The Lady on the Hill

Levine School of Music, “The Lady on the Hill”

Sounds with the Young (Upton Street, NW, circa 2001) arose from my time at the Levine School in Music in Washington, DC., a large community music school that serves infants through adults.

“Splayed stairs, up this way or that,
invite the affair of the day …”

The poem opens with the building’s architectural beauty, something that likely deserves a work of its own. An elegant Spanish style revival, it was built in 1906-07 to house the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory. Specific requirements – high, dry, apart from magnetic disturbances – helped launch its site on a steep hill upon a rocky foundation.

The low, Mission-style tile roof became a “hat” for the “Lady on the Hill” in the poem. The idea of a welcoming lady must have subconsciously resonated from the idea of a universal Mother Goose as I thought of the children in my poem.

Brick and tile inlays above bay window arches

My colleagues brought music to life for young children in infinitely imaginative ways. One was Mara Bershad, who taught in the Washington area for decades before her too early demise. A musician, harpsichordist, and dancer she spun experiences for children from classical music, traditional songs, movement and artful collaboration that left us speechless with delight.

Dedicated to the Memory of Mara Bershad (1950-2010)

Sounds with the Young by Kaja Weeks was first published in District Lines: An Anthology of Original Local Work, V. 4 (Politics and Prose) in 2017.

***

Sounds with the Young
(Upton Street, NW, circa 2001)

The music school sits like a lady on a hill,
with a red tile roof for a hat and
light stucco dress,
Spanish revival style, por favor.
Carved limestone surrounds her entry.
Splayed stairs, up this way or that,
invite the affair of the day.
Singing four-year olds peal inside,
festive as nothing else you could imagine.

Today she has chosen Respighi and
Mara, curved-back like a cat,
pulls scarves along the floor and
suddenly twirls them high in the air.
Max stares and then lifts his arm
with his blue chiffon rising before Agnes,
light-footed as Mara, swipes it away.
Her giggles pounce – staccato as celesta
in The Pines of Rome.

Corinne, born in Gabon and raised on drums,
rolls her fingers and slaps her hands.
Ka-ha-ha-booom, ka-boooooom!
Reese and Chloé sound thunder from their hides,
Ka-ha-ha-booom, ka-boooooom!
But no tremors could disturb this building,
reborn from the Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory, 1907!
Solid as the rock she stands on. Roll on sounds!

Close by, Ming leads babies to sway.
Cries and gurgles in soft laps,
lullaby waltzes hummed and sung —
Buy some Coulter’s candy.
Next door a glossy petite gamelan jingles
and Indonesian shadow puppets dance while
Monica’s kids cluster in the hallway –
they can’t wait to sing like rain, jump puddles,
freeze mid-air to her piano sounds
that seem to spin them and stop them
like magical notes –
Zeke, Liam and resting-tone Lee.

Upstairs the serious folks have begun
to practice and play.
The old Russian pianist with a black pipe
demands perfection from her charges,
and Charles’ deep baritone voice
falls from windows and floats down
the wide green lawn toward Rock Creek.

At noon Sally, reciting summer camp to-do,
and Vera and I walk the shaded path
to Howard Law School cafeteria
where round tables with bud vases,
warm southern cooking and cool lemonade await.
The ceiling is high, murmurs alive.
We release our sighs into them,
trade quips and tales and sometimes
laugh so hard our bellies hurt –
before we head back for more blooming music
with the lady on the hill.

Sounds with the Young (Upton Street, NW, circa 2001) ©2016 by Kaja Weeks

 

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