The Trill Is Gone
A Blanchard House Mystery
by Cynthia Morrow
“Swans sing before they die; ‘twer no bad thing
Should certain people die before they sing.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
“That’s it! I’m going down to Market Street Middle School tomorrow to confront that incompetent moron.” My month-long simmer had just boiled over. I plunked myself down at the kitchen table and glowered at no one in particular.
“And which moron would that be?” my best friend Grace asked me. She was setting the kitchen table for a late supper after a full day of teaching young cellists the basics. “Anyone I know?”
“No, I don’t think you’ve met her. I certainly haven’t yet, but I’m going to change all that tomorrow. Her name is Ms. Kassar, at least that’s what the kids call her, and she’s singlehandedly ruining the music program in the Kirkland middle schools, one string player at a time.”
“Ah. And you think you’re the only one who’s had it with that woman? Think again. So far I’ve had two promising young cello students quit the school orchestra because of her.”
“Really? You never mentioned it.”
“Yeah? Well, I was too busy grinding my teeth.”
“Did you know that she forces those poor kids to tune their instruments almost a half step lower than the real 440 A? It drives anyone with perfect pitch, or even relatively good pitch, completely nuts.”
“Of course I know about it! One of my students, in complete desperation, brought in a tuning fork. Ms. Kassar threw it on the floor and insisted that he tune down to whatever pitch she gave him. That’s when he quit the school orchestra. His father is livid and so am I.”
“Well,” I said, “it has to stop. Little Tracy Ingelmeyer came to her lesson in tears just now. She holds her instrument up nicely, and slightly out to the left, with a beautiful hand and bow position. She told me that Ms. Kassar made fun of her in front of the entire middle school orchestra today and told her the left hand should be collapsed, you know, like a country fiddler. Then she accused this poor little girl of being ‘prideful.’ I’d like to strangle her.”
“I’ll help.” Grace is always willing to lend a hand in a good cause, which merely adds luster to her best friend status, but in this case I wanted to do the strangling all by myself. My name is Althea Stewart, a forty-something violist who not only gave up her former life as a successful Hollywood studio musician and moved to Kirkland, Washington to teach violin and viola, but who encouraged her best pal Grace Sullivan to follow her up here to teach cello and voice in our own music studio. We’d both been through painful divorces, and I thought that a change might do us a world of good. Grace agreed. We’d pooled our resources and purchased a run-down mansion called Blanchard House overlooking Lake Washington, installing pianos and setting up our private teaching rooms on the ground floor. Now that it was up and running with a full roster of paying students, I wasn’t about to let an incompetent public school music teacher discourage our prize students and destroy what we’d been working so hard to create.
“You know,” Grace said, “we might be better off talking to Delilah Cantwell about the situation.” Our mutual friend Delilah Cantwell, a choral instructor at one of the local high schools, had just accepted a traditionally thankless position as head of the Kirkland School District’s Music Program. That meant that she was Ms. Kassar’s boss. Delilah’s a real glutton for punishment, so she’s also the contractor and music librarian for the St. Timmons Episcopal Chamber Orchestra and Choir, which explains why we’d be seeing her Thursday night. The group was performing Handel’s rarely heard oratorio Hercules. She’d hired both Grace and me to play for it. Thursday night was the first scheduled rehearsal.
“Won’t we feel too guilty cornering poor Delilah at St. Timmons, especially when she’ll be running around handing out music to the chorus and the orchestra, and probably even singing the alto solo?” I said. “Maybe we can hit her up at the end of the evening as soon as everything’s settled down.”
“Do you think you can you restrain yourself that long?” Grace kept her eyes on my hands, which were involuntarily clenching and unclenching. Her more moderate approach, I admitted to myself, was probably better, so I temporarily, albeit reluctantly, relinquished the satisfying daydream of wrapping my fingers around Ms. Kassar’s deserving throat. I shook out my hands and took a deep breath.
“I’ll manage,” I said. “Chewing on a nice rare steak might help. I’ll pretend it’s Ms. Kassar.” I threw two seasoned NY steaks that had been coming to room temperature into a pan of sizzling garlic butter, tossed some of my homemade balsamic dressing into a bowl of torn romaine leaves, and microwaved two yams. It wasn’t fancy, but the robust Washington State cabernet Grace poured into our glasses washed it all down nicely. I almost forgot about bad music teachers by the end of the first glass. Wine-induced mellowness never lasts, though, does it? I was pretty sure that, come tomorrow morning, I’d still be plenty aggravated.
Grace and I had been looking forward to Thursday night’s rehearsal at St. Timmons for reasons other than talking with Delilah Cantwell about our mutual nemesis. I mean, who doesn’t love Handel, right? Grace’s enthusiasm for the whole enterprise was even greater than mine because the recent love of her life, Emile Girard, a handsome bassist with the Seattle Symphony, would be performing with us as a member of the small chamber group. She’d already spent most of the morning selecting her wardrobe for both the rehearsals and the performance, trying on a small mountain of low-cut silk blouses and a half-dozen pairs of ridiculously high-heeled Manolo Blahnik knockoffs. I gathered she was going in for the kill, so to speak. Emile was definitely a goner.
I’d recently been seeing someone myself, Detective Harry Demetrious, Kirkland PD. We’d met during a murder investigation last Christmas, not exactly listed under the “Top 10 Best Ways To Get A Date” on the cover of Cosmo, but I wasn’t complaining. I thought he was fairly brilliant and wildly sexy, even though we’d only gotten to the kissing and heavy breathing stage up until this point. There were definite indications that he thought I was pretty swell too. We’d seen a couple of movies together, and had cleaned our plates at some of the best restaurants in Kirkland, which is saying something. Kirkland is known for its restaurants and art galleries, its picturesque setting on the shores of Lake Washington, and its quaint village atmosphere. Demetrious and I had been soaking up that atmosphere pretty regularly every weekend since March, and it was already May. I was finally feeling secure enough in the relationship to take the next step. Something told me he’d been born ready.
Did that mean that I’d chance dragging the poor guy to an obscure Handel Oratorio at St. Timmons any time soon? Probably not, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask him what he thought of arcane choral music just in case he was an aficionado. A girl can dream, can’t she?