His students often wondered about him because there was so little to his life. The one thing they knew was that he loved music. It was the one great joy in his otherwise muddled gray existence.
He had been a solemn boy, wire thin and pasty white, who studied and lived in his small world with a steady quietness. And then one day, his grandmother took him to hear the orchestra play and he could see and feel in color for the very first time. His heart leapt with each crescendo and faltered with each macabre chord. From that day forward, he devoted himself to music, all kinds of music, and only witnessed his life through melodies. However, his efforts to master music were mediocre at best, and this became a constant source of personal disappointment well into his years at university – until one of his instructors placed a conductor’s baton in his hand and he found himself directing the music, presiding over the course of its emotion and rhythm. He was exhilarated because while he adored the music, he loved the power of conducting. It gave him a feeling of weight and significance. He found that conducting emboldened him in life and in his thoughts and actions – it gave promise to his love of music.
On one day, full of such possibility, he felt brave enough to speak ever so gently to the delicate young woman who he often watched singing in the chorus. He found himself drawn to this small bird of a girl and after a gentle courtship, they married. He continued his studies and she her singing and they had each other and they had music.
The years passed and they struggled along. He was teaching orchestra to wretched, bored middle school children while he waited for an official conductor position to open up, and she taught voice lessons to spoiled girls who wanted to lip sync and become pop stars. Young and hopeful, they both accepted the bitter challenge of their positions, believing that good things would come later. And of course, they always had each other and they had music itself.
One terribly long and hot summer, however, a vicious cancer took the voice of his little bird, his wife – and also her chance to have children. Sad and childless and robbed of her beautiful song, the wife settled into a dark depression. She sat silent and cold in their empty house through several changes of the season. The man, midlife now, would come home desperate to make his little bird chirp in some way, any way at all. He needed his wife and he needed their music or else he would not endure the bland disappointment of life. But she would turn away from him and face instead the blank white walls of their small home. His sadness soured over the months, as did hers. Music was now just a terrible reminder of what they did not have and what they could never have. His face became pinched and tired and conducting the children gave him no pleasure at all. Her own face grew sallow and long and pale, drained of all hopefulness.
In the second spring of their despair, he was struck by an idea. He brought home two small songbirds to fill their home with sound and to distract his wife from her melancholy. But she bought a cat the next week and watched as it ate the birds. And the next day, she strung a rope around her voiceless neck and climbed up into the tallest tree in their backyard and hung herself.
There was no wife. There was no music. All the color left his life and he sat in the silent cold house and cursed the world for making him believe that music could bring promise to his life. Gradually, he learned to let music back into his heart but never with the same passion as before. And he bought new song birds to fill his home with sound, but he never found another little bird to love as he loved his wife.
He shrank into a solemn wiry man who picked up his baton every day to teach wretched bored children and lived in his small world with a steady quietness.
So when he rapped his baton at them with impatience, his students tried to remember what he must have been like with a little song bird for a wife and a colorful future of music ahead.