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The Sound of Music

David Carrico

Franz Sylwester, one-time violinist in the chapel of
the archbishop of Mainz

To Friedrich Braun, journeyman instrument crafter
for Master Hans Riebeck, in Mainz

On the nineteenth day of January in the
year of our Lord 1633


Greetings, my friend,

I am sure by now that you have despaired of hearing from your prodigal, but I promised you that when I found a place I would write to you. By the grace of God I now have that place, and so I keep my word.

Before I proceed further, I must confess to you. I am well aware that I was somewhat less than gracious to you and Anna in those dark days after that snake Heydrich smashed my hand. Please mark down the things that I said then to the physical pain of my wound and to the spiritual pain of knowing that I could never play again.


The pen paused as images flashed through his mind: sitting in the tavern that night, arguing with Rupert Heydrich as to who was the better player, goading Rupert and smiling as the rising choleric tide stained the other man's face—the sudden eruption of the fight behind him, being caught in the brawl and knocked to the floor—scrambling to escape the flow of the struggle—the sudden panic as someone stepped on his arm and pinned it to the floor—the explosion of agony as the boot heel smashed into his left hand, and again, and again, and again—the serpent's voice hissing in his ear, taunting him as he curled sobbing around his wounded hand.

"Was there no investigation, no judgment made?" she murmured in his ear.

"No," he said, "it happened in the middle of the brawl, and no one would come forward to support my story."

There was a pause, then came, "Do you miss it?"

"I will always miss it," he said quietly, "but as my friend Isaac says, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.' Where God has taken one gift away, he has given several in return."


I am well aware that I am alive solely because of Anna's tending me during the fever, keeping the wound rot from claiming me. I am also well aware that I am alive twice over because of the gift of silver that you and Master Hans added to the pittance the Kappelmeister gave me when he turned me out. That gift kept body and soul together until I arrived at my current place.

I am also very ashamed of my churlish words to you when I shook the dust of Mainz from my feet as I set out on my wanderjahr.


Another pause, another flood of memories: burning with fever and biting his lip bloody to keep from crying out as Anna tended his broken hand; the weak-chinned, slovenly Kappelmeister confronting him in his room—"I have no room for a one-handed violinist. You must leave these quarters by the end of the week. Here are your final wages."—the hand slamming down on the table, and lifting to reveal two silver pieces and eight coppers—Heydrich smirking in the background; bickering with his friends as they tried to restrain him from leaving, finally shaking their hands off his arms and snarling, "I will not stay in the same place as Heydrich, and if you loved me, you would not either! If you will stay, then stay, but leave me go!"

"A little rude, were you?" brought him back to the present.

"Aye . . . and with no cause, for they loved me well. I only hope they still do."


I had not traveled many days until I had repented of them, and I am heartily glad to now apologize and ask your forgiveness.

I had no destination in mind when I left you, and so I drifted aimlessly from place to place. I quickly learned that just as there is no future for a one-handed violinist, there is actually little that a one-handed man can do to earn his bread. No Adel or wealthy burgher will hire a man to tutor his children who was crippled in a tavern brawl. The clerks we used to patronize need two working hands. The mercenary companies will not take a one-handed man. Even the common laborers we used to sneer at require two strong hands to wield mattock and spade.

I took up with a couple of traveling players for a few days, who advised me strongly not to sing, as my voice would make even a crow sound melodious! I seem to remember Anna uttering a similar sentiment once, although she was smiling when she said it. They were not.

They also lifted my ignorance and lowered my arrogance when I attempted to become a drummer by showing me that that art is more complex than it looks—and that even a novice drummer requires two good hands to learn his skills.

As each day passed in succession, the Lord taught me humility, until finally, after weeks of such tutoring I left my pride, my arrogance, lying in the dust of the road. Then it was that the Lord opened a door for me. I was sitting in a low tavern near a crossroads, not even in a town or village, nursing the only beer I could afford to buy. I was trying to stave off the moment when I would go out into the night to find a haystack or barn to sleep in, when I heard a peddler wishing that he could tell his sister in Hamburg that he was well, so she would not worry so. A conversation ensued, with the result that I wrote a letter for him and he bought me another flagon of beer and gave me a copper besides. As days passed, I served as scribe to more people who were unable to write—soldiers, peddlers, laborers—anyone who could buy the paper and ink and would give me a copper or two to put their words into a form that could cross the miles. And I was glad to do so.

