Chapter 5- Rubato
“Although Liszt was clearly a musical genius, he insisted on projecting a tonal, romantic “beauty” in his music, confining his music to a narrow range of moral values and ideals.”
Letters of Franz Liszt: Volume 1
Judith closed the lid of the Steinway piano. The light coming through the window was off-center. Her practice was suffering due to the disturbance of harmony in her room. She readjusted the vase of roses. She would wait a few minutes until the light shifted.
Reggie looked across the desk at Stevie. He noticed the shadows under her eyes. They both needed to sleep and start fresh in the morning.
“Can I pick you up tomorrow? We can head back to the island to talk to some of her Judith’s piano students.”
“Do you believe her husband? Could he know so little about what was happening to his wife?
“There are all kinds of marriages. Some exist sorely for themselves and others exist for the magnifying of the whole. In time we’ll find out what happened. We always do.”
Reggie parked his car outside the bungalow the next morning. He did not honk but opened the car door and started walking to the front door. He stopped when he saw Stevie come out of the garage. She wore a dark, fitted pantsuit and bright yellow shirt. A thin red patterned scarf surrounded her neckline. Her long, dark hair, which was often tucked into a hat, flowed like chocolate sauce. Reggie liked the contrast of the yellow shirt against her hair. A backpack was loosely hanging from her shoulders. She got in and smiled.
“Need some coffee?”
“You know I don’t drink caffeine. Do you really forget every time or are you wanting to get my attention?”
“Nah, I didn’t forget. Reach behind you. There is a chamomile and milk concoction for you and some black juice for me.”
“Thank-you. Where do we start today?”
“What other contact information have you pulled off Judith White’s phone?’
“I have her recent calls, her business calendars, texts from students and a text from her husband when he arrived in Seattle. There are e-mails from a contact in Prague having to do with music manuscripts.”
“How did you figure out her password on the phone?”
“I guessed she might use an Italian musical reference. After a few tries it opened with the password ‘rubato'.”
“So what does that mean?”
“Rubato is a musical term which means temporarily leaving a strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slowing, usually without altering the overall pace. Romantic composers like Chopin and Liszt used rubato to heighten the feeling of the notes. I can guess she played their music because they used rubato often in their compositions.”
“So, tell me again why you know so much about music.”
“Reggie, I told you I once majored in music performance, remember?” She looked quizzically at Reggie. “I thought that one day I would be a concert pianist like my mother, but I stalled and found the constant comparisons to my peers left me empty. I shifted to criminal law to distance myself from the arts.”
“So, do you play much these days?”
“Every time I’m home. I need it like I need air to breathe.” Stevie giggled thinking about the amount of time she really had to practice. “Are you surprised?”
“I guess I am. You don’t talk much about music.”
“It is a personal haven. What is your personal haven from solving crimes? Do you run, swim, work out at a club?”
It was odd to Reggie that they didn’t talk about personal things. Would she laugh when he confessed that he liked putting together model airplanes? Often when his mind was cluttered with facts about a case he would mentally go inside a recent project and turn the plane around to see how the pieces would fit.
“I put together model airplanes.”
“Really?” She paused, thinking. “Why are you drawn to that?”
“I love seeing how it will come together. Not unlike solving a case. But, less drama and deception.”
The ferry was coming into the dock and Reggie searched his pocket for the police pass to show at the the booth.
“Where shall we go first?” Reggie was expecting that they would go back to the victim’s house to do a second search. Stevie recommended a closer stop. “According to Judith’s contacts, Mrs. Taylor and her son live right off the main highway in town. Let’s do another interview before we go back to Judith’s house.”
Reggie slowed the car looking for the address. The street was tree lined and quiet. A mailbox with black and white notes gave away the correct destination. Mrs. Taylor’s house was small and older but neat and tidy. They parked in a turn-around driveway. As they approached the front door, small metal musical notes danced along the front of the house, just under there large wooden house numbers.
“Hello?” Mrs.Taylor opened the door with surprise.
“Mrs.Taylor? Detectives Watts and Dangerfield. Could we come in and ask you some more questions about Judith Whitesides?”
