Excerpt from The Music Room by William Fiennes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Music Room

A Memoir

by William Fiennes

The Music Room
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 224 pages
    Sep 2010, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

I was walking across that lawn with my mother when Dad appeared in the open windows and called out to us, 'Hold on one second.'

'Why?' I said.

'Keep your eyes on the window.'

He vanished. Mum and I watched the dark gap in the wall. Nothing happened, and I didn't understand why my father had made us stop, but then a blackbird shot from the side of the house, Dad appearing behind it, smiling, his arms spread like an impresario's, as if he'd just conjured the bird into existence.

A white china owl sat on a table next to the windows, the first thing I looked for when I pushed through the door from the landing. I came up the spiral staircase calling for my mother and father. I could hear voices. I went straight in, ready for the white owl. Richard was lying on the rug, on his back, his head close to the windows. My mother was kneeling beside him; my father stood next to her, leaning over. I stopped in the doorway. Richard wasn't moving. He lay rigid, his feet pointing up at the ceiling, his arms stretched along his sides, fists clenched.

'It's all right,' Dad said. 'Rich is having a fit. It's all right. It goes very quickly.'

Now he was shaking, his whole body thrumming. His arms bent at the elbows and straightened in stiff jerks, again and again; his knees rose off the floor and slammed down as his legs bent and extended; his feet kicked and stamped in repeated spasms. Dad had grabbed the cushion from his armchair, and Richard's head thudded into it, his teeth chomping together with a sound like horseshoes on tarmac. 'It's all right,' Mum said. 'We'll just wait for it to pass.' I didn't move from the doorway. I watched my brother, the different parts of his body pounding the floor. The boards shook beneath him; vases and bowls vibrated on the tabletops; the French windows trembled in their frames.

Quartets, singers, harpsichordists and other musicians came to give charity concerts in the Great Hall. We pulled a dirty blue-grey cover across the carpet and used old rugs to dress the makeshift plank stage that lived in the garage. There were stacks of chairs in the stables loft and I watched teams of strangers deploy them in concentric arcs across the Great Hall, enthralled by event logistics and the anticipation that built through the afternoon. The room was new and strange with two hundred people in it and performers elegant in evening dress beneath suits of Spanish armour posed like sentries in the west wall niches; Mum led me in my dressing gown along the Groined Passage and we stood at the back through suites and sonatas.

I grew used to such invasions. I recognized the hubbub pitch of concert audiences and the python-thick cables of film-set lights. Film and TV crews moved in like desert caravans, grey production trucks inching through the gate- house, the car park a camp of Winnebagos, Portakabins, catering vans and double-decker buses furnished with dining tables. Brawny carpenters and electricians smoked on the front lawn, bellies hanging over utility belts stocked with enviable commando inventories of tools, walkie-talkies and gaffer-tape reels; sparks fixed massive lights outside the windows and flooded interiors with unearthly platinum glare. I spent whole days wandering once-familiar rooms that setdressers had skewed to their own purposes; I snapped the clapperboard and perched by the camera on the counterweighted dolly crane; my mother apologized to assistant directors in navy Puffa jackets and we looked on quietly from the sidelines. We opened the gift shop in the stables and I sold Ian McKellen a postcard; I ran through the arch into the walled Ladies' Garden and saw Jane Seymour in a white Regency gown bend to sniff a rose; I was five when Morecambe and Wise came to shoot their Christmas show and I'd been in bed with flu all week, but my mother carried me downstairs so I could see the Great Hall garbed in vaudeville finery, Eric Morecambe walking over to greet me, adjusting his spectacles and barking, 'Hello! Are you married?'

Excerpted from The Music Room by William Fiennes. Copyright 2009 by William Fiennes. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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