Every piece must have a good introduction. Because that’s when you’re first acquainted with the theme, before you embark on a musical journey, composing multiple variations towards its resolution.
At least that’s what Master tells the Little Master. I have no idea what a good introduction to a musical piece is though. I think you need opposable thumbs for it. Of which I lack, being a Siberian Husky.
I think I got a good introduction to music itself though, just by virtue of being in this family. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning so much about it from the humans.
Take our names, for example. Master named me Sibelius, the Siberian Husky, after a famous Finnish composer. Then Mistress got my sister, a tabby cat named Brahms. Brahms the cat doesn’t care for her composer namesake though. She tells me she has “higher tastes in life”, whatever that means.
The most exciting part is Master gets to play with not one, but two sticks! One is bigger, pear-shaped with twangy strings and the other a thinner twig with hairs. BUT TWO STICKS!
(Oh fine, Brahms. It’s a violin. And what’s the black and white box that Mistress sits at and makes beautiful sounds? A piano, right. Yes I know it’s an upright piano. Will you please let me tell the story?)
Master practises playing the violin a lot. He’s an accomplished musician who travels to many places for concerts, some of them quite far away for extended periods of time.
I like it better when he’s at home though, because he gives me private soloist concerts and I can sing along as much as I want. I might not have opposable thumbs for instruments, but I have an aMaZiNggg tenor voice, if I do say so myself. Just need to work on the pitch.
(Shut up, Brahms. Jeez, you’re really vocal today with criticisms.)
Mistress definitely likes it better when Master’s at home with us too. She usually works hard on her computer in the study room, fingers and opposable thumbs typing away on the keyboard. Then in her free time, those same digits move and dance on the piano keys while she hums and sings to herself.
She might not be a public musician like Master, but they certainly complement each other in their talent and passion for music. If Master’s strings carry a certain gravitas and strength, then Mistress’ keys embody a gentle grace and beauty. It’s wonderful listening to them.
And of course there’s Little Master. He’s about 12 human years old, the equivalent of a young pup.
(Fine, kitten-pup. Honestly, Brahms, I wonder why I put up with you sometimes…)
And he’s learning the violin and piano like his parents too. A bit scratchy here, a bit shivery there, but he’ll grow with time.
That’s my introduction to the family of Sibelius and Brahms. We’re lucky to live with our musical family.
Then gradually our lives took a minor turn.
It started when Master returned from orchestra practice one night. Little Master was asleep at that time, but Mistress stayed awake listening to Master rant in bed. To my horror, I watched as he started sobbing incoherently while she wrapped her arms around him and soothed him with kind words. Brahms had curled at their feet purring, so I thought I’d climb into bed to warm them up too.
“Oof! Boy, you sure are heavy.” Master commented as I clambered up next to him, their bed frame creaking slightly.
I barely notice. I thought as I licked the tears off both their faces. Mm salty. But there, all better now. Spooned by Mistress and snuggled by me, his furry bolster, Master drifted off to sleep.
I didn’t know at that time, but it was his last practice with his other musician friends. He would not perform any concerts for a while.
Master was home all the time now, but he mostly kept to himself in the piano room, silent for the first few days. Then to my delight, I started to hear strains of sonatas and concertos through the closed door. Sometimes I sing along, but the music always stops suddenly when I do. It makes me sad; am I off key? Soon I stopped singing.
I also noticed he was quiet at mealtimes, while his wife and son chatted and laughed. He seemed to ignore even his human family, snapping irritable, grumpy replies when they tried to cheer him up. Robotically going about his day was strange and abnormal for someone as lively as my Master.
Even Brahms, the least musically inclined out of everyone and whose only favourite music-related pastime is grooming herself on the piano next to the metronome, started to miss our old Master. Aside from feeds and short walks, we hardly interacted with him now. Being unable to play and cuddle with him was driving us slightly crazy.
(Brahms is grooming herself next to me. Yes, she concurs with all of the above.)
Mistress always looked at us with pity and sighed sadly whenever she noticed us waiting outside the closed door. Little Master was more amused at first, but lately he has been frustratedly knocking on the door, yelling either “Dad, will you come play with me?”, “DAD, I need help with homework!”, “Daaaad...I need to practise…”
“DAAAAD...I NEED TO USE THE ROOM…”
Master ripped open the door so violently, startling both son and pets. Brahms scuttled away, her back arched and hairs bristling on end. But I sat where I was, petrified by the haunted, pained look in my Master’s red-rimmed eyes. He looked almost possessed by grief.
