Welcome to Novel PASTimes, Miss Mourdant. Won’t you tell us a little about your performance background?
Of course. I’ve played classical pianoforte since I could stand, learning from my father. I wouldn’t know what it was like to have a day—an hour, even—without music. I rehearse and perform so much that when I lift my hands from the keys, I still hear music playing. I feel the tremble of a beat, I think in terms of measures and tempos. Of rising and falling melody lines.
So is it true that you hear music when none is playing?
Yes, I suppose I’d claim that. But it’s not so much a recognizable composition out of thin air, but a symphony of everyday sounds. My brain is so accustomed to measuring seconds by beats and making patterns out of notes that it naturally filters everything about me into an orderly rhythm that becomes a sort of song. The world sings, and I hear music.
But I suppose you’re talking about the song. The one I used to hear at night as a child. Quite a lovely piece, with the rhythmic calm of Mozart yet the more robust and textured style of Liszt as well. I’ve heard it off and on throughout the years, and even though no one else admits to it, I’d be willing to wager they’ve heard it too. There’s just something enchantingly spooky about the song. Its minor trills, the other-worldly cadence of it… Call it a dream. Call me crazy. I know I’ve heard it, and it has something to do with that woman.
We’ve heard you spent time at a local asylum, possibly as a patient. Is there truth to this?
Vivienne: Very true, but it wasn’t because of hearing that song. Well, not only that. I entered Hurstwell Pauper Lunatic Asylum voluntarily—as an aid. Between you and I, though, the aid position was merely a ruse. You see, I inherited the guardianship of a mysterious woman who, as it turns out, was a patient at Hurstwell. At least, I think so. No one would give me straight answers about her, so I had to see for myself. And I did find out the truth, and I managed to find a bit of music in that creepy old place.
So being a professionally trained classic musician, why did you take work as an aid in the asylum? What good is your profession there?
More than you could imagine, actually. There’s a natural rhythm at the very core of our created bodies—a steady beat in our chest that starts before we’re even born. And music offers an irresistible invitation to engage with it—despite melancholia tugging one down, madness wrapping itself around your mind or age eating away at your memories. No medicine or treatment can reach the places a familiar song can go, sneaking life back into dying bodies and broken hearts. It’s far more than a spa for the senses, though, believe me. There’s a science to it—the way our bodies, our minds, respond to music, almost against our wills, and imagine what might happen if we allowed ourselves to explore the possibilities. A therapy of music—just imagine.
Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady
Jayne Disappears, A Rumored Fortune, Finding Lady Enderly, The
Love Note, and A Midnight Dance. She loves tales that capture the
colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear
anyone’s story. She lives with her husband and their children in a
house in the woods near Lake Michigan. You can find her online at