The Music Teacher: A Love Story

“Music is love in search of a word.” – Sidney Lanier

Mr.Adam Fisk, high school instrumental music teacher, stood looking out his bathroom window at the glide and swell of the lawless waters–the terrible aquatic dissonance–of Devils Lake. He had watched the lake rise 30 vertical feet in recent years, drowning trees and fields and farmsteads and several people before it stopped just a few hundred yards or so down the street from his little story-and-a-half house.

He hated the lake. The lash of its rough waves often beat dark dreams of devouring creatures into his restless sleep.

And then there was Mr. Fisk’s neighbor, Ernest Beckman, a Devils Lake fishing guide–a hook, a barb in the side of Mr. Fisk’s life at home. You would think he would have kept all his gear at the marina, but, no, Mr. Beckman always backed one of his sleek, lumbering fishing boats up toward his garage (never INTO the garage) and parked it there–the fat, white Evinrude fishing motor clamped on the stern, the steely propellers hung dangerously below, dripping, dripping on the street and then running down the gutter past Mr. Fisk’s house like low, sliding green serpents.

One of Mr. Beckman’s frequent clients was Mr. Hans Thorson, Superintendent of Schools, a tall, dark man with a large hook of a nose.

According to Mr. Beckman, Mr. Thorson loved to catch and wrestle big paddlefish–those tall, weepy-eyed, sleek-skinned creatures which spend eternities in the deep pools of the lake. Thorson used clawlike treble hooks to snag the poor creatures, pulling them sideways out of their deep with a Bigwater Rod and wrestling them down in Beckman’s boat, their long tails whipping at Thorson (Fisk think-hoping one might knock his brains out–if he had any) until they gave up and lay in the boat, their long snouts shoved woefully into the sky as Mr. Thorson cried, “I’ve got you now, by God! Got you now, my man!” before throwing the poor creatures back in the water.

Oh, and the terrible scherzo of Beckman’s fish heads! There on the crude, blood-soaked tables in his back yard they appeared by the dozens, lying about with jaws locked forever in thin grimaces, eyes forever exclamatory at being pulled up into the suffocating region of Mr. Beckman’s boat.

Mr. Beckman never raised a garden. God knows, with all those fish heads he might have had a rich one. Mr. Fisk could never ask him for heads and entrails to bury near his Tribulation Roses and his “Firespray” gladiolas or his Angel Trumpets. Never!

For all his churching, Mr.Beckman could be horribly sacrilegious—especially when he didn’t like the weather. One day Mr. Fisk was working in his garden trying to plant tiny carrot seeds with a little device that resembled a fat hypodermic needle. It was frantic work because a great burly thunderhead was rising just over Mr. Fisk’s house, muttering deep in its black throat and flashing murderous jags of lightning across the sky.

And– dear God! Mr. Beckman came out of his house, stood by his boat, raised a fist to the sky and cried, “Damn you, you ornery whatever you are ! You had to dump your rain on me TODAY, TODAY! Four fishers of fish from Chicago and you dump this goddam rain on me! Do you have any idea what the hell you’re doing?”

Mr. Beckman was six-three or so. As he stood waving a knot of black fist at the sky Mr. Fisk bent over to work on his garden, an eye on the angry, flashing thunderhead as he tried to keep down, down–tried to keep lower, humbler than the lightning rod of Mr. Beckman’s raised fist.

Although Mr. Fisk hated the presence of the lake he knew he could not move and teach somewhere else because he could never count on recommendations from the administration at the high school. Mr. Thorson had reassigned him to giving individual music lessons because Mr. Fisk’s band members simply never settled down to quite play anything very well so the bands were always rated last at state meets.

Though he never asked for them, Mr. Fisk could imagine how his teaching evaluations might read: Mr. Fisk has been a member of the music faculty at Devils Lake High School for four years. He is diligent in arriving at school on time and attends all faculty meetings. However, it must be said that in recent years he has become distracted and marginally competent as a music teacher. He seems to have a very negative attitude toward many students and appears to be completely unconcerned about improving his teaching evaluations.

Not much consolation there.

Fated by water and time and bad music he was.

But then the trout–the lovely, impossible trout appeared.

Yes, the trout–Schubert’s Forelle schwimnt immer noch! Schubert’s lovely trout–Solveig Olson—lovely counterpoint to his life there at the verge between the tolerable and the intolerable!

Is not music loves in search of a word? he asked himself each day as the new music played into his life.

