A Star Tribune serialized novel by Richard Horberg

Chapter 5 continues

The story so far: An encouraging letter from his best friend boosts Allen's spirits.

Early conversation involved the guests — where they came from, what their interests were, what they liked about the school and the town. Patty Porter, wearing an orange blouse, a pink bow at her throat and a red skirt, insisted that she absolutely loved the people in the town — the kindest and warmest people she'd ever encountered in her life. Dave Meyers, a trace of shadow under his eyes, said with a smile that he liked the waffles on Saturday night at The Food Box. Allen, listening to the conventional responses of the others, wondered if they were being tested. When his turn came, he said he liked the interesting way in which the streets were laid out, not in the usual grid pattern but with attractive angles and even curves. "I've gotten lost more than once," he said, laughing at himself.

Jack Palmer joined him in laughter. "Honey," he said to his wife across the table, "isn't this the most interesting group we've encountered so far?"

"And the loveliest," his wife said.

Jack sipped a glass of water and looked up with a bright smile. "To tell the truth, I had hoped that some of you would mention music. When you live here a little longer, you'll understand that this is a musical town. Accordions, pianos, violins, flutes, saxophones, clarinets — we have them all. And not just in school. Walk around the town on a summer night when the windows are open and you'll hear them — our townspeople practicing. Or playing for their families." Allen reflected that so far he'd heard nothing on his walks except silence. But then, of course, it was no longer summer.

Jack recited the same list of musical groups that Allen had heard from Orville Christianson. "We hope to have more ensembles soon," he said, "quartets, trios, duets — instrumental and vocal, it doesn't matter. We hope to have more concerts and recitals. As I always say" — he gave them his broad smile — "a town that sings together clings together."

Dave laughed. "I've heard that a little basketball helps too."

"Indeed, indeed. But basketball is not at the same level, Dave. Basketball is entertainment, a game. Music is cultural, a way of life."

Patty Porter said she couldn't agree more.

They were all asked if they played a musical instrument. Two of the grade-school teachers played piano, one the violin, Patty Porter had played the tuba in her high school band and Dave played the harmonica — rather badly, he said. Allen confessed that he'd taken accordion lessons when he was a child.

"Good, good, good," Jack Palmer said. "I invite you all to visit band practice — whenever you can make it. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon following school."

When dinner was finished, the children came in again, dressed as cowboys this time, carrying dessert for everybody — apple pie with ice cream. After they passed out the plates, they lined up and sang "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" and "Cool, Clear Water," a little off-key Allen thought, the youngest one forgetting some of the words.

"Wonderful!" Patty exclaimed. "Marvelous! I've heard of singing waiters, of course, but I've never seen anything like this."

Jack Palmer was very pleased. He glanced questioningly at his wife, who after a moment nodded. "I don't do this often, believe me," he said, "but I'm going to tell you my dream." The children, as though on cue, retreated and stood side by side along the wall. A wistful look came into Jack's eyes.

"My dream is to bring music not only into the homes and the school and the churches of this town, but to the streets and back yards as well. Music will be our language." He winked. "When housewives talk over the back fence while hanging out clothes, I'd like them to — if I may use the word — harmonize. Seriously now — seriously. Think of it." He took a moment to look at each of them, his eyes eager.

"When neighbors meet on Main Street, they'll whistle a little tune to each other. When they order merchandise in the stores, or meals in the restaurants, they'll do it as sopranos, tenors or altos. They'll carry instruments with them — guitars and flutes and horns" — he looked up — "and mouthorgans too, Dave. They'll stop on the street to play solos for their neighbors. They'll get together, impromptu style, and play duets. Four men who hardly know each other will become a quartet. Three women, a trio. Can you imagine it — a town where music is the principal language. We'd be written up in all the big city papers. We might even make the New Yorker."

"Oh," Patty said, "it takes my breath away."

"It's possible," Jack insisted. "It's entirely possible."

Dave Meyers laughed. "What about the people who are tone deaf?" he asked. "What about people who don't have any musical talent?"

"There are no such people, Dave. If you can talk, you can sing. If you can breathe, you can blow a horn. If you have hands, you can play a violin or a guitar or a harp — or, like Patty, the tuba. I believe that. As a believer in education, I believe that everybody can learn to sing and play a musical instrument. After all, what would life be like without a song."

"Without a song," sang Patty, unabashedly, "the day would never end."

Jack joined in. "Without a song, a man ain't got a friend."

Everybody applauded.

"I'm going to take it a step further," he said, encouraged, his eyes brighter than ever. "How would it be if the entire curriculum of the school was based on music? Centered on music?"

Tomorrow: Chapter 5 continues.