Music bestowed to a child at birth.  “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” by Mitch Alborn (January 2023)

Susan's Thursday morning note January 12,2023
Music bestowed to a child at birth.  “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” by Mitch Alborn

Good morning.  Silence broken from clicking of keys.  Warm coffee.  Frosted windows.  The angel of dawn almost decided not to venture to the window this morning to peer in, but faithfully she peers, handing the gift of today.  Sunshine in her hair giving again the promise of spring after winter.  Waiting.  The quiet of winter.  The gift of this quiet morning.  A book to sitting next to my coffee mug.  The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Alborn.  I first read this author when he wrote on visiting his college professor and watching the death process of someone he loved in Tuesdays with Morrie.  This new book mesmerized me from page one.  The narrator of the book being Music himself.   I will write out for you lines that have replayed in my mind.  One the gift of music being bestowed to infants.  On this gift then handed back to Music on death to be then given to a new infant.  On our lives interactions with others being compared to bands.  A scene during the Spanish War of a mass shooting and burial overlooked by two teenagers.  Their playing music at the scene and making flowers for the mass grave out of guitar strings.  I hope you can get a sense of the beauty of this book by my trying to find the right words to retype for you this morning. 

I am Music.  And I am here for the soul of Frankie Presto.  Not all of it.  Just the rather large part he took from me when he came into this world.  However well used, I am a loan, not a possession  You give me back upon departure.  I will gather up Frankie’s talent to spread on newborn souls.  And I will do the same with yours one day.  There is a reason you glance up when you first hear a melody, or tap your foot to the sound of a drum.  All humans are musical.  Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?

Of course, some of you get more of me than others.  Bach, Mozart, Jobim, Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton, Philip Glass, Prince – to name but a few of your time.  In each of their cases, I felt their tiny hands at birth, reaching out, grabbing me.  I will share a secret: this is how talents are bestowed.  Before newborns open their eyes, we circle them, appearing as brilliant colors, and when they clench their tiny hands for the first time, they are actually grabbing the colors they find most appealing.  Those talents are with them for life.  The lucky ones (well, in my opinion, the lucky ones) choose me.  Music.  from that point on, I live inside your every hum and whistle, every pluck of a string or plink of a piano key.  I cannot keep you alive.  I lack such power.  But I infuse you. 

…Everyone joins a band in this life.  Only some of them play music…Not even beginnings have beginnings.  Take the prelude, an established form of musical composition.  Today, it can be beautiful and elaborate, a song unto itself,, yet originally, in its beginning, a prelude was something an Italian lute player in the sixteenth century called tastar de corde, “testing the strings.”  Not very poetic, but accurate.  One must indeed test the strings in this life, bounce the bow, wet the mouthpiece, prepare for the deeper music that follows.

Talent is a piece of God’s shadow.  And under that shadow, human stories intersect.

Scene at mass shooting and burial in woods during Spanish War – overlooked by main character, Frankie, and a young girl who showed him what was going on:

…With the rumbling engine drowning out any sound, the soldiers silently threw the bodies in the hole, one atop the other, with no more emotion that dockworkers unloading crates.  They returned to the truck and brought out long metal shovels.  Minutes later, enough dirt had been thrown on the corpses that Frankie and the girl could no longer see them.  The soldiers didn’t speak.  They just packed the dirt with the back of their shovels and stomped on it with their feet. Once finished, they hurried back into the truck, pulling the doors shut as it rumbled away. 

Suddenly it was terribly quiet, as if the earth itself were too stunned to breathe.  I know this sound; silence is part of music.  But just because something is silent doesn’t mean you aren’t hearing it. 

Frankie looked at the girl.  A single tear fell down her cheek.  As she stared at the freshly covered graves, she put her hands together in front of her and spoke in a soft, deliberate voice.  Her words were from the Catholic ritual of Sancta Missa:  “’Come in haste to assist them, you saints of God.  Come in haste to meet them, you angels of the Lord.  Enfold in your arms these souls, and take your burden heavenward to the most high.’”

She wiped the tear away with a knuckle.  “We can climb down now…Play for them…Something that says we won’t forget them.” 

Had you watched the scene from a distance, it might have seemed odd, two children near a mass grave, one playing the guitar, one listening, the sun hot in the sky, the tracks of a Spanish army truck still fresh in the dirt..  But I saw something else.  I saw a boy all but bending the strings in a girl’s direction.  it was the first time Frankie presto attempted to give his music to someone else.  Which is how I knew he was in love.

