His Note

By Christopher R. Whalen


"Grandpa, you can't and you know that you can't."


He paused. He was standing on the stage at Carnegie Hall, his back to the audience. He was facing a full big band, one that would have put any Miller or Goodman band to shame and more specifically he was standing in front of his drummer, who also happened to be his granddaughter.


He stared into granddaughter's beautiful eyes. They were the same as his wife's.


"Grandpa, you can't and you know that you can't."


"Honey, I have to. This is the main reason why they are here. They came to hear that note, my note."


"You needed assistance to get on the stage today. They will understand that it is too much for you. The doctors said it would probably kill you."


He was 82 and would be 83 in ten days.


The note that they were all waiting to hear was from a song he had written and sung fifty years earlier. To this day it was almost a national anthem. Parents taught it to their children as soon as they could speak. The nation had embraced this song to the extent that each person that heard it was left with an indelible emotional mark within his or her heart. 


The ending, which included the note, his note, was at the end of an emotional crescendo that had left every audience he had ever performed in front of, in tears. This included six presidents. This song, with his note, had not made him wealthy. It did make him famous but it also left him with an immense responsibility whenever he performed it.


He had come out of retirement for one last performance. He had been offered an incredibly large amount of money to perform this one last time, and he had taken this last chance to properly provide for his children and children's children. The concert was being simulcast worldwide and it was estimated that one billion people would be watching him.


He turned to face his audience of one billion. Those seated in the audience, as well as those comfortable in their homes were silently staring at him, some with mouths agape, as if they were in the presence of the messiah. This would be his second and last encore of the night, as it always was.


He closed his eyes, as he always did at the start of his song, and raised his right arm parallel with the floor.


There was a communal soft gasp from the audience. Not the type of gasp that is heard when a verdict of guilty is given nor the type of gasp when a mother is told that her child was stillborn, but the gasp of a five year old upon unwrapping the one present she had asked Santa for.


A five year old in the audience would later recall that he looked like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, only with his left hand at his side.


He started to sing his song, which include his note, a cappella. There was no movement or sound from anywhere in that chamber, on stage or off.


The band, including his granddaughter, came in perfectly after the first verse.


He felt the heat of the footlights and headlights as he slowly moved to the front of the stage. He could vaguely see hands being raised to swollen tear-filled eyes as he strolled.


He sang the chorus and sounded as strong as an 18 year old just out of basic training from Paris Island.


The tempo is raised during the bridge and the entire piece is brought up one full octave. He rode it perfectly and then he was only two bars away from the finale.


Suddenly, all in a microsecond, he thought back fifty years to the old two-room apartment he had shared with his wife in Harlem. His wife had just thrown a dishrag at him and stormed out of the door. She was angry as he hadn't gone to work and she was literally down to her last dime. He had explained that there was something that he had to write and that she should know what that meant. She screamed that it was time to grow up and accept the truth about his nonexistent musical career.


His daughter began to cry in her crib. She had been awakened by the violent shaking of the wall that the slamming front door had caused, as well as from the sonic boom type sound it had made.


He left his paper and pencil at the kitchen table and went to his daughter and picked her up. He loved her. She had his wife's eyes.  He walked back to the kitchen table, his one-year-old daughter now lying on his chest as he leaned back in the chair.


He closed and rubbed his eyes and gently rocked his daughter unconsciously. The window overlooking 135th street was open and he could hear the traffic five floors below. He felt his daughter shake the way some babies do when they have fallen asleep just after they cry, and that was when it came to him.  To this very moment, he still did not know from where it came but his pencil was suddenly frantically flying across his blank music paper. The music for multiple instruments and his lyrics seemed to pour from the lead at the tip of his pencil. He filled fourteen pages and then he could write no more. He took himself, and his beautiful daughter to his bedroom and there they fell asleep until morning.


Within eight weeks he would be world famous……..

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