The first time it happened it was a B3. It came out, but something in the air pressed it back, and it slipped sideways and skidded off somewhere to the left. It seemed inconsequential. In fact, Lucy didn't even notice. That is: didn't-even-notice other than that her shaping, her expiring, of the B3 seemed to take a bit more energy than usual. And it might, ultimately, all have gone unnoticed, except someone walking their Samoyed in the Avenues reported seeing a B-flat. "It appeared to be struggling," the dog-walker said.
Lucy sang. In choruses, in choirs, sometimes with the Utah Opera. She was a contralto, and so the substantial opera roles were rare. Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. Straus's Salome. Verdi's Falstaff. Lower notes tend to be more errant. They take a larger and deeper breath.
Lucy lived in a city famous for its inversion, a bowl cupped into the mountains, within the foothills, and higher elevations implanted with ski resorts. Decades before, skiers descending from their canyons described the afghan they saw blanketing the city as mauve—a coloration which changed over years leading to the present as grey, then chocolate, then black. "Can you imagine breathing that?" was an echoing question.
The B3 was spotted again in Indian Hills then, less than a week later, in Sugarhouse. "It's really not a B3 anymore," one observer said. "It's more like an F2." Still, a lost-note is a lost note. It leaves a gap. It's not a thing that can be stitched. up.
In the winter of that same year, she lost a G3. At some point, in a performance of Fallstaff, it—as it is meant to—expired. But, once expired, it, seemingly, expired. Was no more. Though someone living in Indian Hills reported seeing it—in late March of the year—covered with automobile exhaust—in a melting snowbank.
For any singer of exquisite arias, the loss of notes is like the loss of words for a professor of Metaphysical Poetry. It's a kind of sonic Alzheimer's. They say the nouns go first. Perhaps in music, it's the middle range. Perhaps the middle range is assumed and, because it's assumed, it becomes unprotected. By the end of the third winter, Lucy had lost three notes.
I say lost, but that's not really accurate. Someone exhales a note and it's snatched by some foreign element in the environment. It's thrown into the back of some bakery van or tangles in tree branches like a torn kite or gets washed along a gutter.
But for the singer—she/he who voices the song—any departed note is like the kidnapping of a child. To know that it's out there, that it's no longer one's own, is a kind of deep bleeding. If one's a singer, one expires to inspire. But if inspiration becomes crude and painful, the world caroms and the word "song" begins to take on a disconnected meaning.
I'm abstracting. And shouldn't. It doesn't help. What I'm trying to observe (and perhaps underscore) is a pattern of loss. In year one, the singer loses three notes. In year two, five. In year three, eight. In year four, where is the aria? Where has it gone? The notes are there; they're out there. Thin or enfeebled, they're not gone. But in the lungs of singers like Lucy, they're like ghosts—thin and unavailable.
Here's what happens in a world of lost notes. A world where music is thin and amnesiac and damaged. Noise. Noise happens. Because for the lost notes, the only future is random. There is no plan. No shape. No inspiration. No design.
Do we want this? The loss of music? The absence of lovingly built passion?
David Kranes is a writer of seven novels and three volumes of short stories. His 2001 novel, The National Tree, was made into a film by Hallmark, which aired in November, 2009. Over 40 of his plays have been performed in New York and across the U.S. b. 1937