Here is the text to Mouse Music: You can also listen to our Simon Studio NPR broadcast of the piece with actors and orchestra.
Sarah Levine Simon
Schubert scraped the last drops of raspberry jam from the side of the jar and stirred it into his tea. It a made a red cloud in the amber liquid. Then he helped himself to a square of chocolate from a faded, china plate. He took a wee bite, followed by a sip of tea. The crevice left in the chocolate by his sharp front teeth reminded Schubert of a tiny cliff and he hummed a cliff-climbing tune as he took a second, even smaller bite. He followed it by a very deliberate sip of tea. Downstairs a distant cello and violin tuned to the bright “A” of the piano.
“We can’t wait for you any longer!” his sister Taisey and brother Pfeffer announced. Their cups were already empty. “Mother said that when Maestro tunes it’s safe to go to the garden for peas and corn. Aren’t you coming, Schubert?”
Chocolate and raspberry lingered pleasantly in Schubert’s mouth. “I’ll be along in a few minutes.” Schubert took another sip of his tea and another tiny bite.
“You’d better finish before mother gets back,” Taisey warned him.
“And leave some chocolate for her.” Pfeffer scurried off after his sister.
Their mother had gone to the pantry to find cheese for their supper. Schubert was now alone. The musicians had begun to play and the fullness of the cello filled the attic. He closed his eyes and listened. He loved music more than food, more than chocolate. Schubert set down his cup of tea. He twirled and danced across the rough flooring to where the long planks were shaded by the angled roof of the attic. A persistent leak had caused the wood to buckle and left a space in the floor just wide enough to allow a mouse to peer through into the living room below. At every chance, Schubert listened from his tiny perch in the rafters of the Maestro’s great house. And when his mother went to the pantry, Schubert crept through the little hole in the floor and over onto a high shelf where the Maestro kept his music and busts of Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, and the other Schubert.
Today the Maestro was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt with a little melody printed on it, and tennis shoes. He conducted with one hand and played with the other. A cellist and violinist, dressed as casually, followed his baton. Sometimes they played together and sometimes alone with the Maestro’s accompaniment.
The music swelled Schubert’s tiny body. Notes danced before his eyes and when the Maestro stopped, “Please take it over again from number 42!” Schubert could still hear the music in his head.
At five o’clock, the Maestro’s wife came into the living room. “You have a concert to play this evening.”
“Oh dear, I had nearly forgotten.” The Maestro set down his baton.
The violinist and the cellist put their instruments away in the velvet-lined cases and gathered their music.
“I’ll see you at 7:30 sharp,” the Maestro called as the players left through the massive front door.
Schubert watched as the Maestro went upstairs to dress. Then he squeezed back through the hole in the ceiling. Particles of dust swirled in a slender beam of light as daylight faded. Without music, the bare attic seemed empty and bleak.
“How grand the concert hall must be. ” Schubert longed to go and watch the Maestro conduct his orchestra, to see the Maestro wear the coat and tails he kept in his bedroom closet, the very coat and tails the Maestro wore in pictures of the orchestra about the house.
A sad little melody lingered in Schubert’s head. Keeping time to it, he drew triangles and bows in the air. As he conducted, he danced and danced. He danced so fast that he danced right into his mother, who had just returned from the pantry with some cheese.
“Schubert!” She stood there all prim and proper. “You were supposed to help Taisey and Pfeffer gather peas and corn from the Maestro’s garden. Instead, selfish, foolish mouse, you are twirling and dancing to your silly music. Go quickly! It’s almost seven o’clock. There won’t be enough for us to eat.”
Schubert hurried out of the attic. He slid down the water pape fireman-style and landed in the Maestro’s clean, bright kitchen. He could hear the Maestro muttering and humming as he dressed. A long hallway led to the front door and concert posters covered the walls. The Maestro’s large, leather case sat empty by the door. Soon the Maestro appeared on the stairs dressed in his tails and cummerbund and gathered his fat leather music scores from the piano. As he put them into the case, his wife descended the stairs dressed in a red satin gown. She looked down at her husbands feet.
