The novel will be published by Harvard Square Editions during the 2018-19 publishing cycle, and already has received praise by individuals in the academic and music communities.
Here is an excerpt. In this scene, the child, Luis, meets his great teacher, Neefe, for the first time. After years of having musical training forced upon him, often accompanied by beatings, the boy has a different kind of experience in store:
Two teachers gone, now Luis had begun studying with a person of true merit: the fairly new court musical director, Chris Neefe (pronounced NAY-fuh), from the eastern states. Seems like a solid musician, strong background in theater, too. Knows his Bach, for sure. Not surprising, since he’s a Protestant, wonder how that will work out with the court over time, John mused erratically as his quill flew over the pages. So, less with the monks, more with the court, where the money is. This tour will help, no doubt.
Luis at this very moment was entering the music room where Chris Neefe, in his early 30s, sat at his piano, his back to the door. The tall, thin musician had a deformity to his spine which gave him a crooked appearance overall. His long arms tapered down into thin fingers, some which were twisted like claws, that flew over the keyboard, releasing the fragrance of the Well-Tempered Clavier into the stuffy atmosphere. Luis sneezed, and Neefe stopped, quickly looking over his lower shoulder. It took a few seconds for his spirit to cool, but soon, his expression turned to one of kind concern and tenderness. “Come here, boy,” he motioned the child towards him. “Ah, what did you think of that?”
Luis walked confidently to the piano, not paying Neefe the slightest attention. “What was that music, sir?” he asked, placing his hand boldly on the keyboard and replicating a few of the sounds just made, perfectly recalling a complex syncopation; then his eyes drinking in the sheet music before him. Neefe’s lips turned up in a half smile; he was at once surprised by the child’s audacity, but
more so by his keen ear and musical memory. Neefe surveyed the boy, from head
to toe, noting the shabby clothes, unwashed and unruly head of hair, and of
course, noting the dark tint of his skin, the broad facial features, the
“You come highly recommended, Luis,” he said at last, sitting back a bit, beginning to relax.
“As do you, sir,” said the boy, looking up into the teacher’s pale blue eyes. “I have had quite a few teachers,” he chuckled to himself, looking down with a smile, then returning the pianist’s kindly gaze. “What is this music?”
Neefe patted the seat beside him, and Luis sat down with a jolt. “The great master, Johann Sebastian Bach, dead some 30 years. Not so well known anymore.”
“But why?” the boy demanded.
“His style of music is not in fashion. But it is fierce, and will endure,” said Neefe, touching the score warmly. “So tell me, Luis, before we begin today, tell me who you are, what you hope to learn.”
This was a new approach for Luis, and it caught him off guard. He had hoped to launch into a bravura showcase of his own talent and then begin the regimen of exercises and drills.
“Who am I?” he repeated, puzzled. He looked down for some moments, studying his hands. Then he looked up at Neefe. “I am this,” his hand touched the keyboard, “and this,” patting the score.
“And what of this?” asked Neefe, resting his hand on the boy’s head. “And this?” touching his own heart.
“To think, to know, and to love,” said Neefe. “That is what makes a musician great. And practice, of course, there is no way around that.”
“I know, I know!” said Luis, rubbing hands that Neefe now noticed bore the scars of the switch. “But I never heard that what I think or what I love matters. And yet I feel that love so strongly when I play!”
“Love is the seed from which music springs, whether performed or composed originally,” the teacher said.
“Love…of what?” the boy asked.
“All forms,” Neefe said. “Do you love your parents?”
Luis looked away. “My mother,” he said. “I love my mother more than anyone!”
Neefe nodded, starting to get the picture, remembering his own uneasy childhood with a stern, unrelenting father. “And what about your teachers and friends?”
The boy reflected. “I love my cousin Frank!” he said brightly, with a smile. “He is like a big brother to me. And, of course, my own kid brothers, though they can be very annoying”
Neefe smiled. “Yes, I suppose children can get on one’s nerves,” he said with gentle irony, still assessing the 10-year-old before him.
“And what,” asked Neefe, “of God, of your religion?” Luis looked over his shoulder. “God is fine, I do love Him, but…”
“…I think He is really outside in the woods, not inside the church!”
Neefe stifled a smile. “That is quite fair, Luis, quite fair. Genesis says God created the world, not the church. Yes, you are using your head, good work, boy!” Luis smiled slightly, surprised that he had had the nerve to tell this adult his deepest thoughts on the subject, and amazed that he was encouraged rather than criticized.
“Well,” said Neefe, fingering the keys absently as he reflected, “those are the foundations of music. If you love even one person, if you love the spirit that is God, regardless of what you think about religion, you have the soul to play, the soul even to invent the most glorious music. But lacking love, you might as well be a windup music box programmed to create the same dull plodding noise over and over, for all eternity. Here, let me hear you play this from sight…” he spread two pages of a Bach prelude on the music rest…”and then you may play for me what you would typically perform for a new teacher.”
Neefe slid off the bench, favoring his left arm, and stood to the side as the child sidled over to the center and leaned forward to scan the music closely. Then he raised his hands and launched into a nearly perfect sight reading, filled with fervor, feeling and power. Neefe nodded slightly to himself, and tried to temper the upward turn at each edge of his lips. He felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and his eyes stung, as though he had gotten too close to a roaring fire. He knew in that moment, in the stuffy room with no windows, with the scruffy child drawing unheard of music out of the piano, that before him lay his life’s work and mission, and vowed in that moment to let nothing stand in the way of the child’s development as a pianist and as a human being.