“We should put flowers on this grave,” the girl said.  “All right.”  “Do you see any?”  “What about those?”  “Those are weeds.”  “You can’t use weeds?”  “No.  They’re ugly.”  They stood in silence.  Frankie looked at his guitar.  “There were six people, right?”  “Yes.”  “I know what we can do.”  He lowered his guitar and began twisting a tuning peg backward.  He untied the string from its peg and its bridge.  With the loose string in is hand, he squatted down and the girl squatted with him.  He looped the string several times, then bent it a t a ninety-degree angle and tied it all in place, creating a stem that stuck down from the circles  He pushed the end into the ground and pressed it with two small stones so it stood upright.  “A flower,” the girl marveled.  “So they can go to heaven,” Frankie said.  “But now you can’t play.”  Frankie knew she was right. Still, he loosened another string, then another and another.  “Can I try?” the girl asked.  They squatted together.  They made five more string flowers and spread them around the dirt that covered the bodies  Then they stood and rubbed the dirt away.  The sun lowered in the sky.  The girl mumbled a small prayer and Frankie repeated her words, even though he didn’t comprehend them.  As they gazed at the grave, she hooked her fingers in Frankie’s.  He squeezed hers in return.  There are moments on earth when the Lord smiles at the unexpected sweetness of His creation.  This was one of those moments.

Everyone joins a band in this life. One way or another, the band breaks up.” – The author keeps this theme throughout the book describing all the relationships we enter.  Children, Friendship, Marriage, Parents, Friends.  All change through each stage of our life.  He calls each of these a separate band we played in during our life.  I love that thought. 

When our character as a child was sent to America on a ship he was smuggled out of the country because of war.  The note his music teacher/caregiver left him stated, “Francisco – It is time for you to leave.  It is too dangerous here.  This is your papa’s wish.  He loves you and will find you one day.  I am sorry that I cannot continue to teach you.  But you can teach yourself now.  Find your aunt in America.  When you need money, play your guitar.  if you miss me, as I will miss you, close your eyes and play the strings that I gave you.  I will be in your music always.  Maestro.  His teacher died the same day he smuggled his student/child onto the ship.

Look at the time.  Look at the church.  Look at the pallbearers, each of them one of Frankie’s students over they ears, younger men and women, sad faces in ark clothing. I said at the start that I would sprinkle Frankie’s talent on other souls.  But he has done it already.  It is inside those young ones who carry his casket, and in the older musicians who traveled all this way to say good-bye, and in the millions of people who have heard his songs or tried to imitate his playing, and in the hearts of his adoring daughter and the children she will bear, and their children, ad their children’s children, who will hear Frankie’s greatest playing – a and laughter with his family from tapes mad e long ago.  I leave you now, and return to my eternal task, awaiting newborns and their tiny open hands…As I depart, I should confess  it is not in the bones.  Nor in the lips or the lungs or even in the hands.  I am Music.  And Music is in the connection of human souls, speaking a language that needs no words. Everyone joins a band in this life.  And what you play always affects someone.  Sometimes it affects the world.  Frankie’s symphony ends. And so, at last, we rest.

Music.  Each stage of our life being a different band we are playing with.  There are moments on earth when the Lord smiles at the unexpected sweetness of His creation.  Moments unexpected.  Why is it certain scenes stay our entire lives in our minds as we lay down to sleep?  Moments when the Lord smiled.   Moments of beauty.  Of music.  Of band members.  Of notes.  Of silences.  Of rests.   All of our lives a musical composition.  I am Music.  I love that line.  Music being clutched by a newborn hands.  Another band would be newborns that grabbed the gift of art.  Of cooking.  The gift of the mind.  Of inquisition.  Writings that would begin, I am… – each ending with the gift each child clutches.  Each talent.  Each bringing moments the Lord will smile as the different benefactors hand their gifts.  Life.  So beautiful.  So complex.  So hard.  So easy.  So everything.  Thank you for letting me again enter your Thursday morning.  For coming to our store.  For your friendships.  Look to the heavens for strength that is promised.  Look into the little one’s eyes.  Notice the little black squirrel determined to get out of his nest a few moments and play in the snow.  Notice the hawk as he flies with the white background of the field.  Notice.  Beauty everywhere if we only notice.  Susan 

Latin for this week:
Musica Donum Dei – Music is a Gift from God
musica remedium optimumm mentis maerentis – music is the cure for a sorrowful mind
oemusica vita est – music is life
Verbis defectis musica incipit – music springs from failing words