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Michael in tan_edited.jpg

of Tan

I remember the first time I rode in his car. Michael was the new guy in the music department. There was no question about it: everyone knew he was the most talented young conductor to set foot on campus. He was only 22 years old. Although I was two years younger, I had already played under dozens of conductors in several academic and professional orchestras, and I had never seen anyone who could create a tidal wave of energy and musical expression the way he could.

Now, he was going to give me a ride. Just a five-minute drive to the middle of town to grab a snack. No big deal. He opened the door for me like a gentleman. Actually, both doors. My viola went in the back seat, and I climbed into the passenger seat. He closed the door, and then got in and started up the car. The air was different inside his car. It cycled smoothly through the air conditioner and took out all of the damp, earthy, sweaty smell and texture that I had known all of my life growing up in Missouri. His air was clean and odorless. It didn’t weigh on your skin. It felt like being in a sterile, sanitary bubble. And the colors: my life was black and red, orange and purple along with the sickly pale white that was popular amongst punks like myself. His life was all beige.

Michael in tan_edited.jpg

Everything—the car’s interior and exterior, his clothing, his skin and hair and glasses—absolutely everything was tan. It was like looking at artwork made of sand.

Then there was the silence. While conducting, Michael was alive, animated and communicative. Once the orchestra vanished, so did his character. He looked serious. He neither smiled nor frowned, but focused on each task one at a time: shift, drive, turn, park. There was no small talk, just stony silence. It made me all the more curious. What is this guy made of? What is going on inside his head? I was determined to find out.

Spoiler alert: After 27 years of marriage, I can now often guess what he is thinking about. But I don’t want to give away any secrets!


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