It is perhaps an irony that these people that I used to ridicule turned out to be mostly good folk—rough around the edges, often; more than a little crude, absolutely; perhaps not strictly honest by the prince-bishop's laws, but mostly honorable by their lights. And even the biggest rogue that I met was likeable. I certainly never met anyone who compared to Heydrich for malice.

The coppers I earned as a scribe eked out the silver you had given me as I drifted south and west through Thuringia, but the work was erratic and my resources kept dwindling. When I arrived at Grantville, there were few coins in my pocket.

I had heard rumors of Grantville while I was on the road, but I passed them off as typical gossip exaggerations. You have probably heard the same rumors, and knowing you, you are even more skeptical than I was. Believe them. To paraphrase the closing words of the Gospel of Saint John, there are not enough books in the world to contain the wonders of the place.


"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"

"Perhaps." He smiled, still focused on the paper. "Friedrich will shake his head at how credulous I have become, and Anna will be scandalized at the sacrilege."


The guards on the approaches to the town decided I was harmless and let me pass. My English was less practiced than I remembered, or perhaps their dialect was different, but I still understood when they directed me to the grandest tavern I have ever seen, perhaps the grandest the world has ever seen, the Thuringen Gardens. It is huge, and bustles both night and day. It was near sunset when I went there, hoping to find scribal work. I was very hungry, so the first thing I did was order the cheapest food they had. They brought me something called a sandwich, which turned out to be a slab of ham and a slab of cheese between two slices of bread, spiced to the point of burning with ground mustard sauce. A curious thing, but one you get used to so quickly that within moments it seemed natural to have a mug in one hand and this sandwich in the other, even my crippled claw, alternating bites and sips.

After I finished eating the fine meal, which had cost most of my remaining coins and left me only a few copper pennies, I looked around for those whom I could approach for scribing work. The more I looked, the more my heart dropped in my chest, for nowhere did I see the ragged clothing of those who would use my services. Everyone in sight was clean and well dressed, well fed and content. As the serving maid went by I asked her if there was another tavern in town, one for the common laborers. She laughed and said that this bunch was as common as they came. It was most odd, Friedrich, that she was clad in trousers in public.

I knew nothing of Grantville then, but at that moment I wondered what I had wandered into. If, as it seemed, there were no poor, no one that would hire my scribing, how would I feed myself? In the depths of my depression, I nursed my beer, wondering what I would do now, when suddenly a loud voice penetrated my head. And I do mean penetrated.


Memory rolled as the pen recorded.

"All right, it's Saturday night here at the Gardens, and tonight we have some entertainment. Preeeee-senting the world's greatest rock-and-roll, blues, and country-and-western band, give it up for Mountaintop!"


The man who had been talking stepped away from the tall skinny pole with the knob at the top, and another man bearing a most outlandish-looking device stepped up to it and said, "Thanks for the intro. Of course, we're the ONLY rock-and-roll, blues, and country-and-western band in the world. Anyway, we're going to kick it off tonight with a song made popular by Elton John."

There were five young men on this platform, surrounded by cabinets and very strange devices. Three of them were holding things that in some very faint way could be likened to lutes or Spanish guitarras, and they were gyrating and gesturing with them. One of them was pounding on a strange flat cabinet with his hands. The last one was sitting surrounded by a group of drums of different sizes and Turkish cymbals on poles, beating them all rapidly with sticks.

Friedrich, do you remember when we sat in the tavern and listened to that Swiss traveler talk about being in the Alps and seeing an avalanche pour down a mountainside toward him? That is what I felt like. They produced the most awful cacophony I have ever heard, a veritable avalanche of sound. Even now I hesitate to call it music.

If I concentrated, I could hear individual musical notes and tones, but it sounded like no music I had ever heard. It was definitely polyphony—there were more than one voice present—but there was no contrapuntal flow, no interweaving of parts. I could hear moments of tertiary harmony, but they were overwhelmed by seconds, fourths, and sevenths. It was harsh, it was discordant, it seemed like what an anthem from the infernal regions would sound like.