“Sorry, kiddo. Here.” Master mumbled and stepped out as Little Master ran in with a quick “Thanks Dad!”. The boy’s fingers flurried over the piano keys before he hopped off the stool to grab his violin. Slow down, Little Master. I thought while pacing in and out of the room. Was he worried that his father was keeping him on a time limit to use the room? Or was he rushing practice so he could go back to playing his video games?
Little Master opened the black case and removed his violin. He looked like a miniature version of Master, beaming with admiration at the clean and handsome instrument, proud to be able to play it. Never lose that awe and passion, kiddo…
“Oh! I forgot my sheet music.”
He left the violin on the piano stool and bolted out the door.
I barked a laugh. You don’t forget the sheet music, kiddo!
I heard the tinkling from Brahms’ collar bell behind me, then she overtook me to the piano.
Ah my metronome sweet spot, here I come. She gleefully purred and jumped right onto the keys, loudly banging a nonsensical chord. Clearly she was the one who needed to lose weight, not me.
(Ouch! Don’t swipe my nose, Brahms. You know it’s true…)
I anxiously yipped as Brahms stumbled over the keys. Brahms, quit your sacrilegious tottering! Little Master’s coming back soon!
I’m trying, I’m trying! Ugh it’s so difficult to balance on these keys… Brahms’ attempts at getting to the top of the piano only resulted in more tuneless arpeggios. It would have been a cute piano playing scene like the one from the old Disney movie “The Aristocats”, except now Brahms had swiped Little Master’s piano music sheets to the floor and her claws had torn through a page.
NOOO...COME DOWN, BRAHMS…
I leapt onto the piano stool. Something crunched underneath me, but I was more focused on nipping Brahms by the scruff of her neck to remove her from the piano.
OI, GET OFF ME, SIBELIUS! Brahms swiped at my nose.
The piano stool is too small for me. I think I’m gonna…
“No!” Little Master cried out as he came in just in time to see me topple from the stool, dragging Brahms down with me with a protesting yowl.
Something hit the floor next to us with a sickening CLUNK and twang. Brahms and I looked at each other wide-eyed. That clunk resonated with the fear in our bowels, a crescendoing dread building on that last twang. Please tell me that wasn’t the…
Running footsteps and Master appeared in the doorway with Mistress behind him. They took in the chaos before them.
Paw smudges and tabby cat fur on the piano. Husky dog fur on the piano stool. There was still a faint indentation of a violin on the stool cushioning, along with a couple of canine footprints.
Scattered, partially ripped music sheets on the floor.
And the violin, badly dented by canine posterior and floor impact with a broken bridge and limp strings, lying forlornly next to the tangled mess of pets staring guiltily at their owners.
It was a crime scene.
I don’t know who was whimpering, me or Little Master.
Little Master flinched when Master quietly enunciated his name. My whimpering became louder.
We’re done for. And I haven’t composed my Requiem yet.
“I...I went out for just a moment! T-t-to get my violin scores...And then when I came back...I saw...Sibelius...Brahms...and then the violin fell…” Sebastian stammered an explanation for the carnage we caused.
“And where was the violin before it fell?” Master was almost whispering. His fists were clenched. Mistress gently touched his arm but he vigorously shook her away.
Sebastian silently bit his lip, almost about to cry.
Too much tension. I’m out. Brahms proceeded to leave but relented to my low growl.
Sit your tail back down here and face the consequences with me, you tone-deaf cat!
Alright, alright, Mr I-have-perfect-pitch. More like perfect piss... Brahms hissed in retaliation, but settled herself next to me. I let that insult slide; now wasn't the time for roasts and arguments.
"Where was the violin, Sebastian?"
“The piano stool.” Sebastian hung his head and mumbled into his chest.
The demon of rage had replaced grief in Master’s eyes. He looked like a scary madman when he was angry.
“The piano stool! Why would you put it on the piano stool!? Have I not freaking taught you anything!?”
“Dad, I’m sorry!”
“James, language.” Mistress sternly warned her husband but he was on a roll now.
“DO YOU KNOW HOW EXPENSIVE A VIOLIN IS?! DO YOU KNOW HOW EXPENSIVE MUSIC LESSONS ARE?! WHAT’S THE USE OF LESSONS IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO APPRECIATE AND CARE FOR YOUR INSTRUMENT?! WHAT KIND OF A MUSICIAN ARE YOU? NOTHING, JUST A DISAPPOINTMENT!” He was roaring, foaming at the mouth. Maybe he was actually possessed.
