That evening I sat at my piano. I had to prepare Burgmüller’s “Arabesque” and Lady Allyson’s “Minuet” for my master class and recital. The Virtual Piano Camp was going to start April 17. Already in lockdown for more than a month, I woke up almost every day afraid that if I breathed the wrong way, or if my chest felt too tight, I might be stricken by the invisible monster. And if I had it, might I, too, die?
Little did I realize that piano would become my refuge. Once I put my fingers on the keys, I entered another dimension.
I was supposed to have gone to the Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp in Vermont where thirty-two pianos awaited all of us. Immersed in a world of piano, all of us were to have spent a week away from the routines of daily life. We would have listened to one another during master classes, relished individual lessons with teachers, enjoyed piano talk and, at the end of the week, performed pieces from our repertoires for our recital.
But the world was suddenly different. We were all sheltered in place, working from home, socially distant.
I found myself playing “Prelude No. 5 in E-flat Major,” a gentle moving piece by Rollin, over and over again. It helped me find solace amid the sad news I heard each day. The song also blocked the worrying sounds of ambulances on the Bronx streets. Another soul being rushed to the hospital. I said a prayer and continued to play. The gentle notes, played over the sounds of doom in the distance, soothed my fright.
Finally, virtual piano camp was launched and, after a few little Zoom glitches, everyone was online. Together, we escaped into the world of piano. But that just got me to thinking how I’d found piano camp in the first place.
I credit my boss for being my piano angel. When I celebrated thirty years at work, I was given time for a spiritual retreat. I was excited about the gift, especially since I went to a silent prayerful retreat each year. But when my boss found out I’d started taking piano lessons, he called me into his office.
“Why don’t you go to a piano retreat instead of a silent retreat, for goodness’ sake!” he said.
Next thing I knew, we’d found a piano camp in Vermont and I was on my way. After virtual piano camp, I continued to practice. As the weeks cumulated and quarantined life became the new normal, I recorded a piece and sent it to my boss to enjoy. In spite of the virus, in spite of the world being upside down, in spite of having to work remotely, I found joy and comfort in playing. Every day, after Zooming for work, I came downstairs to practice. Many people continued to get word of loved ones being rushed to the hospital.
Then on Monday, May 18, I received a call. My boss was rushed to the hospital. He’d had trouble breathing. The next day he wrote to all of us on staff: “COVID didn’t get me; just an infection. I’ll be here through the weekend to clear it up.”
I wrote him back, “We are Tough! We are Smart! Stay Vigilant!”
Immediately, I texted a dear friend who happened to be a doctor in the emergency room of the hospital. She selflessly went to see him on my behalf. She put on her protective gear, went back to the hospital, walked into his room, and found him sitting up, ready to eat.
She’d brought him a piece of cheesecake and a card from me. Besides introducing herself as one of the hospital’s doctors, she explained she knew me from our rosary prayer group. He quickly interrupted her.
“Nice,” he said, “but have you heard her play the piano?”
Three days later, on May 23, he took his last breath.
As I sit at the piano now, still shocked by the news, I play “Prelude No. 7 in B Minor” by Vandall. In his honor, I tell myself, I must play on.
Linda Morales has worked for an international trade association for thirty-three years, organizing programs and conferences around the world. Outside work she has been very active in her church and house of prayer. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, and piano. She resides in New York.