Tag Archives: signs

The Zephyr.

Today was the warmest one yet – the kind that made us all sure we’d really survived another killer winter. And, sunny? Many thought God had a special place in his heart for the Young Peoples’ Chorus of Erie, especially those in attendance at their spring concert. They were sure he’d provided such beautiful weather just for the children.

And, this being my third stint as guest obbligato cello soloist for these beautifully trained young voices, I was glad to be sitting in the shade of their shining day.

I’d followed my usual routine, eating pasta primavera at precisely two and a half hours out, setting the hair, running the tough licks once more, and arriving at call to watch the wall clock carefully until it hit exactly one hour from my tune’s downbeat. For the propranolol, ten milligrams, because a racing heart meant a bobbling bow and vibrato out the wazoo, and all the seasoned players knew how to calculate fear out of the equation because this is how we all rolled.

Today, I sat in my assigned spot off to the side of the Lutheran sanctuary, left hand gloved, program beside me on the carved straight backed bench two feet from the cross on the pole and two more from the velvet prayer altar.

The total body experience of live performance really can’t be described fully. It’s kind of a time warp beholden to opposing forces. Fifty percent intense desire; fifty resistance. Wanting, so, to make something beautiful; needing to run and do anything but this, anything else, oven cleaning. Years of archaic indoctrination running headlong into the quest for the ideal: producing a perfect, even transcendent, rendition of somebody else’s music.

From childhood, I’d been what they called a “natural.” Dad’s inborn talent manifest in me tenfold. Rarely a day went by that I did not spend, compulsively, hours at a time, playing the piano and singing. Later, the cello – the master, the lover, the second skin of my soul.

But, traditional training never knew anything but demand. Getting it right. Matching the composer’s intent. Reading the notes on the page. What a curiosity, notation, really. At once a mathematical template and a symbolic language for the aural definition of beauty. Playing “by ear” was what Dad did, and what we all did in our family; but, reading and interpreting the written version of what we loved happened someplace else in the brain and, unlike my father before me, I’d learned to know the difference.

This year’s choral selection featuring cello came with its part written entirely in treble clef. I’d taken one look at the music, and chosen to waste no time rewriting it in bass and tenor. And, I’d used whatever makeshift printer paper I had on hand; invariably, standard drug store white got the job.

Sitting on the carved bench as the children began their program, my gloved hand felt hot in the warming room and I felt the familiar OCD starting to creep. Fairly new at the medicating routine, I’d noticed this phenomenon coming off the migraine drug, as well, a pill I’d been forced to take earlier that day. But, years of perfectionism raged; I must not look at the music before the performance. I must not fixate on the descending shift, lest it jump at me from the page en route. This, I’d learned the hard way, could sabotage even the most diligently prepared passagework. And, the children had come ready to sing. They deserved the best.

And, the sound of them. Their Anglo-Saxon tonal purity rivaled the heavenlies. They belonged in Westminster Abbey. I simply must match their offering. The perfect spring day required it.

I’d been raised on prayer. Prayer on the knees, before bed. Prayer over every meal. Prayer before every trip on the highway. Maybe it was the velvet prayer altar, or the cross on the pole. But, I prayed. And this time, I asked God to just play the music for me.

And, then, I was up.

Dead center they’d placed me this year, right under the director’s eye. I sat down, positioned my two sheets of hand-written music on the stand, chirped my strings one last time, and nodded to the director.

The piece, “In The Night We Shall Go In”, by Imant Raminsh, began with the lone voice of the cello, stating the motif. And, then elaborating that motif, through repetition and a modal contour that resolved in sustain, setting the tonal stage for the young peoples’ vocal cue.

But, something else was making an entrance.

I hadn’t even reached the second motive statement before noticing it. The music. The top left corner of the page began to flutter, as if in a breeze. Yet, the church was packed; there was no air moving, anywhere.

In nearly thirty years of live performance, I’d sung in a pop band, played in church – for services, weddings, full orchestral concerts, funerals. Been a regular fixture in the throng on the Warner stage. But, what happened next I may never be able to explain.

The corner of the music continued to gently puff away. Then, just as I headed into the contour of the line, the page lifted itself entirely from the stand and flew to the floor.

I looked up at the director, Gabrielle, whose eyes only faintly delivered recognition, whose mouth only slightly turned its corners, whose face rightly sought the childrens’ undivided attention. A young girl sitting in the second pew entered my field. But, she didn’t move. Nobody moved. “The show must go on”. The director kept phrasing the beat, and the children kept singing.