Ms. Olson was the latest to arrive of three English teachers at the high school. She was very fine. She moved through dooms of sun, moon and stars with lovely, slender legs, arms, et cetera. She was very shy. Her voice was softly musical. She was of indeterminate age.

Each afternoon after her five English classes were over she would walk into the empty room above Mr. Fisk’s and play the piano–a baby grand with its top thrown open like a great black wing. She played Schubert–only Schubert. Sometimes she would get up from the piano and do a slow dance about the room as if someone else might be there with her–Schubert himself perhaps. And then she would sing a Lied–softly–softly–as if singing it–as Lied should be sung–in an intimate space of her own creation…

(Mr. Fisk recalled the little man’s brief and wondrous life and the epitaph on his grave–Music has here buried a rich treasure but still fairer hopes–which Ms. Olson had inspired him to look up the first time he heard her play.)

The large room in which Ms. Olson played and sang was in a new part of the school. The floor of that section was a series of round, semi-transparent modules so Mr. Fisk saw Ms. Olson in a very ripply, watery way as she moved about that room and finally sat down to play, sitting under the black wing (as it looked through the watery plastic) of the grand piano.

When she moved and sang she seemed to poise and swim in the glass…

Yes, she was very fine. Lovely and watery. Stippled even.

And Mr. Fisk loved her, wished he might ascend into her music and (though water terrified him!) swim with her there forever singing Schubert’s words…

I greet you

I kiss you…

I greet you.

I kiss you…

Mr. Fisk lingered there over the old piano in his own room day after day, always pretending to be composing something on blank music scores at his fingertips, never missing her playing, her lovely swimming about above him, her pianissimo soothing him .

He should have known what might happen to all that because he knew the story of Schubert’s trout and the little pool and the fisher and the emptiness…

One day (through the watery lenses of the ceiling) he saw her vague figure move the black wing of the piano downward and disappear–simply disappear.

And she was gone, her little green car absent from the parking lot where Mr. Fisk had often walked past it, sometimes touching the driver’s side window fondly, reverently…

You were torn from me…

Mr. Fisk heard, during a brief visit to the teachers’ lounge, that Mr. Thorson had pulled Ms. Olson from the faculty because she was teaching “an awful book of some sort—“ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings–and would not stop teaching it–would not, as she put it, do any “self-censoring.” She had insisted–right in front of the school board–that the book was, in its honest way, a very moral book.

But, as Mr. Thorson put it, Devils Lake was a town that always voted for family moral values and a book about THAT kind of terrible thing the girl’s uncle did in the story was not acceptable. “Whatever happened to Julius Caesar and Great Expectations?” he asked Ms. Olson.

“Those were great stories.” she had replied, “but meanwhile I will not bore young people to death with reading that does relate to their lives!”

And then she was gone, the watery world above him blank, empty.

You were torn from me…

Not long after that Mr. Fisk began to do it. He simply brought the baby grand down to his room, raised the black wing and waited. When students came to his room for lessons on the cornet, the clarinet, the flatulent tuba Mr. Fisk would sit on the piano bench and give them brief, impatient lessons. Then he would tell them to sit down and be quiet and then he would play Schubert.

After each little recital he told them the sad story of the fate of the trout in Schubert’s “Trout.” “One day it was swimming happily in the little pond,” he told them.” And then one day it was gone, gone!” As Mr. Fisk spoke those words, Solveig Olson seemed to swim above him, her body wispy and dreamlike as she moved through watery glass until the black wing seemed to lift her away.

Day after day Mr. Fisk kept at his routine, playing Schubert, insisting students with some little talent to sing a Lied and, sometimes, that one, knowing quite well that if he kept it up (behind his back students twirling their index fingers in a nutsy way at their heads) he, too, would disappear from his scene under the watery ceiling—especially since Mr. Thorson would come by from time to time and stand just outside the room, only the grand fisher beak of his nose visible there at the edge of the doorway.

Mr. Thorson suggested (To Mr. Fisk’s principal) that Fisk should take some “mental health days” off. Mr. Fisk refused because then he would miss being near her, near her lovely memory.

I greet you.

I kiss you.

Of course, Mr. Beckman heard all about Mr. Fisk’s pianissimo and song cycles. Mr. Beckman heard about almost every human event in Devils Lake as he sat for coffee mornings at the Good Deal Café.

“So,” he yelled across the fence at Mr. Fisk one afternoon (one very CLEAR afternoon when Fisk was hoeing his garden), “so–you’re doing quite a show over there in that place, are you–singing like old Frank Schubert, et cetera!”

