All the Notes, All the Ghosts

My music is a ghost.

It's dead just as soon as I take the clarinet mouthpiece away from my lips. My ears and brain become like a coffin without a physical corpse, only the memories of the notes that traveled upon sound-waves to reach them, just as ghosts travel upon their own afterlife pathways to come to us and nestle in our eyes and our brains.

Even if I were to record the music I'm playing on my clarinet, that, too, would become a ghostly echo of its former self, and the true sadness of it all is that you would never be able to experience what I experience when I play.

The whole act of putting together my clarinet, how many times I have lifted it from its own soft coffin-bed of plushness inside the black case, assembled its joints and bones together like an ebony and silver skeleton, then tasted the faint woodiness of the reed before placing it upon the mouthpiece, like adding eyes to a doll.

Suddenly, there is aliveness and all that entails.

And when I play it, I am as electrified and one with it as if I'd poured my soul into each of its keys. My breath, a ghost of its own, slips past the air-holes to contain parts of my soul that disperse, ether-like, into the air.

I send these note-ghosts out into the world, and they charm me first before traveling to others' ears.

Upon its dark stand my sheet music sits. The black notes on the stark white page are like gaping eye sockets in a skull. I can read the secret language of music in there, a code cryptic to many but fortunately clear for me and any other who can read music. I've often longed for a similar code to 'read' ghosts in the same fashion.

Just imagine such a skill!

Upon the sudden moment of death, we'd each produce something equivalent to sheet music, with the same rules for deciphering, and all you'd have to do is assemble the proper tool for the reading.

Ah, but such a thing does not exist, and so the only sheet music that ghosts leave behind for us to decode them and figure them out ... is the brief encounters that they share with us.

I cannot help myself. I must become a creator of more musical ghosts, more pieces to play that disappear into the vapored air.

I must play more!

I wish I could just stuff the clarinet away, put it back in its case and lock it tightly, keep it in there so that it lies permanently silent, permanently dormant.

Yet I cannot.

I am haunted by unheard memories tormenting me with their insistent reminders that I did not play the previous piece well enough.

Did you not recall how you squeaked in the fifth measure, the sound like a startled mouse's yelp?

Did you keep perfect time with the metronome? Did you not get the staccato notes perfectly, your tongue thudding against the reed like a dull axe on winter bark?

So, I must, I must, I must return to it again. It is a new day to practice, and I will practice if I am to ever stop the haunting, stop the insistent mute whining that continually persecutes any stolen moments of silence. I find it exceedingly ironic that I long for a music-less state of being in my brain, when that it is as far from a state as can be imagined in my head. I am at its mercy, insofar as I can tell.

I must assemble the monster from its dead parts, I must re-wet the reed with my saliva

to reanimate its former plant soul, I must slide the reed onto the mouthpiece and crank the ligature to clamp it down like buckles on a mad patient's bed. I must put it to my lips, I must place my fingers over the air-holes, and I must take a breath - a single action no ghost can ever perform - and I must practice.

The ascension from amateur to master is as difficult as the journey through all seven levels of hell, and I swirl ever downwards through my succession of pages and practices and ghost after ghost after ghost of former played pieces. They live so briefly it can be measured in measures. And then they are dead, never to be heard again.

It'd be easier if I could play the same piece twice, but I can't. I'd take a stamp with permanent ink and stamp that one time I played it so beautifully it seemed the pinnacle of anything living or beyond. But alas, that practice session is just another ghost. It lives and lives again only in my memory. Like a ghost reminds us of the person it once embodied, so, too, does that memory embody such a practice session. A husk of a former entity.

When I die, I shall be in a real coffin, perhaps of gleaming mahogany, a plush lining to hold my bones all assembled and as cozily nestled as my clarinet in its case. Lay me to rest with sheet music, so that my eye sockets may gaze eternally upon the only cipher needed to read my cryptic soul. In the living time, I devoted so much of my natural talents and passions to playing music, that it's only fitting that my ghost should need it as well.

And, after I have departed from this world, I bestow this well-intentioned curse upon anyone who perchance happens to pick up my clarinet.

Let you be the one to feel my memories. Let you be the one haunted by such an intense desire to practice and perfect. Let you be the one to hear my ghost in each of your breaths. Let you be so overwhelmed by such a strong presence that you may be tempted to put it back in its case.

Fear not! Let your anxieties subside, and play.

Play for the dead.

Play for me.