Some years ago now, in New York, Ken Burns presented a sneak preview of his film “Mark Twain” to 200 Twain scholars. I managed to sneak in.
I remember being in a reverie throughout, due in large part to the undercurrent of piano music that seemed to flow like the very Mississippi herself.
Little could I have known, or ever suspected, I would be on the same stage with that pianist, Jacqueline Schwab, in 2014, presenting “Mark Twain’s America” in Nevada … wow.
The way it came about was quite serendipitous, really. A very nice Tahoe lady happened to attend one of Jacqueline’s concerts on Cape Cod and bought the CD Jacqueline had produced, “Mark Twain’s America.” She then gifted that CD to me when she returned home.
I listened to it while driving around the lake and didn’t want the journey to end. It was the most mesmerizing music, sending pictures of Mark Twain’s America flying through my head.
I could not wait to call Jacqueline and find out if we could collaborate on a live performance.
As good fortune would have it, she had a west coast swing scheduled in February of 2014, a year hence, and she agreed. Over the next year we pieced together our program and I marveled at how her music gave Twain’s words wings.
Imagine if you will, the haunting backdrop of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” beneath Sam’s tribute to his late wife, Olivia, as only Jacqueline Schwab could play it…
“I was born reserved as to endearments of speech and caresses, so hers broke upon me like the summer waves break upon Gibraltar. Hers was the most perfect character I have ever known, and she was the most winningly dignified person I have ever known. She had a heart that was tropically warm. It is in the heart that the riches lie.
“A loving heart is riches, riches enough; without it, intellect is poverty. And Livy possessed a heart of finer metal than any gold that was ever mined or minted. Whoever fell within the fatal influence of her beautiful nature was her willing slave forever more. If ever there was a man who had reason to be thankful for divine providence, it is I. I’ll say this about Olivia: Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”
I had spoken these words about Olivia hundreds of times before, but with Jacqueline’s music beneath them, I actually started to well up.
Her music touched me in a place that no other music could touch … that starboard atrium of the heart. I have to believe this is what elegant music was designed to do.
As an aside, my father told me once that it was okay to cry in public — you just have to shoot everybody who saw you do it.
Now I need to fly to Jacqueline’s home state of Massachusetts to notch another state on our belts with “Mark Twain’s America.” If we’re lucky, and the creek don’t rise, we might get to see all fifty states … wish us luck.
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.com.