“Franz Schubert ,” replied Mr. Fisk.

Mr. Beckman laughed and waved his arms about like he might fly right up into the sky. “Well, I’ll be damned!” he yelled. “Why old Thorson thinks you’re losing it…”

“No, I’m not!” Mr. Fisk shouted. “I’m finding it by God!”

“Well, that’s good, but you know what’ll happen if you keep it up. That school board ain’t gonna subsidize your trolling and trolling the same tunes all the time! You know old Thorson is gonna set his hook for you.”

“I don’t care!” yelled Mr. Fisk. ” I am a jolly rebel. That is what I am. And I will not quit my Schubert and I do not give a damn!” (Mr. Fisk vaguely remembered those lines from a Civil War song he had heard in some movie.)

“Whatever,” Mr. Beckman said, shrugging his shoulders and disappearing under the engine cowl at the rear of his giant blue boat.

Mr. Fisk was glad that Mr. Beckman was friendly for a change and that the sky was clear and free of glowering, dark thunderheads as they talked. He did not feel like bending down for anything anymore–even things that flashed in the sky.

He reminded himself that tomorrow–again—when his instrumental lessons were done–he would go to his room there under the watery glass and play that piano bravely into the darkness flowing down the hills along the lake…

“I shall grow a special rose for the music she will always play on my perfect heary,” he told himself as he hoed and hoed in his garden, looking for the perfect soil for her special rose and feeling, deep in his body, the solidity of the good earth at the hoe.

One day he walked over to the edge of Mr. Beckman’s driveway and called for Mr. Beckman and Mr. Beckman reappeared from under a boat engine cowl.

“I mean it! I am going to keep playing and playing and singing and singing,” he told Beckman..

“The hell you say! So you can do no other like old Luther himself said! Well, you’re going to drive old Thorson nuts, you jolly rebel you! He doesn’t know what to do with you anymore than old God knows what to do with me!”

“Well, good!” he yelled.” It’ll be justice through music! For her! For her!”

Mr. Beckman laughed, slapped the cowl of his boat engine hard, turned and went back to work on his boat.

The Music Teacher: A Love St

“Music is love in search of a word.” – Sidney Lanier

Mr.Adam Fisk, high school instrumental music teacher, stood looking out his bathroom window at the glide and swell of the lawless waters–the terrible aquatic dissonance–of Devils Lake. He had watched the lake rise 30 vertical feet in recent years, drowning trees and fields and farmsteads and several people before it stopped just a few hundred yards or so down the street from his little story-and-a-half house.

He hated the lake. The lash of its rough waves often beat dark dreams of devouring creatures into his restless sleep.

And then there was Mr. Fisk’s neighbor, Ernest Beckman, a Devils Lake fishing guide–a hook, a barb in the side of Mr. Fisk’s life at home. You would think he would have kept all his gear at the marina, but, no, Mr. Beckman always backed one of his sleek, lumbering fishing boats up toward his garage (never INTO the garage) and parked it there–the fat, white Evinrude fishing motor clamped on the stern, the steely propellers hung dangerously below, dripping, dripping on the street and then running down the gutter past Mr. Fisk’s house like low, sliding green serpents.

One of Mr. Beckman’s frequent clients was Mr. Hans Thorson, Superintendent of Schools, a tall, dark man with a large hook of a nose.

According to Mr. Beckman, Mr. Thorson loved to catch and wrestle big paddlefish–those tall, weepy-eyed, sleek-skinned creatures which spend eternities in the deep pools of the lake. Thorson used clawlike treble hooks to snag the poor creatures, pulling them sideways out of their deep with a Bigwater Rod and wrestling them down in Beckman’s boat, their long tails whipping at Thorson (Fisk think-hoping one might knock his brains out–if he had any) until they gave up and lay in the boat, their long snouts shoved woefully into the sky as Mr. Thorson cried, “I’ve got you now, by God! Got you now, my man!” before throwing the poor creatures back in the water.

Oh, and the terrible scherzo of Beckman’s fish heads! There on the crude, blood-soaked tables in his back yard they appeared by the dozens, lying about with jaws locked forever in thin grimaces, eyes forever exclamatory at being pulled up into the suffocating region of Mr. Beckman’s boat.

Mr. Beckman never raised a garden. God knows, with all those fish heads he might have had a rich one. Mr. Fisk could never ask him for heads and entrails to bury near his Tribulation Roses and his “Firespray” gladiolas or his Angel Trumpets. Never!

