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Fourth Prize Essay - Some "Passing Notes" - by Julia B. Chapman.

Miss Julia B. Chapman was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., but has spent the greater portion of her life in the South. She received her musical education from eminent teachers in New Orleans. For the past eight years Miss Chapman has been a teacher and organist in Chattanooga, Tenn.


“Yes, you will like McCallie Street; but you will find it fearfully noisy!”

So said one and another of our friends when we moved into our new home on the principal thoroughfare of a large city. And, in truth, it did seem “fearfully noisy” after the solemn stillness of the mountain heights from whence we had come.

Schumann says that everything in the whole world has its keynote, if we will but listen for it;—and who is it who adds that the keynote of a great city is “F”?

Sitting one morning on a vine-shaded porch, with my head bent low over my needlework, I set myself to listen for the underlying harmony of the tide of sound that rolled ceaselessly by and beat upon my ears—to find, if I might, its keynote, and to determine if it were all, or only, noise.

True, it is largely made up of the ceaseless roll of wheels and tramp of hoofs, all day long and far into the night;—coming and going,—the sound swelling and dying away in an inextricable confusion of “crescendoes” and “diminuendoes.” But even in the sound of wheels and hoof-beats, what an infinite variety of tempo, and, may we say, of expression?

Without glancing up it is easy to distinguish the brisk “allegro agitato” of the fussy grocers’ carts, dashing excitedly from house to house (as though the welfare of the nation depended upon the prompt delivery of their petty wares), from the stately “adagio pesante” of the heavily-burdened transfer van, with, perchance, its story

of a forsaken and dismantled home, and the removal of its household goods to new and unfamiliar shrines. It may well be that it is the sigh of a heavy heart that is borne to our ears with each slow footfall.

Drays, hucksters’ wagons, hacks, and carts, mix and mingle in a medley of sound. Threading in and out among the plebeian throng of vehicles rolls the smooth legato of my lady’s carriage, its rhythm accented by the sharp staccato of prancing hoofs, as she passes on her way to make a call, or to some grand social function.

Listening, one may even see in fancy rich silks and nodding plumes, and all the gay array.

Next comes a merry party of tourists in pleasure wagons and drags, bound for the National Park or the historic heights around, breaking into the monotonous burden with a gay “allegro con spirito” that makes one smile in very sympathy with their pleasure, as the sound of their chatter and laughter dies away in the distance to be replaced by others.

But now comes the steady tramp of many feet, a sound heavy-freighted with woe, a solemn largo, eloquent of human grief and pain, as the black-plumed hearse, followed by a long train of carriages, bears some beloved form to its last resting place under the shadow of Old Lookout. The lagging footfalls seem to be treading out the measured cadence of the burial anthem, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and world were made”—a mournful “andante doloroso.” You would never dream that these were the very same carriages, drawn by the very same horses, that but an hour ago took a bridal party to the church. Then the nimble pace seemed an “allegro giojoso,” more suited to an epithalamium than to a funeral chant.

A hand-organ, played by a strolling son of Italy, grinding out snatches of opera and the last popular air with delightful impartiality; a horseman galloping by, his charger’s feet striking out the triplets of a gay “caballeto”; the laughter of little children at play; the hoarse cries of peddlers,—blend in a whimsical capriccio, while once and again the English sparrow adds a shrill acciacatura by way of embellishment.

More wheels and hoofs in varying time and tune, and then a sudden momentary hush! So still it is you can hear the sweet, weird music of æolian harps, as the wind frets the electric wires stretched high overhead. A swift, soft rush and impatient, silvery tinkle, as speeding bicyclists pass each other on the road, scarce breaks the unwonted silence, while far up the street sounds a single faint, clear note. Nearer it comes and nearer, rising above the tide of sound that has flowed back into its channel once more, repeated again and again as the postman passes along his route. What music to the maiden waiting for her lover’s message! What harsh, shrill discord to the recipient of unwelcome news or an importunate dun!

But the quiet is broken in upon rudely and harshly, with a mighty roar and tumult that brings my heart into my mouth. Thundering over the railroad bridge three blocks away, thundering over the solid pavement so that the earth shakes with the shock, thundering by the house and down the street, “presto furioso” rush the fire engines, with hose and ladder trucks. Bells clang out. The street is alive with people, sprung from the ground apparently, all shouting and clamoring, following in the wake of the rushing engines. A great building is on fire— lives are imperilled—property is being swept away! Faster! faster! flying steeds, or you may be too late.

Faint and fainter grows the tumult, the bells have ceased to ring, the shouting people have passed on, or gone back to their work, and the street resumes its wonted aspect, seeming almost quiet by contrast with the recent uproar.

And so Da Capo, and once more Da Capo through the long morning hours, until a new note strikes the ear. Up, up it mounts, half a tone at a time—C, C-sharp, D, D-sharp, E in alt., pausing tremulously an instant on the topmost note, then down by irregular intervals. Once more the quaint chromatic scale! It is the noon whistle of Citico furnace, answered quickly by a dozen other whistles in as many different keys, but all blending harmoniously in the summer air. Notes full of melody to the busy workman, singing to them of rest and refreshment and short surcease of toil. To me they say that it is time for luncheon, and, as I fold my work to go indoors, I realize that I have been listening to a veritable “Psalm of Life,” rolling out, in organ tones, from the stones of a noisy street.

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