And, I kept playing.

Or, my bow kept moving. And, my fingers followed.

And, the verse played out.

No small marvel, this. Not only that the room was devoid of noticeable air flow, that the music had begun to move, and then the float to the floor, but that I.kept.playing.

And, then, it happened again.

On page two. Only this time, my bow suspended on the B – natural fermata, alone on the precipice, choir tacet, just ahead of the descending octave shift to recapitulation. Up went page two. And, down. Paper, face to the floor.

I played the entire theme.

Or……….God did?

*    *    *    *

A piece about omens had come to me the other day, and I’d closed it asking the Almighty for the kind of sign that would stop me cold.

I think I got one.

And, it knocked the wind right out of me. Right on the wings of the sunniest day of spring.


“Let Go, and let God.”






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

5/3/15  all rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.


Dropping Your Sunglasses.

Mammy was the family saint. She always had a smile, a cheery, chatty story, and a deep peace. But she was also profoundly intuitive, perhaps even psychic.

As a child of the late 1800s in eastern Pennsylvania, my grandmother’d enjoyed the “Key Game”……one blindfolded, spun around, then sent – still with the blindfold on – to find the key hidden by the room full of players. And, who could say how she always found it, every time, and quickly.

Yes; Mammy was a source of comfort and encouragement to a vast extended progeny, primarily through daily, hourly prayer. But, she was also quite superstitious. Long after putting aside the deck of cards when, as a young girl, she converted to the life of a Christian, she retained several “beliefs”.

One of them concerned omens. Mammy always knew that, if a bird fluttered by your window, you needed to stop and pray for the safety and protection of all your loved ones. And, this, along with other signs, she took as seriously as she did a direct answer to supplication when it came her way.

In the days before my mother died of cancer, lying in the hospice bed brought into her room at home, a crow appeared in the back yard. The bird was lame, unable to fly, only walking slowly across the yard. This omen was impossible to ignore and, in spite of my fragile faith, I knew my mother would soon pass.

Decades earlier, our dog, Nero, had been a lively part of our family. The day I’d come home and was met by an eager wagging tail and a face, that face still branded in my memory, of a beseeching, sweet animal who wanted to chase the stick, me too busy at that moment, bounding instead into the house – at that very second, something told me that this would be the last time Nero would ask me to play. Sure enough, two days later, our precious dog was dead of a flipped stomach, my pleas that she be lifted by someone strong enough and carried to the vet ignored by everyone.

The year my beloved father moved in with me, I’d searched for a daytime caregiver to supplant my efforts while at work finishing up the school year. One girl I’d been directed to contact by a woman who overheard me in the drugstore. She came so highly recommended that I could not ignore the opportunity. But, the day she showed up at the front door and I looked into her face, there was a grey shadow that crossed her countenance. A sensation passed through my chest and out the other side. Though I couldn’t know at the time, she would be the prime suspect in a household theft discovered days later, with only my 94 year old father as witness.

Last Christmas I took a trip south, to visit my brother and his family and to check out the baby grand piano that was waiting on hold for my perusal. Upon entering the dealer’s showroom, I removed my sunglasses and looked around at the setting in the lobby. In a few minutes, the salesman with whom I had spent many email exchanges preparing for this moment appeared. Lean, taller than me, balding and bow tied, he extended his hand. As I reached to grasp it, my sunglasses fell to the floor.

Bending down to pick them up, I had yet another of those infinitesimal moments. The same feeling I’d had so many times before tore through me like a fleeting current, so brief so as to be almost undetectable, as if my body intended to process and discard it before my mind could react. This was yet another sign, and another foreboding.

And, typically, I disregarded the omen. Following the salesman into the room, I would subject myself to a power of persuasion so overtaking that months would pass before I would fully grasp what had happened to me.

Today, I sit facing a legal scene that will likely take weeks of my most precious thought hours, impacting my productive quality and every aspect of my more nourishing anticipations. And, I can’t help but look at my Mammy’s face, in photograph and illustration, and feel her gentle admonishments, and implore her intercession one more time on my behalf. And, I ask the Almighty for an even bigger sign the next time, one that might slap me right in my tracks and make me feel the pain. Far better a momentary hurt than half a lifetime of regret.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

5/1/15  all rights the author’s. Sharing allowed upon request. Thank you.