“Okay, please come in.” She opened the door wider and motioned them to sit in a comfortable living room. A black lacquered Yamaha baby grand filled almost half the space of the room. Stacks of music books and sheet music surrounded the music stand. On the open lid of the piano Stevie saw a jar of pencils, post-it notes, and a small dish of black licorice. Most kids hated black licorice so it must be a little treat for the teacher. Several paintings of sunrises over water, graced the walls just over the piano. The sunrise colors were varied. Some soft pastel and one other, ruby red
Stevie sat in a brown over-stuffed chair on the other side of the room and started the conversation. “Mrs. Taylor, I noticed that you had a lesson scheduled with Judith on Wednesdays right after your son.”
“Please, call me Linda. I’ve been taking lessons for the last year. Judith has much to offer as a teacher of classical music. You see I’m a piano teacher, as well. She really opened my understanding of Bach and Liszt.”
“So you were competitors?” Reggie asked
“Not really.” Linda laughed. “Judith attracted older and adult students which is why I started my son with her. Judith had a master’s degree in piano pedagogy and supported my desire to continue my own education.” Sudden tears glistened in Linda’s eyes. “I will miss her tutoring very much. She was inspiring and maddening at the same time. Sometimes she seemed pretentious when she talked about her teaching lineage but I enjoyed her love of music.”
Linda thought for a minute how to explain the idea of a teacher pedigree. So many nuances in music could not be written in the score. Each music era had a style that was passed from teacher to student in a ‘hands on' fashion. Sound over notation transmitted more than could ever be read on the musical page.
"Her teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher was taught by Franz Liszt. Who in turn was taught by Carl Czerny, and Czerny was taught by Beethoven. I’m dropping a lot of big names here aren’t I?” Linda stopped to see if her rambling was of any interest.
“I’m following.” Stevie encouraged her to go on.
“Judith was not a cozy teacher. Not every child or even adult would warm up to her. She was exacting, somewhat tactless, and over the top obsessed with beauty. Everything around her had to be beautiful, her home, her furniture, even her clothes. For me, she offered information about places in Europe where she studied and taught and where the world of classical began, which I only knew through books.”
Reggie interrupted somewhat impatiently. “Do you know of anyone who wanted to do her harm?”
“Why?” Linda looked alarmed and suddenly very frightened. “Wasn’t her death an accident?”
Stevie patted her hand reassuringly. “We are unsure of the cause of death. These inquiries are standard. Could you tell us again what you observed Wednesday at your lesson time? Especially we need to know anything you noticed when you went into her bedroom. ”
Linda shifted on her chair and looked out the large window. “As I entered her bedroom I was immediately drawn to her sleeping body. She looked peaceful. The shades were drawn but sunlight was escaping in between the blinds.” She turned to Stevie with frightened eyes. “Who would want to hurt her?”
“That is what we need to find out. Did you see anything on her nightstand?”
“What?” She asked wondering… “ Ah….there was a lamp, a music score, and maybe a glass of water. I—I can’t remember for sure.”
Reggie sensed that they were through getting useful information and wanted to get on with other interviews. “Thank-you for being so helpful. If you have any ideas or thoughts here is our card.”
Stevie stood and looked around at the paintings. “You seem to have a strong sensitivity to beauty yourself. I can see why you appreciated Judith’s aesthetics. May I ask you a personal question? Do you think $10,000 a month is average for a piano teacher’s income?”
Linda’s mouth dropped open. “What? I don’t make that much. Judith was charging us seventy-five dollars an hour and I could barely come up with that fee every month. I suppose if she worked everyday for at least six hours that could be right. But, I got the impression she had, at the most, five students on Wednesdays. Her lessons were mostly forty-five minutes long. My son and I shared an hour lesson.”
“You have been most helpful.” She glanced at Reggie who was pacing at the front door, ready to leave.
As they pulled out of the driveway Stevie asked why Reggie was so eager to leave.
“I didn’t think she had anything new to offer the investigation. Was I wrong?”
Stevie answered tactfully, “I was gathering more information from someone who genuinely cared. We haven’t talked to many who knew and cared about her much.”
Reggie nodded and then looked over at Stevie. In unison they said, “We need the coroner’s report.”