“James, ENOUGH!” His wife firmly gripped his shoulder. Sebastian had burst into tears. I was howling too, Brahms hiding and shivering by my side.
“I SAID I WAS SORRY, DAD! Maybe if you JUST LISTENED FOR ONCE, instead of FLYING OFF THE HANDLE! I…” The boy was choking on his own tears of rage. Then he stomped out of the room, roughly pushing past his parents.
“Sebastian!” His mother called after him but he turned and pointed a defiant finger at his father.
“Screw practice. SCREW MUSIC. SCREW YOU, DAD! Clearly you love music more than you love your own son.” Sebastian coldly concluded before running to his bedroom and forcefully slamming the door.
My howling echoed with that door slam, our Requiem lamenting the broken bridges, both of destroyed violin as well as mangled relationship between father and son.
I didn’t realise my master was standing over me and Brahms until I heard his wife angrily ask:
“Are you going to take out your rage on the animals too?”
She stood in between us and him, hands folded in outrage. No, please don’t, Ma’am. He might attack you too…
The red fire had gone out from James’ eyes. He looked normal now, just tired and more haggard, with dark circles underneath his eyes.
He slowly sat on the floor opposite us, bringing his knees to his chest. Now he looked like he was about to cry.
I stopped crying. The Requiem has ended.
“Bree...what have I done?” His voice was husky, thick with emotion.
(You see what I did there, Brahms...okay never mind, she’s not impressed…)
Bree sat beside him. “Well, you shouted at our son and called him a disappointment. Our son who left his violin unattended for a moment. And while he was gone, the two composers here were trying to collaborate for their next symphony and made some collateral damage.” She nodded at me and Brahms.
At least she’s gracious. Brahms noted, licking her paw to clean her ears. I couldn’t agree more.
James shook his head and sighed.
“James, look at me.” He met her gaze hesitantly.
“I know how passionate you are about classical music. I know how much you hone your talent and skill to be able to play onstage. And not being able to go back and play in the orchestra during this COVID-19 virus lockdown period...that’s been really hard for you, right?”
James wordlessly nodded in reply, not trusting himself to say anything without breaking down in tears.
“And all that frustration, that anger, that depression...you’ve channeled it into your practice. We’ve heard you in this room.” Bree paused, reading James’ expression before continuing.
“But you’ve also been lashing it out on your family too, with your cold silences and irritable replies. And Sebastian and I...we’re finding it hard to cope with that.”
James lowered his gaze at the violin remains. Then he looked back at his wife. “I’m sorry.” He croaked, a fresh tear escaping the corner of his eye.
Bree tenderly touched his face. “You know what to do now.”
“What if Sebastian doesn’t want to speak with me…”
“Give him a few minutes to cool down before you go see him.”
“He thinks his father loves an instrument more than him…”
“And we both know that’s not true.” Bree studied James’ sorrowful face, wiping his tear-stained cheek. James nodded in agreement.
“He absolutely loves and adores you. He just...needs a gentle reminder that you do too. And a broken violin won’t change the fact that he’s your beloved son. Yes,” Bree waved her hand at the instrument. “This is costly, but violins are replaceable. Your relationship with your son...That’s priceless.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ma’am. I woofed in agreement.
“And you two! You’re gonna need a walk, to let off more energy before you cause more damage.” Bree scolded, but they were both smiling at me and Brahms.
My feline sister blinked lazily. I love you both, Ma’am, but ain’t nobody gonna make me do exercise.
Oh shut up, Brahms.
James and Sebastian had a chat after that. Safe to say, they’ve made peace, based on how Sebastian ran out of his room and happily called out. “Walkies, Sibelius! Walkies with me and Dad.”
I leapt up and down gleefully, licking his and James’ face as they attached my leash.
Bree carefully kept the violin back in its case. I wasn’t sure if it was salvageable, but it was worth a shot during their next visit to the luthier.
Brahms finally took up residence on top of the piano, napping blissfully by the metronome. Some things never change.
“What was that Youtube channel you were watching earlier, Seb?” James asked as he pushed open the front door.
“Oh, it’s called ‘Twoset Violin’! You’d love it, Dad. Their videos are hilarious and educational, plus Brett and Eddy’re classical musicians just like you. Their latest video showed…” Sebastian excitedly jabbered as his father listened intently while we walked outside.
Was this a satisfactory resolution to our musical piece? Yeah I think it was. And though we’ve broken one bridge, I’m glad to have helped restore another one.