"What are you laughing at?" he asked.

"Rock and roll, the music from hell. Remind me to explain that to you later."


Then one of the men started trying to sing, but it seemed to me that he was more shouting. The only thing I could understand was "Saturday night's all right for fighting." I thought surely I misunderstood, that they would not be inciting a riot.


"I don't know . . . with those boys, that's entirely possible."



This went on for what seemed like eternity, but I have been assured was less than four minutes. It was more than loud. It was so rhythmic and percussive it was like some obscene martial music. I felt it physically as much as I heard it.

Remember your worst morning after a night spent drinking. Remember how your head felt. Now, double that feeling. Double it again. That approaches how I felt—as if my entire being was throbbing with the pulse of the universe. And then suddenly—blessed stillness—for a moment, anyway, until everyone else in the tavern stood to their feet and began clapping and yelling and cheering and whistling.

I sat stunned. Shocked. Appalled. Soon the crowd quieted and the men began making noise again. Unable to move, I listened to several more bouts of chaos. Eventually, I made the astounding discovery I could become used to even this.

At last they ceased, and began moving their cabinets and drums and cymbals from the platform. The tavern returned to tavernish sounds—many conversations, some laughter, but no chaos. I began to think again about trying to find people for whom I could scribe, but before I could stir, a young woman sat down across the table from me.


"Finally, we're getting to the good stuff."

"And we will get done with it sooner if you will quit interrupting me."

Memory began to scroll again.

"Hey, are you all right?" Blue eyes stared at him in concern. He blinked several times, opened and closed his mouth without speaking, again, and finally said, "I think so."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," stronger this time.

"Okay, you just looked pretty dazed for a while there."

"I . . . yes, I was." Pause. "What was that?"

She smiled, and said "What was what?"

"The . . . what those men . . . that noise."

"Oh, you mean the rock music?

"Music?" Heads turned around them at the volume of that word.

"You're new here, aren't you?" Confused, he nodded. "Yes, it is music. You know about where we're from?" Another nod. "It's very popular music from our time . . . up-time, we call it now."

"If that is what music will become, may God spare me from it."

She chuckled, then said, "With that attitude, you must be a musician. Do you sing or play?"

Without thinking, he said, "Violin," then closed his eyes in pain.

"Can I see it? Your violin?"

Eyes still closed, he raised his crippled hand from his lap and laid it on the table.

"Oh, my God," he heard her say softly. Steeling himself, he opened his eyes, expecting to see horror and pity, and was almost unmanned when he saw an incredible empathy—she not only knew his pain, she shared it with him. "It looks recent. Some kind of accident?"

"No. A jealous rival."

The anger that flared in her face surprised him. Eyes narrowed to mere slits, she hissed, "That's just evil."

He shrugged. "I cannot disagree, but it is done."

"No wonder you looked so lost when you walked in. You've lost your cornerstone, haven't you?"

"Perhaps, perhaps not," he said slowly, then gave a small smile, "but I believe I must admit to a kinship with Job. I rely on the Lord, but I do have some questions I would like to ask Him." She laughed, and he was lost in the silver skirling of her voice.

"I'm Marla Linder. What's your name, wandering musician?"

"Franz. Franz Sylwester, from Mainz." He recovered enough of his manners to stand and give her a bow, hand over heart.

"Sit down, sit down." She looked at him closely, and said, "Mainz. Are you Catholic?"

"Well, enough so that I could play in the bishop's chapel. But my best friends are Lutheran, albeit quietly so in Mainz."

She quirked her mouth a little, and said, "From the looks of you, you haven't had much luck lately, have you?"

"No. A one-handed musician has no . . . no means to support himself."

"Have you thought about learning something else?" She interrupted him as he started to reply, "I mean, learning to play something one-handed, like a trumpet?"

"The thought, yes, but . . . there is something to violin, something about shaping the music . . . molding it . . . that trumpeters cannot do, that only strings can do. If I cannot do that . . ." He shrugged.

"Hmm," she said, "I think I know what you mean, but you might be surprised." Someone called her name and beckoned toward her from the platform. "My turn. I have an idea for you. Wait here and we'll talk again after I'm done."