For all his churching, Mr.Beckman could be horribly sacrilegious—especially when he didn’t like the weather. One day Mr. Fisk was working in his garden trying to plant tiny carrot seeds with a little device that resembled a fat hypodermic needle. It was frantic work because a great burly thunderhead was rising just over Mr. Fisk’s house, muttering deep in its black throat and flashing murderous jags of lightning across the sky.

And– dear God! Mr. Beckman came out of his house, stood by his boat, raised a fist to the sky and cried, “Damn you, you ornery whatever you are ! You had to dump your rain on me TODAY, TODAY! Four fishers of fish from Chicago and you dump this goddam rain on me! Do you have any idea what the hell you’re doing?”

Mr. Beckman was six-three or so. As he stood waving a knot of black fist at the sky Mr. Fisk bent over to work on his garden, an eye on the angry, flashing thunderhead as he tried to keep down, down–tried to keep lower, humbler than the lightning rod of Mr. Beckman’s raised fist.

Although Mr. Fisk hated the presence of the lake he knew he could not move and teach somewhere else because he could never count on recommendations from the administration at the high school. Mr. Thorson had reassigned him to giving individual music lessons because Mr. Fisk’s band members simply never settled down to quite play anything very well so the bands were always rated last at state meets.

Though he never asked for them, Mr. Fisk could imagine how his teaching evaluations might read: Mr. Fisk has been a member of the music faculty at Devils Lake High School for four years. He is diligent in arriving at school on time and attends all faculty meetings. However, it must be said that in recent years he has become distracted and marginally competent as a music teacher. He seems to have a very negative attitude toward many students and appears to be completely unconcerned about improving his teaching evaluations.

Not much consolation there.

Fated by water and time and bad music he was.

But then the trout–the lovely, impossible trout appeared.

Yes, the trout–Schubert’s Forelle schwimnt immer noch! Schubert’s lovely trout–Solveig Olson—lovely counterpoint to his life there at the verge between the tolerable and the intolerable!

Is not music loves in search of a word? he asked himself each day as the new music played into his life.

Ms. Olson was the latest to arrive of three English teachers at the high school. She was very fine. She moved through dooms of sun, moon and stars with lovely, slender legs, arms, et cetera. She was very shy. Her voice was softly musical. She was of indeterminate age.

Each afternoon after her five English classes were over she would walk into the empty room above Mr. Fisk’s and play the piano–a baby grand with its top thrown open like a great black wing. She played Schubert–only Schubert. Sometimes she would get up from the piano and do a slow dance about the room as if someone else might be there with her–Schubert himself perhaps. And then she would sing a Lied–softly–softly–as if singing it–as Lied should be sung–in an intimate space of her own creation…

(Mr. Fisk recalled the little man’s brief and wondrous life and the epitaph on his grave–Music has here buried a rich treasure but still fairer hopes–which Ms. Olson had inspired him to look up the first time he heard her play.)

The large room in which Ms. Olson played and sang was in a new part of the school. The floor of that section was a series of round, semi-transparent modules so Mr. Fisk saw Ms. Olson in a very ripply, watery way as she moved about that room and finally sat down to play, sitting under the black wing (as it looked through the watery plastic) of the grand piano.

When she moved and sang she seemed to poise and swim in the glass…

Yes, she was very fine. Lovely and watery. Stippled even.

And Mr. Fisk loved her, wished he might ascend into her music and (though water terrified him!) swim with her there forever singing Schubert’s words…

I greet you

I kiss you…

I greet you.

I kiss you…

Mr. Fisk lingered there over the old piano in his own room day after day, always pretending to be composing something on blank music scores at his fingertips, never missing her playing, her lovely swimming about above him, her pianissimo soothing him .

He should have known what might happen to all that because he knew the story of Schubert’s trout and the little pool and the fisher and the emptiness…

One day (through the watery lenses of the ceiling) he saw her vague figure move the black wing of the piano downward and disappear–simply disappear.

And she was gone, her little green car absent from the parking lot where Mr. Fisk had often walked past it, sometimes touching the driver’s side window fondly, reverently…

You were torn from me…

Mr. Fisk heard, during a brief visit to the teachers’ lounge, that Mr. Thorson had pulled Ms. Olson from the faculty because she was teaching “an awful book of some sort—“ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings–and would not stop teaching it–would not, as she put it, do any “self-censoring.” She had insisted–right in front of the school board–that the book was, in its honest way, a very moral book.