“Oh, dear!” He still wore tennis shoes and they made the cuffs of his pants seem a trifle long.
“I must go and change my shoes. ” He hurried back up stairs.
When the Maestro rounded the bend, and his wife was busily powdering her nose in the hall mirror, it occurred to Schubert that he could ride to the concert in the Maestro’s leather case. Without thinking that his mother might worry, the fat little mouse climbed into the Maestro’s leather case and found a special little mouse-nook for himself between the spine of the elegant leather volume and the well-worn leather cover.
“No one will ever know,” thought Schubert and he took one last peek. The Maestro returned wearing shiny patent-leather shoes, and closed the case. He took his wife’s arm and Schubert swayed to and fro in the darkness. The Maestro and his wife followed the stone path leading form the front door to a waiting car. Off they drove to the concert hall.
“Good evening, Maestro,” Schubert heard a voice say. The car had come to a halt. It was the guard at the stage door of the concert hall. The guard’s voice was drowned out by the clamor of voices. They were the autograph seekers. Papers rustled and people pushed, shouted and shoved against the Maestro and his case. They squeezed poor little Schubert so hard inside the case, he could barely breathe. A stern-voiced guard tried to herd them away. “No more! Mo more. The Maestro must prepare.”
“But you didn’t sign my program!” cried the voice of a child.
To Schubert’s relief, it was the last autograph signed by the Maestro. But then doors slammed and a new voice took command. “Would you like me to carry that, sir?”
Schubert felt a sudden thrust forward and a slight drop downward. Whoever now held the case walked at a swift pace. He could hear the lumbering Maestro’s footsteps fade down a long corridor. Another door screeched open and Schubert heard the sound of instruments tuning, many, many instruments. Some instruments were deep, robust and resonant. Other insturments reminded Schubert of little birds, geese, and wind rustling through leaves and howling through eaves. That someone set the Maestro’s case down and opened it.
Schubert rubbed his eyes as he adjusted to the bright lights. He peeked out. A giant hand wiped a giant mustache and a nose sniffed. Then a pair of giant hands lifted the scores and Schubert to a podium atop a block of wood. The podium stood in front of a great orchestra on a great stage, in a great hall filled with velvet seats and many doors. People poured into the hall through the doors and ushers carrying flashlights showed them where to sit.
When all the seats were taken, someone dimmed the lights. A hush filled the hall and the stage lights began to glow. Schubert held his breath. From the right side of the stage, the Maestro came forward. The people seated to the left saw him first and began to applaud. When the entire audience saw him, the applause swelled to a roar. The Maestro walked to the center of the stage in front of the podium and bowed first to the audience and then to the orchestra. When the clapping stopped, he raised his baton. On a downbeat, the violins played. Schubert peeked sideways to see the cellists raise their bows and the flutist put her flute to her mouth. He crept forward to see the horns join with the bass violins. The concert-mistress played the little solo she had rehearsed with the Maestro that very afternoon and Schubert, excited by the glorious music, left the cover of the Maestro’s music. tHe waved his paws in time to the music and when it was time for the principal cellist to join the concert-mistress, Schubert nodded at the appropriate moment. Next he pointed his paw toward the horn section and the percussion. But before he could signal to the harpist, a bow lifted Schubert high into the air above the podium. The assistant concert-master had put down his violin.
“A mouse is conducting the orchestra,” cried a little boy in the front row.
“A mouse?” an elderly woman with peacock feathers in her hat sat directly in front of the Maestro’s podium. She tilted her head sideways to see.
The feathers tickled the little boy’s nose and he sneezed. “Achoo!”
“A mouse in the house? You must be allergic to mice.” His mother handed him a tissue.