Her name was Marla. She talked with me for a short time, and then she went to the platform and sat down behind one of the flat cabinets. I steeled myself for more discord and chaos, and was surprised when a much more harmonious sound was heard. She sang several songs in something like a ballad style. They were nothing like our songs: tempi were very loose and meters seemed to meld from one to another smoothly; harmonies were still dissonant, albeit not nearly so much as "the world's greatest rock-and-roll, blues, and country-and-western band." Not at all structured like anything I had ever heard before, yet somehow intriguing.

Some of the songs were pleasing, like the lullaby she sang to a sweet baby named James. Others were disturbing, like the one where she was imploring someone about killing her softly with a song. The last song had me wondering what language she was singing in, there were so many words in it that sounded like English yet made no sense. Even the title was confusing: "I dig rock-and-roll music," yet it had not one mention of a shovel in it at all.

In some strange way, the cabinet she sat behind was some kind of instrument, but it could not have been because it was so flat and narrow that there simply was not room for any kind of works within it. Nonetheless, it produced a most unusual sound. In timbre it was somewhat bell-like, perhaps like bells struck with soft mallets. That does not do it justice; suffice it to say that it was a sound I have never heard before.

I took some comfort in the fact that if the Kappelmeister had been present he would have been gibbering; partly over the strangeness of what was being called music, and partly over a woman singing unaccompanied, albeit only in a tavern. In fact, that thought quite warmed my heart, and I was smiling when Marla returned to my table, claimed me, and led me out into the evening.

Friedrich, she found me shelter, and a place to work to earn my keep. But oh so much more importantly, she took me to people who showed me a new world, a world of music that I thought I had been barred from. First she took me to the school. It is not a gymnasium—they call it a High School, and all the children of the residents attend and learn arts and sciences. And music, Friedrich, they learn music! There is a professor there, a professor of music. Herr Wendell is a master in command of his art. He teaches these students, these youths, to play music, and to play it with passion. These youth, they play all manner of reeds and horns and drums. Everyone calls them a band. (They are not, however, to be mistaken for the "rock-and-roll" band.) Except that sometimes Master Wendell calls them a symphonic wind ensemble. He does not lead from a clavier, Friedrich. Instead, he stands on a platform in their midst, and by his gestures he shapes them as a potter shapes the clay. He was the one who showed me how our polyphony changed over time to a new style of music he called homophony, and began teaching me how to understand its forms.

Friedrich, you will not believe what they can do, the flutes and reeds and horns they have! Especially the horns! They have finely made sackbuts—except they call them trombones, which I find to be an odd name. And they have trumpets and other horns of all sizes, all made with great artifice with an innovation called valves that allow them to play diatonic tones in all registers. They can even play chromatic tones in all registers! They are incredible! But most astounding of all is what they use in place of the harpsichord. Oh, Friedrich, there is an instrument called a piano, that is to a clavier what the finest flute is to the crudest willow whistle! All of this Master Wendell revealed to me over several evenings.

Marla also introduced me to her friend, Herr Ingram Bledsoe, a maker of instruments, who makes some small instruments; some, as he says, "from scratch," meaning they are crafted totally by himself, and some from "kits." This is another changed word in the Grantville dialect of English that Herr Bledsoe had to explain to me. His "kits" are not baby foxes. He showed me boxes of instrument parts that had already been cut out from the wood and metal, and explained that he was able to buy these from other people and then assemble them into the instruments himself. He had several harp "kits," and some guitarras also. It seems to me that using these "kits" would rob you of the pleasure of searching out and selecting the wood, and bringing out of it the very shape you wanted. In their old world, however, it seems that the ability to accomplish things quickly was important, and there is no doubt that putting together the parts that someone else has crafted would quickly give you a finished instrument.

He also repairs many of the instruments they brought from the future.

This next part is for Anna. I was in Herr Bledsoe's workshop one day when I made the mistake of saying that women had no strength for music.


Memory again.

Marla looked at him, eyes narrowed, and said quietly, "Is that so?"

He knew her well enough now to recognize the warning signs, and said, "Well, so my masters taught me."

"Your masters were fools, but I don't expect you'll take my word for it. Tomorrow is the town Christmas Party. There will be a concert in the Methodist church. You be there," and she turned and stalked out. He turned and looked at Ingram. "Did I say something wrong?"

