Mannequin Monday – Nocturnes

This week our mannequin is clothed with words and draped with sound.

The verbal focus is Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. The auditory note comes from jazz vocalist Veronica Swift.

And I again offer a bit of my own writing: “The Necklace.”

What I’m Reading This Week

I am in the middle of Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Music is central to the lives of the characters. In one story, a young guitarist plays for an older crooner as they float through the canals of Venice in a gondola. “We went through that song, full of traveling and goodbye. An American man leaving his woman. He keeps thinking of her as he passes through the towns one by one, verse by verse, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, driving down a long road the way my mother never could. If only we could leave things behind like that — I guess that’s what my mother would have thought. If only sadness could be like that.”

If only sadness could be like that.

Segue! Music, of course, is for listening. During the summer I attended several online presentations on listening to music, offered by Wynton Marsalis. Not easy, since they were offered live at 7 a.m. PST.

I am no musician. Much of Marsalis’s discussion of music, especially jazz, was way over my head. But Marsalis taught me to listen more carefully, to find some of the language in music, to hear the various instruments talking to one another. Listening, for me, has become not just enjoyable but an adventure, a search.

What I’m Listening to This Week

Credit: NY Times

I’ve been discovering more and more quality music video clips on YouTube. I usually begin by selecting a couple of favorites. Then I follow some of the site’s suggestions for similar music. This week I started with a favorite: Wynton Marsalis and his quintet, with Jon Batiste, performing Joe Avery’s Blues. It was done at the Marciac Jazz Festival in France in 2014.


Credit: Downbeat

YouTube led me to another Marciac performance, Wynton in 2019, with jazz vocalist Veronica Swift, performing “Pennies From Heaven.” And down a very enjoyable rabbit hole, following other of Swift’s performances. Here’s one clip of her performing at a club in Philadelphia.Then on to Spotify for her albums. I especially like Let’s Sail Away, Jeff Rupert and Veronica Swift.

Incredible vocals. She rivals Ella for scat. Check out her music.

What I Wrote This Week

This is more a writing exercise than a finished piece. I loosely followed the thread of music.

The Necklace

Margo, one of three backup singers, slipped the headphones down on her neck. She twisted around to relieve the tension. How many takes do we have to do?

She eased her butt down on the tall stool behind her. 

The producer’s voice came through the speakers from behind the glass window. “Let’s try it again. We’re almost there.”

Credit: Careers in music

“Where is there?” Margo asked.

“We’ll know when we get there.”

She shook her head. Pulled the headphones back up on her head. As she did so, the phones snagged her gold necklace. She didn’t notice.

The clasp opened. The necklace slipped down inside her blouse.

An hour later the recording session ended. Finally. She and the others had spent over five hours doing backup vocals for a singer named Rayne Supreme. Rayne’s voice came through the headphones over and over, till the producer felt that they had caught that moment, truly augmented Rayne’s awesome voice.

A dime-a-dozen talent

Problem was, for Margo, Rayne Supreme’s voice was a dime-a-dozen talent level. Someone with money was backing her. The producer would pour everything into making her tracks sound good. And then they would throw an album up there with a million others and hope it stuck.

Margo grabbed her jacket, nodded to the other singers, and headed for the parking lot. She had just enough time to get fast food before she had to pick up her ten-year old at school. 

Waiting in the school line, she wolfed down fries, slurped a Coke, and read a bunch of useless emails. The passenger door flew open as her daughter Jenny climbed in. Backpack on her lap, she fastened her seat belt.

“Hi, mom.” She leaned over to kiss her. Margo smiled. These are the tiny moments you live for.

At home Jenny pulled snacks from the fridge, then hunkered down to get homework out of the way. A new episode of her favorite show aired tonight. Homework could not interfere with that.

Margo tidied up the kitchen for a few minutes, poured herself a small glass of white wine, and went into the living room. Before she sat, she kicked off her shoes, untucked her blouse from her jeans, and melted into the couch. Back at the phone, she returned a few calls, deleted more emails, finished her wine.

As she relaxed, she felt drowsy. She closed her eyes and was immediately asleep.

Half an hour later Jenny woke her. “What’s for supper?”

“Pasta and broccoli.”

“I could deal with that.”

Her daughter snuggled with Margo. She put her arm around her neck, rubbing the neck gently.

“Feels good, honey,” the mom said.

Jenny sat up straight. Probed her mom’s neck with her fingers.

Where’s your necklace?

“Where’s your necklace?”

The mom reached around her neck.

“I don’t know. I put it on this morning.”

“You didn’t lose it, did you?”

“I hope not.”

“That was my birthday present to you. You can’t lose it.”

Margo stood up. The necklace fell out of her blouse and onto the floor.

“Here it is,” Jenny yelled.

“Thank heaven,” Margo said. She took the necklace from Jenny and put it back on her neck.

“Daddy helped me buy that for you,” Jenny said. “You know, before…”

Margo nodded. The two hugged.


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