This is Michael’s story. And it begins in the middle of the night, in the hinterlands of suburban North Carolina.
Michael and his musician friends are hiking through a dark neighborhood, lugging two violins, a viola, a cello, four folding stools, collapsible music stands, and backpacks. And its chilly.
“Are we almost there?” says the cellist. “My feet hurt.”
“Keep your voice down,” says Michael, swinging his violin case at his side. “We’re almost there.”
“I don’t understand why we had to park so far away.”
“Keep your voice down. Do you realize what time it is?”
The cellist is in poor spirits. He is hauling a massive hunk of spruce-and-maple torture otherwise known as a cello. He adjusts the three-quarter-ton case. “I shoulda been a flute player.”
Meet the string quartet. Four average college kids from your average American community college. They’ve been playing chamber music together for three years.
Have you ever listened to a string quartet? Or better yet: Have you ever been awakened by a quartet playing Haydn on your front lawn at 1 A.M.? Me neither.
This was all Michael’s idea.
Michael has a severe case of lovesickness. Lovesickness, according to the dictionary, is the inability to act normally due to love. And tonight’s events are definitely not normal.
Although for 19-year-old Michael, this is more than mere fascination. He has been dating Eleana for one year and he hopes to marry her someday.
Michael and Eleana had an argument last week. And in the way of disagreements, theirs was Hiroshima. Pride got in the way. Feelings got hurt. He’s been lost without her. Eleana won’t take his calls. He tries texting, but she doesn’t answer.
Which leads us to Covert Operation Haydn.
Tonight’s makeshift string section sets up in a semicircle on Eleana’s front lawn. Michael is nervous. His hands are trembling when he opens his violin case.
Life is not like the romance movies. Rational people don’t do stuff like this—which Michael keeps reminding himself. This is insanity.
But actually, it’s not insane. The tradition of serenading lovers from front lawns dates back to olden times. This archaic practice harkens from ancient Spain, and it is still alive and well in Mexico.
Another recent example of a moonlight serenade happened when LA woman, Patty Trejo, had a Mariachi band serenade her husband who was in Saint Jude’s Medical Center, battling COVID-19. Patty’s husband was in a coma, attached to a ventilator, and unresponsive.
The mariachi band gathered outside his hospital window. And when the guitarónnes played, her husband astounded doctors by opening his eyes. Whereupon Patty threw her arms around her spouse of 38 years and cried until she couldn’t.
Don’t tell me music isn’t supernatural.
And now our quartet is warming up. They are erecting music stands, adjusting music lamps, tuning instruments quietly.
A few backyards away, some sprinklers start spraying. Michael is silently praying no sprinklers suddenly erupt beneath them during their performance—at least not until the second movement.
The viola player rosins her bow. She whispers. “This feels so weird.”
The lead violin rests an arm on Michael’s shoulder. “Well, I think it’s totally romantic, dude.”
Michael can hardly swallow his spit. “Maybe this was a bad idea, guys.”
Tonight, the quartet has selected Haydn’s String Quartet Opus 76 No. 5. Not because it’s beautiful music per se, but because it’s easy to play.
First rule of serenading your true love: don’t suck.
“She’s totally gonna love it,” says Viola.
“Yeah,” says Cello. “This is gonna be cool, Michael.”
And suddenly it’s time.
In the quiet moments before the music begins, an eternity passes within Michael’s nervous brain. He’s having second thoughts.
Even so, there comes a time in every man’s life when he finds himself at a point of no return. He must go forward, or go home. All fear and trepidation must give way to adventure. To heck with consequences.
“Ready?” says Lead Violin.
“Ready,” is the collective response.
Everyone takes a deep inhalation.
Somewhere in suburban America, four teenagers bow a masterpiece that was composed by deft hands in 1797. They play beneath the awesome stripe of the Milky Way, accompanied by distant cha-cha-cha of lawn sprinklers.
The opening movement is allegretto, played fairly brisk.
A porch light illuminates from across the street. A few more window lights wink on. Soon, neighbors are watching. Some are videoing with cell phones. Others stand on the curb in PJs.
Michael is not looking at Eleana’s window, he’s too busy reading music. But if he were able to look upward, he would see his beloved as she tosses open her window and listens with her two sisters and mother beside her. They are all smiles.
But Michael is too busy right now, playing “con spirito.” He’s playing from his heart. He is playing for her.
At times when he bows familiar passages he plays with eyes closed tightly. Because all love is art, you see. And in an era of pandemics, explicit anger, and uncut sadness, we need art. We need it badly.
And so it was, for 19 minutes, a few college kids introduced Haydn into our indifferent world, beneath the glowing moon.
Their music was followed by light applause. Which was followed by a spectacular kiss shared between Michael and Eleana.
In his email, Michael finished his story by writing: “I’m super glad my mom made me take violin lessons.”
Me too, Michael.