Ingram just laughed, and said, "Yep, you did. I'd be there tomorrow, if I were you."

Knowing what was good for him, he went to the concert. Once again, Grantville shocked him, and he spent most of the concert in a daze. First of all, over half of the choir of almost sixty people was women! And Marla was among them. Second, the player at the piano was another woman! Third, they were good! The women's voices had a range and a power and a timbre that the boys' voices he was used to hearing on soprano and alto simply could not possess. And the pianist was extremely accomplished, demonstrating to him the power of that instrument as well.

There came a point where Marla stepped out from the choir, and nodded to the pianist, who began a quiet introduction. The epiphany came when Marla began to sing.

"Ave, Maria . . ."

As she sang that beautiful melody, he was transported to another realm, lifting on the effortless soaring of what seemed to be the voice of a very angel from God. He closed his eyes, drinking in the splendor with his ears, seeming to rise out of his body while she sang. When the beautiful song came to a close, he was the first one on his feet, clapping with all his might, tears pouring down his face.


Anna, you were right all along. Women can be musicians, professional musicians, and can be just as good as any man. Marla is the proof of it. I grovel at your feet, as I groveled abjectly at hers after the concert.

Friedrich, there is more knowledge of music in Grantville than there is in all the courts and chapels of Europe combined! Knowledge of our music and its past and what music had grown into in their time. Master Wendell and Marla have shown me that within our generation the center of music moved north from Italy to Germany, and that Germany remained the center of the greatest music for almost two hundred years. They have devices that play music with no musicians (they say it is not magic, just superior mechanical arts), and I have heard the music of Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and so many others. I know those names mean nothing to you now, but they are giants, Friedrich, giants. There is so much here, so much to feed on. But it rests on such a slender reed.


One last memory unrolled. Marla turned off the device that had just finished playing Die Kunst der Fuge by Johann Sebastian Bach, and waited with Marcus Wendell while he returned from the heights that the order, structure, and innovation of the masterwork had transported him to.

"I seem to spend much time crying around you," he muttered, wiping his eyes with his sleeves. "Very unmanly."

She shook her head, and said quietly, "To me it's a mark of how great a heart you have for music, that you can be so touched by the greatest."

"This Bach, this master of contrapuntal art, he was born when?"

"He was . . . will be . . . that is, 1685, I think. He's the beginning of the German era of great musicians."

He sat with brow furrowed, thinking intently, and finally looked up. "Marla, this butterfly effect you explained to me . . . how because you exist here, now, that ripples of change have begun and that the future you knew will never happen, people will never be born . . ."


"Is that true of Johann Sebastian Bach?"

Sudden sucking of air, twin expressions of horror on Marla's and Marcus's faces, twin exclamations of "Ohmigawd! I never thought of that!"


Friedrich, we need you. We need you and Leopold Gruenwald and Thomas Schwarzberg to join us here, you three and as many of the others as you can convince to come. For you, Herr Bledsoe will teach you of how pianos are made, and how to repair and maintain them, and of guitars. For Leopold, Master Wendell will show him all the wind instruments that he has, horns of all shapes and sizes, flutes and reeds, and new forms such as the saxophones. We desperately need Thomas to help copy down all the music that is available on their devices before they wear out. We must preserve and spread our German heritage, our legacy that has come from a future that will never be. And last but not least, bring Anna, so that she can learn from Marla and the others and become the musician she so wants to be.

Oh, come, Friedrich! Come for the joy of it, come to become the renowned master the Lord means you to be, come because I love you and need you. Send word as soon as you can.


Franz set the pen down and leaned back in his chair. Marla wrapped her arms around his neck from behind, and said, "Will they come?"

"Oh, yes. Friedrich at least will come, and Leopold should. Once Thomas learns of all the new music he can learn, no one will be able to hold him back. If they come, others will come with them or follow soon after. And of them all, Thomas is probably the one we need most. He can notate any music that he hears, so he is the solution to preserving so much of what you have on the CDs and . . . records." He tilted his head up and she leaned down to kiss him. "Yes, they will come, and together we will learn and save your music." Remembering the "movie" she had shown him the day before, he grinned and said, "And the Grantville hills will be alive with the sound of music."


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