet. But in the second year, his orchestral teacher had him join a performance of Beethoven's clarinet trio. He was excited at the prospect, though his unfamiliarity with the piece made him nervous. He practiced it deeply, one portion at a time to iron out the difficult passages and extract the beauty of each phrase. Then, during practice with the pianist and cellist, he had additional work adjusting to their styles and emphases.
When the performance came, he found himself strangely relaxed, the previous weeks' nervousness completely absent. At the end of the performance, he realized he was drenched in sweat. He took a breath. Then the audience, small though it was, stood and cheered loudly. The next day, the orchestral teacher made him second clarinetist. Arman swallowed his pride at this paltry advancement. But then he remembered Mrs. Knowland's remarks about taking others' opinions seriously and using disappointment to improve his art. He persisted, eventually replacing the first clarinetist when she graduated. After his own graduation, at his professor's advice, he continued to the masters program. Upon his final graduation, his professor recommended him to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the first large stepping stone along the path to Gabriel's Oboe and conductor Harrison Walters.
Rose finally said, "Why so sad? Tonight was a triumph."
"Let's go to Peru."
"What?" She paused before she made the connection. "The priest you met when you were young."
"Yes. I need to visit the village. But we can enjoy Cusco. And I know you'll enjoy seeing Machu Pichu, and all the towns where we performed. There's a wealth of stories about our tour that I haven't told you. Besides, they're always celebrating something there."
"What is it you're seeking, Arman?"
He compressed his lips. Then he looked into her eyes. "I'm not certain, Rose. Maybe some answers, but honestly, I'm uncertain about the questions. He told me music was my path. That I had, like…a purpose, a mission. I believe he was right, and I've risen to the top of my profession, certainly the top of my game. But what exactly is the mission?"
She looked away, frustrated at his dissatisfaction. Always seeking something more, despite his success. Perhaps that's the way of mankind…or just men. Perhaps the reason he became the best clarinetist. But then, a vacation in Peru…why was she complaining? "I'd love to go to Peru."
On their second day in Cusco, she roamed the sights in the city while he drove the rental car to Humedal Wayarqocha. He stopped at the first person he saw. "Excuse me, I'm looking for Julio Pein." The man did not recognize the name. This sequence was repeated several more times. Then he came upon a small store. He entered and asked the man at the counter, who shook his head.
However, a few seconds later an old man entered from a back room. "You're looking for Julio Pein? The priest?"
"Yes. Yes, I am."
"I am Hector Cenoz."
Arman introduced himself and they shook hands.
"I am afraid Julio Pein is no longer among the living."
Arman suddenly realized his foolishness. He had forgotten about the three intervening decades. "How about his follower, Arturo Koshi?"
"You mean, the new priest?"
"He's a priest?"
"Yes. He never told you?"
"No. I met him many years ago."
Hector smiled. "Well, he was always a mystic priest, like Julio Pein, though not as powerful a prophet."
"Yes. A seer. You didn't know?"
After getting directions, Arman drove to Arturo's house. A woman of about 60 years answered his knock on the door.
"Excuse me. My name is Arman Morello. I'm looking for Arturo Koshi."
"And what did you need from him, may I ask?" She appeared to be indigenous, but her Spanish was elegant. That and her formal bearing told Arman she was an educated woman.
"I met him at the eclipse ceremony many years ago."
She raised her head and smiled. "Oh, you're the one. Please, come in." After offering him a seat, she said, "Let me tell him you're here.
A few minutes later, the back door opened, and in walked an older, gray-haired Arturo. Arman realized he too must appear much changed in his host's eyes. Yet, it was definitely the same Arman, with a warm smile and a warmer embrace. "My friend," he said. "So good to see you after all these many years." He introduced his wife, Eva, who served them coffee with some sweets and left the room.
"Now, tell me what has happened in your life since we last met," Arturo said.
They traded decades of lived stories, which carried them warmly through two hours before Arman remembered his purpose. "I have a question which has bothered me down to my soul."
"If I can help, I will be most happy."
"Julio told me that I had a mission…no, he said a purpose. Something I came into the world for, something involving my music. I've always felt that music was my 'path,' as he called it. I had this experience at my last performance, the best performance of my life, I believe. The audience was literally moved to tears. And somehow, I couldn't help feeling that this one performance was the purpose I was brought into this world for. Yet, it makes no sense. I mean, I studied for years and improved my skill over the decades. I've given more performances than I can count, and in the greater scheme of the world, it seems so trivial."
As he spoke, Arturo slowly nodded, with a penetrating stare. When Arman had finished, he said, "First, I will tell you a most important truth. We don't come into this world. None of us. Like trees, like all the other animals, we come out of it." He paused, staring very directly at Arman. "Second, I have no idea of the particulars of your life's purpose. And what difference would it make? If that performance was your life's purpose, take peace in this – you have accomplished it."
For some reason, these last words pried deeply into Arman, evoking an unfamiliar, unidentifiable emotion.
Arturo spoke quietly. "You have done what you were created to do. That is enough."
They parted with hugs, knowing they would not see each other again.
"I have been blessed to have known you," Arman said.
"Mine was the greater blessing."
As he drove back, he felt profoundly emotional. In his entire life, he had spent a total of only a few hours in Arturo's presence, yet their time together seemed to occupy an outsized portion of his memories.
He arrived at the hotel and to a glaring wife. "You're two hours late. I'm starved. You could have called."
He responded by hugging her, hugging tightly for a long time. When they finally separated, his eyes were moist.
Her mouth hung open. "What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Rose. Nothing's wrong. Everything is exactly right."
She was speechless, not knowing what to make of his state, but no longer angry. And somehow, though wondering what had transpired, she knew he spoke a deep truth, that everything was exactly right.
The music was incredibly beautiful. Some people were near tears. Eleven-year-old Johanna Lavigne had never before heard Gabriel's Oboe. And the man played so beautifully, she felt a part of herself floating on the notes. Afterward, as they were leaving the auditorium, she said to her mother, "When we get back home, I want to learn to play music. But not the clarinet. The piano, like Grandma's, but really play it."
"We will see, mon cheri."
She pulled on her mother's arm. "No. You don't understand."
Her mother stopped and leaned slightly downward toward her. She paused, then said, "We have much more to see, and it's a long flight back to Toulouse. If you still want to study music next week, then you shall. We can engage a piano teacher."
She smiled at her daughter. "Mais, oui. I promise."