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Sonata for flute and friendship

During the andantem I notice the audience. It plots its own counterpoint to the flute. Then the allegro vivacem tugs me back. The flautist is a slender man with a child's face. He has composed this audience with as much genius as Bach used to create his score.

This is the flautist's senior music recital prior to his college graduation. The small hall holds mostly his friends, from the tone-deaf freshman roommate to a brooding history professor with a fondness for Mahler. The young flautist is our cantus firmus.m Or perhaps we are the variations to his theme.

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I try to follow the score for this audience-composition. In the front row the Music Department chairman leans forward with taut neck as though he is physically reaching for the sound. This recital is his celebration of a success. I knew I would find him here. But others sitting, intent and curious, offer me the same delightful surprise I feel when I find a composer repeating a musical idea in different guises throughout his piece.

Here is the Writer-in-Residence, a Welshman as solid as some primitive stone altar set up on a moor. He comes to listen because the flautist also composes lilting short stories. Next to him, the college newspaper editor fidgets --lean , perhaps always hungry for controversy. The flautist and the editor travel in the same pack of campus newshounds.Nearby in a small clump -- symbolically in the middle of the audience -- members of the campus Interfaith Council have built their conclave. The council meetings heard their share of this flautist's spiritual yearnings. Now in this Bach they hear it more eloquently.

Not far from me, arms on each other's chairs, occasionally nodding to each other as the flautist comments on his next piece, 10 of my community social work "family" have settled. The flautist, too, is part of our family. For 10 weeks 15 of us of us lived in the city 20 miles from this bright concert hall. In that "mixed" neighborhood, black families invited us to rib dinners and revival meetings. And white neighbors told us how lucky we were to have so many people to paint the old house we had adopted.

The flautist practiced in my room. The rest of the house was taken up by other family members typing papers, talking with children from the daycare center, playing guitar and singing. My room was his only hope. While I graded papers, he built toward this event. I take no credit for his expert cooperation with the harpsichordist. The only accompaniment I could offer his practice was quiet, uncritical space.

Like a key signature on this composition, the flautist's parents sit at the left in the front row. I know them, though I have not been introduced. If one listens to the musician's instrument, one comes to hear the musician as well -- to hear his deeper music, and he was always wistful about his parents. They are teachers -- teachers gifted with the art of teaching how to question, how to search, how to push for new images -- a push for integrity. He has learned well and he loves them for their lessons. I am not surprised that they drove across country to surprise him at his recital.

What does surprise me is the flautist's grace before so demanding an audience. Here are the experts -- the people who know him and the people who know music. Here are musicians who have stood before their own recitals with damp hands, voices cracking, as they explain some musical intricacy. He is their student so he must go beyond them --they ask no less of his heart or his art. More demanding even than these musicians, are his friends who know what he can be. They listen for him. he must draw together into one convincing performance all the selves he has. Each of us must see in him what we have come to prize.

Yet there he stands, talking now about Schubert, giving a half smile, flipping some quick joke into our laps, then lifting his flute to play. He joins his music and he joins us. Yet he might as well be back there in my room practicing in his jeans and t-shirt, making music as blessed as the afternoon sun in that cold old house. Why should I be surprised at his grace? He has been practici ng this audience as deftly and as faithfully as his flute and score.

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