1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 54

Chapter 29

          Franz gave the downbeat for the next-to-the-last song of the night, what Marla referred to as her mother’s favorite ballad, Those Were the Days.

          During the slow verse, Franz looked around as his bow made the slight tremolo under Marla’s voice. The Green Horse was standing room only tonight, as the up-timers would have said — if any had been able to get in, that is. But with the exception of Marla and Atwood, the crowd tonight was all down-timers.

Some he recognized: the table at the front where Friedrich von Logau and Johann Gronow were planted with several of their friends; the CoC men who were scattered throughout the crowd; even the cabbie that had brought Atwood from the pier to the house had managed to squeeze in and was standing in a corner with a couple of friends.

Marla was winding up the verse. Franz stopped the tremolo, poised to put a foundation of broad bow strokes under the beginning of the chorus. He could see her take the deep breath that led into it. And . . . now!

“Those were the days, my friend,”

They were off. For all that the lyrics seemed a bit maudlin in their constant dwelling on the past, even in German translation, Franz couldn’t deny that the chorus could almost raise a corpse. It was a chorus made for singing along, and sure enough, at the end of the second verse, when they hit the chorus half the men in the tavern were singing right along with Marla, from Logau and his pals to the cabbie in the back corner.

When they hit the chorus the third time, everyone was singing, even Franz, who, as he had remarked before, had the voice of a raven or crow. It was the only time he allowed himself to sing in public, when the public was being so loud he couldn’t be heard.

After the last verse, Marla cycled through the chorus three more times, the last two on the “Lai, lai” syllables. If it was possible, the roar from the crowd got even louder. Franz cast a sideways glance at the walls. He didn’t think it was possible for them to bulge, but . . .

Marla took to a high note on “Oh . . .”and held it. Even over the roar of the men her voice penetrated, and within a short time they had all quieted. She glanced sideways at Franz, who gave a nod back. With that, she drew the song to an end with “. . . yes, those were the days!”

The players all snapped to a halt with her, and there was a bare moment of silence before the patrons of the tavern erupted into applause; claps, shouts, whistles, and very quickly a rhythmic stomping of feet. This went on for a timeless moment. Franz’s ears were starting to ring when Marla held her arms up at an angle, and just stood there.

Bit by bit the noise died down: first the stomping; then the whistling; then the shouting; and finally the clapping slowly faded away. A roomful of flush-faced men, hot and sweaty, sat and gazed on Marla. Franz had to chuckle to himself — it was a good thing that he wasn’t the jealous type.

At last Marla lowered her arms. Franz knew she was going to say something, but he didn’t know for sure what would come out. For that matter, he wasn’t sure she knew what she was going to say.

“Thank you,” Marla began. Someone in the back of the room started to clap again, but she held up a hand. “Please, just listen to me for a few minutes.”

The noise died down. Franz watched as she brushed her hair back behind her ears. At this moment, he was perhaps prouder of Marla than he had ever been in his life. He didn’t — couldn’t — know what she had been through the last few months. His own grief had been bad enough, but it wasn’t even a tithe of what she had felt; he knew that much. And yet now she stood before these men, mostly rough working class men, to try and do something she thought was very important. He tucked his violin and bow under his arm and clasped his hands behind his back, crippled left cradled in whole right, squeezing them together as hard as he could as he breathed a silent prayer for the woman that had proven herself to be far braver than he.

“I’m not very fond of politics,” Marla started again. A chuckle ran through the room. “I mean, I find them boring, and tedious, and most politicians are stuffy people. At least they mostly were up-time, and except for Mike and Ed, they mostly are down-time from what I can see.” The laughter got louder.

“But,” she stopped and swallowed, “every once in a while something happens that forces people like me to pay attention. Every once in a while someone does or says something so wrong, so raw, so evil, so . . . I don’t know . . . hellish, maybe, that even people like me will take a stand.”

The room was utterly quiet. It seemed as if the mob of men sitting and standing cheek by jowl were all holding their collective breath, hanging on Marla’s every word. Franz even found himself not breathing, until he noticed and let his air out.

“I’m talking about what’s been happening in Berlin,” Marla continued.

If it was possible, attention in the room got even sharper.

“I’m not a wordsmith. I’m not a philosopher, or preacher, or poet, or playwright. But I can recognize good words when I see them, and I found some in an up-timer song. So I give you tonight — tonight and every night — Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Marla bowed her head for a moment, then raised it again. She took a deep breath, then nodded without looking around. Franz gave the nod to the others, and they began the low unison tones that gave Marla the foundation for the beginning.

“Do you hear the people sing?


          Franz was awe-struck. He knew just how good a musician, how fine a singer, his wife was. And he had heard her rise above even her usual superlative level of performance before. But tonight, tonight she had elevated to another plane entirely; or perhaps a different world. He could hear the passion in her voice, he could hear the joy that she was pouring out like a very fountain, but tonight there was a keenness, a honed edge to her. She stood still as she sang, unlike her normal flowing movements; hands outstretched, no movement other than the rise and fall of her chest and diaphragm.

At the end of it, when Marla had finished pouring forth her soul like a fountain of liquid diamond, it was as if the voice of heaven had stopped; the world seemed darker and poorer for it. She stood there, breast heaving as she gulped air in, hand shaking as she tucked a loosened lock of hair back behind her ear again.