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By Kenneth Lawson
It was there in the closet.
Where it had been for years.
But now, it seemed surreal.
The old violin case sat on a high shelf, tucked away many years. Music once played on the instrument inside flooded his mind. It had been years since he had heard the last musician to play this violin, his grandfather, the legendary violinist Raymond J. Reynolds.
His mind wandered back over the decades, flooded with the distant memories and family lore that he had heard since he was barely more than a baby. His grandfather learned to play the violin as a child, and by the time he was a teenager, he was playing sets with a wide variety of musicians and styles. Over the years, he had worked with musicians from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, to many others. He was often a featured violinist with symphony orchestras, and in the later years of his career, headlining concerts.
Grandpa’s breakthrough had been when he had taken a classic Miles Davis tune and arranged it for the violin. He remembered the night his grandpa premiered the piece. He was standing backstage watching. The concert was over, grandpa had taken his final bows, and the stage went dark.
Then a spotlight came on. His grandfather stood at center stage, accompanied not by the orchestra but by a pianist, bass, saxophonist, and drummer. He started playing. The audience gasped as they recognized the piece. From that moment on, “The other Miles” became his moniker. A new phase in his career began that night. He recorded several hit records of his original compositions and arrangements.
But that was another lifetime ago. In the last few years, arthritis and old age began to take their toll on him. It had been years since grandpa had played the violin as his fingers were too gnarled and stiff to play. He continued to teach and lecture and compose, but even with computer programs to play the notes for him, it wasn’t the same as hearing the notes coming from his own hands.
Grandpa spent the last few years in a nursing home requiring around-the-clock care. His mind was slowly leaving without him, but somewhere in the depths of it, the music always found its way out. He had insisted when he went into the home, on bringing a turntable and small speakers with him. His record collection was vast, so he kept his favorite records with him. When we visited, we would bring a new record or two for him to enjoy. The staff was wonderful, since he couldn’t handle the records or the turntable any longer, always taking special care when they played them for him. His nurses often repeated his favorite mantra, “The only music worth listening to was on vinyl.”
He opened the case and lifted the violin from its velvet resting place. The feel of the instrument in his hands seemed natural, and it was as he had played in his younger days. But he knew he was never as good as his grandfather, and he never would be. He could play the notes and make the noise, but he couldn’t make the music. His sister, on the other hand, could make the music. She had played with their grandpa in her younger years. There were tapes and videos of them playing, but she had retired from playing many years ago.
The violin itself looked almost new. Except for the small amount of dust that had managed to creep inside the case over the years. He knew it would need new strings and be re-tuned.
Hell, he didn’t know.
His grandfather had passed quietly in the night, a favorite record playing softly in the background as he drifted off to sleep.
The minster called him not long after his grandfather passed and asked that he bring the violin to display at the funeral next to the casket. His sister had requested it. He replaced the violin in its case and took it to the funeral home.
Four days later, he sat in the front pew, Linda, and her family next to him, as the room began to fill. His grandpa was widely known and respected in music, as well as in business and life. He had expected a large turnout. His grandpa had told him before his mind deserted him completely. When you live to almost 100 years old, you meet a few people along the way.
The late Raymond J. Reynolds lay in the open casket in front of the church, dressed in his finest tuxedo. An outfit most had seen him in one time or another in one of his concerts.
He had expected to see the violin on display next to the casket. It wasn’t there. He was about to ask Linda when the minister took his place behind the pulpit.
The minister began the service with a prayer, then began to talk about his grandfather’s life. As he listened to the minister tell about his years as a struggling musician, his rise to popularity and influence on future generations of musicians of all varieties, he forgot about the violin.
As the service was winding down, the minister paused as if he was stalling for time. Finally, he spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special tribute to Mr. Reynolds. Ms. Linda Reynolds, Raymond’s granddaughter, would like to play a piece on her grandfather’s violin to honor him with his violin.”
He realized that Linda had left the pew a few minutes before, crying. He thought she had gone to compose herself, but now he knew why. She walked onto the stage with their grandfather’s violin.
It had been years since she had played, yet she stood in front of several hundred people wearing her best black evening gown and playing his violin. She played their grandfather’s most famous pieces and some of his favorites and played as well as he had. There was not a dry eye in the place when the minister said final prayers and dismissed the service.
He met her in the back of the church after everyone had left. She handed him the violin. “Thank you for dropping this off here. It was easier. The minister offered to take it to the restorer for me. They were kind enough to replace the strings and get it ready very quickly for me. I wanted to surprise you.”
He handed her the violin. “No, you keep it. You deserve this far more than I do. All I ask is that you keep playing the music.” He couldn’t say more.
A thousand other thoughts crowded his mind as he tried to explain to himself why he could never play as Linda could. She had inherited his talent and would carry their grandfather’s legacy forward.
He would always have the music.