In my novel Concerto, the heroine, Catriona, is a music therapist who is hired to work with a client who is depressed. Umberto was once a celebrated pianist composer, but since he lost his sight he has turned his back on the music that is his great passion.
Once, Catriona was a musician too – an opera singer on the brink of a wonderful career. But when she fell pregnant at 18, she had to rethink her future. Because she could not live without music, she decided to divert her passion in another positive direction, and over the next decade she became an authority in the field of music therapy.
Catriona knows that working with Umberto will be challenging. First, there is the matter of the night of passion they once shared – and she makes a decision to conceal her true identity from him, so that she may focus on their professional relationship. Then there is the fact that Umberto is a most difficult client: he is stubborn and recalcitrant and bitter. Though music is everything to him, his raison d’être, he can’t or won’t compose. Catriona has her work cut out trying to coax Umberto back to the piano, but she is determined to do so, for she can see that if she can persuade him to get back to his music, he’ll find a way back to his life, too.
She explains to Umberto:
‘As I’ve said, on a simple level a person who is suffering from a broken heart will find that sad music is a more cathartic way of releasing the pain than, for example, the shoulder of a best friend. You feel understood on a deep level, and that understanding provides a release which can allow you to move on. It’s as simple as that. Music has innate healing qualities and like exercise might release endorphins, it really does affect the brain. More than that, it helps take you into a creative space, one accessed by your right brain, where you can connect with the unconscious. That’s where the healing can really start to happen.’
Umberto is a typical alpha male who finds it hard to open up, and Catriona finds he needs a firm hand. She tells him:
‘Gifts like yours, signore, do not die in a car accident. It wasn’t your brain that was smashed, not your hands either. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot pick up your brilliant career where you left off. Have you never heard of the nineteenth-century blind French piano tuner Claude Montal, who taught himself how to tune a piano while studying at the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles? And what of your compatriot, the tenor Andrea Bocelli? He lost his sight completely when he was twelve after a football accident and subsequently became the biggest-selling singer in the history of classical music. The list is long and the key words are courage, determination, discipline and hard work.’
The biggest issue for Umberto is recognising that his blindness needn’t hinder his work, and that in fact it could even elevate his compositions to another level.
‘It’s not just that composing will save you, it’s that the compositions will be so much richer for the very fact that you’re blind… If one sense is removed, the brain compensates in remarkable, wonderful ways. Look at Beethoven… haven’t you ever thought how the orchestral works written after he went deaf are more gifted than those he wrote before?’
It is clear that it will take a lot of work on Catriona’s part and courage on Umberto’s part to get him playing again. But Catriona knows that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. If Umberto will not play, he can listen to music – and the right song choice may just break down some of the barriers inside him. A song like his own composition ‘Songe d’une Nuit d’Amour’, written all those years ago on the night they were lovers. And when Catriona plays this for him…
Umberto leaned his head against the back of the chair. His eyelids closed over his emerald irises and he listened… And as the emotion built up inside him, his pulse quickened. His sightless eyes burned with tears that welled up behind them, tears he was no longer able to hold back, now rolling down his cheeks in an uncontrollable stream.
Music has such power to heal – to bring about release, to soothe, to stir, to inspire. Can Catriona finally help Umberto to find his way home, back to music, back to himself?