But, as Mr. Thorson put it, Devils Lake was a town that always voted for family moral values and a book about THAT kind of terrible thing the girl’s uncle did in the story was not acceptable. “Whatever happened to Julius Caesar and Great Expectations?” he asked Ms. Olson.

“Those were great stories.” she had replied, “but meanwhile I will not bore young people to death with reading that does relate to their lives!”

And then she was gone, the watery world above him blank, empty.

You were torn from me…

Not long after that Mr. Fisk began to do it. He simply brought the baby grand down to his room, raised the black wing and waited. When students came to his room for lessons on the cornet, the clarinet, the flatulent tuba Mr. Fisk would sit on the piano bench and give them brief, impatient lessons. Then he would tell them to sit down and be quiet and then he would play Schubert.

After each little recital he told them the sad story of the fate of the trout in Schubert’s “Trout.” “One day it was swimming happily in the little pond,” he told them.” And then one day it was gone, gone!” As Mr. Fisk spoke those words, Solveig Olson seemed to swim above him, her body wispy and dreamlike as she moved through watery glass until the black wing seemed to lift her away.

Day after day Mr. Fisk kept at his routine, playing Schubert, insisting students with some little talent to sing a Lied and, sometimes, that one, knowing quite well that if he kept it up (behind his back students twirling their index fingers in a nutsy way at their heads) he, too, would disappear from his scene under the watery ceiling—especially since Mr. Thorson would come by from time to time and stand just outside the room, only the grand fisher beak of his nose visible there at the edge of the doorway.

Mr. Thorson suggested (To Mr. Fisk’s principal) that Fisk should take some “mental health days” off. Mr. Fisk refused because then he would miss being near her, near her lovely memory.

I greet you.

I kiss you.

Of course, Mr. Beckman heard all about Mr. Fisk’s pianissimo and song cycles. Mr. Beckman heard about almost every human event in Devils Lake as he sat for coffee mornings at the Good Deal Café.

“So,” he yelled across the fence at Mr. Fisk one afternoon (one very CLEAR afternoon when Fisk was hoeing his garden), “so–you’re doing quite a show over there in that place, are you–singing like old Frank Schubert, et cetera!”

“Franz Schubert ,” replied Mr. Fisk.

Mr. Beckman laughed and waved his arms about like he might fly right up into the sky. “Well, I’ll be damned!” he yelled. “Why old Thorson thinks you’re losing it…”

“No, I’m not!” Mr. Fisk shouted. “I’m finding it by God!”

“Well, that’s good, but you know what’ll happen if you keep it up. That school board ain’t gonna subsidize your trolling and trolling the same tunes all the time! You know old Thorson is gonna set his hook for you.”

“I don’t care!” yelled Mr. Fisk. ” I am a jolly rebel. That is what I am. And I will not quit my Schubert and I do not give a damn!” (Mr. Fisk vaguely remembered those lines from a Civil War song he had heard in some movie.)

“Whatever,” Mr. Beckman said, shrugging his shoulders and disappearing under the engine cowl at the rear of his giant blue boat.

Mr. Fisk was glad that Mr. Beckman was friendly for a change and that the sky was clear and free of glowering, dark thunderheads as they talked. He did not feel like bending down for anything anymore–even things that flashed in the sky.

He reminded himself that tomorrow–again—when his instrumental lessons were done–he would go to his room there under the watery glass and play that piano bravely into the darkness flowing down the hills along the lake…

“I shall grow a special rose for the music she will always play on my perfect heary,” he told himself as he hoed and hoed in his garden, looking for the perfect soil for her special rose and feeling, deep in his body, the solidity of the good earth at the hoe.

One day he walked over to the edge of Mr. Beckman’s driveway and called for Mr. Beckman and Mr. Beckman reappeared from under a boat engine cowl.

“I mean it! I am going to keep playing and playing and singing and singing,” he told Beckman..

“The hell you say! So you can do no other like old Luther himself said! Well, you’re going to drive old Thorson nuts, you jolly rebel you! He doesn’t know what to do with you anymore than old God knows what to do with me!”

“Well, good!” he yelled.” It’ll be justice through music! For her! For her!”

Mr. Beckman laughed, slapped the cowl of his boat engine hard, turned and went back to work on his boat.

About John Solensten

John Solensten has published novels, short stories and poetry. THE MUSIC TEACHER is based on Schubert's "The Trout."

View all posts by John Solensten