The Maestro continued to conduct but the assistant concert-master shook his bow, causing Schubert to leap forward. He landed into the wide, brass mouth of the French horn. The shiny metal was slippery and every time Schubert crawled close to the top, he slipped in downward circles back into the instrument’s neck. Schubert was trapped. The French horn couldn’t make a sound. The Maestro waved his baton impatiently. The horn player’s face was puffed and red. He blew harder and harder until with a loud blast, he ejected the poor mouse onto a kettle drum tuned in D. On the kettle drum, Schubert bounced and bounced. With each bounce the sound rang fuller. Now the Maestro was furious. The sounds the orchestra played were not the sounds written in the music. He stomped on the podium and waved his baton at the tympanist. The confused tympanist brought his mallet down hard onto the top of the drum and made Schubert bounce right up and onto the crown of the harp.
“Eek!” screamed the harpist in the middle of an arpeggio. The stage lights glared into Schubert’s face. The orchestra had stopped playing. The audience hushed. Not knowing what else to do, Schubert raised his paw. The bassoon and trumpet played first. When the violins heard them play, they frantically turned the pages of their music and they played again. The cellos joined and now the Maestro raised his baton.
When the entire orchestra played once again, Schubert scurried down the crown column of the harp and across the floor where he found a place to hide in the plush, green lining of a piccolo case.
After the symphony’s final cadence, skirts and music rustled. Tails swished as the entire orchestra looked around for Schubert.
Then the little boy in the front row cried. “Mouse music! I want more mouse music.”
“Yes, Mouse music! More Mouse Music!” The audience joined him clapping and demanding.
“Mouse music! More Mouse Music!” The orchestra clapped.
“If I catch that mouse!” cried the Maestro.
But Schubert was nowhere to be seen. He had scurried back into the dimly lit wings of the great concert hall to look for the Maestro’s case.
“My poor mother must be so worried and I am so hungry and tired.” He remembered the corn and peas in the Maestro’s garden. ” I must get back home the way I came.”
“Dressing room A,” read a sign on a metal door.
“Dressing room B,” read another, and C and D And E and F. A great stair case lead up to G, H, I and J. Schubert was lost in a maze of stairs and corridors. On L,M,N,O, and P, the orchestra could scarcely be heard. The corridor was painted a faded gray and a mop and bucket stood on the landing.
“A famous Maestro wouldn’t dress way up here.” Schubert scurried across the corridor and down another staircase where he found himself in a long, curving hallway carpeted in plush red. Red velvet curtains covered a row of doorways. These were the special boxes for special listeners. Schubert peeked inside the first one. In it sat two gentlemen dressed in tuxedos. He peeked into the second. It was the president. In the third sat two mean and three elegantly dressed women. One was wearing a red satin dress Schubert recognized. She was the Maestro’s wife. She leaned forward over the gold railing to listen to the orchestra and didn’t notice when Schubert crept into the pocket of her cape folded over an empty chair.
Schubert had a warm ride home that night. He waited until the Maestro’s wife had put her cape into the hall closet and when the lights were dim, he climbed out and ran upstairs as fast as he could to his frantic mother.
“I’m sorry I made you worry, mother!”
His mother was too relieved to scold him.
That night the attic seemed warmer and brighter. Taisey and Pfeffer hugged and danced merry circles around Schubert. His mother brought him a warm bowl of corn and pea soup. He swirled the bits of corn and peas in circles and then he began to conduct them.
When Schubert finished his soup, his mother held him tightly and kissed him many times. Then she kissed Taisey and Pfeffer and tucked the three of them into bed. Schubert dreamed about a mouse orchestra. It had 100 players, clad in coats with mouse tails. Schubert conducted a symphony of his own and when he was finished, the audience applauded and applauded. “mouse music! More Mouse Music!”
“Mouse music! Mouse music!” demanded the orchestra and Schubert took many bows. He made the orchestra play a little encore.
[If Schubert hadn’t been a mouse, there would have been two Schuberts.]