My piano teacher, Miss Olya, lives in a music box of blue stucco. The grounds are piped with jonquils and white peach trees, the latter of which are shrouded by black mesh to deter wayward snackers. Each week, I follow a cobbled path to the gate and unlatch it with quavering fingers. Sandals are shed upon the welcome mat, and imminent company calculated from the array of shoes: brown mules with a brass buckle (Asian mother with taste), smallish dirt-dusted sneakers (the youngest boy in the studio), clogs bound by velcro (Asian mother of shabbier variety). Wisps of sound escape through the mail slot.
The studio has the look and texture of a pumpernickel loaf, with walls and cushions dressed in some variation of fawn or honey. The smell of beige-colored Kosher foods wafts from the kitchen; cabbage potage, smoked whitefish, and sweet-potato pancakes meld into a nostril-tickling tang. A wave of reassuring warmth accompanies the recollection that Olya is a soup-maker first, and an instructor second.
Sturdy shelves blanket the wall opposite the entry, packed with Henle and Schirmer editions of everything from suites to sonatas, preludes to partitas. Hal Leonard's latest Guide to Solo Repertoire nestles dictionaries in French, Italian, and Russian, all of which are bookended by the stoic busts of Haydn and Bach. I am not limited in my choice of pre-lesson reading, however: the coffee table overflows with the tattered adventures of Charlie Brown and Garfield.
To maintain musicality in the restroom, Olya hangs fanciful art on its walls. I am most partial to the painting of a fat Titian beauty strumming a lute; beside it, a curio case displays Korean opera masks that quite resemble Easter eggs. Two more composer-busts guard the sink, locked in a staring contest with the masks. Their glare warns me me not to butcher their handiwork.
I assume my usual spot on the bench and arrange my books with particularity. Pieces that promise the most head-patting are stacked on top, while incipient ones sink to the bottom in a natural emulsion. A mobile of toothpick parasols - the kind found atop tropical drinks - pirouettes above, despite the still air. It has a life of its own, like every other item in this inspiriting place. Here, Olya and I breathe life into silence.
Plum amongst her pictures is a formidable portrait of Beethoven. Fury flows from every charcoal crevice of his face. Yet his eyes are turned upward - toward heaven, perhaps. I lift my own eyes to the oatmeal-flecked ceiling and send my regards before facing the music.