By Bernie Zelitch

Crescendo. Allegro ma non troppo. 

There is an invented language for what notes to play in music. Even non-musicians know that. But a week ago, I realized that less known is the language for how fast or loud to play the notes. 

The occasion was an art opening by the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston. Yes, the same venue for a forced march of celebrity college bribers. Maybe Lori liked the beautiful glass building and Felicity like the beautiful art show. 

I was talking to Nella Lush, a well known artist with an exquisite large abstract in the next room. 

Nella is a fellow resident of North Andover, MA, but we meet at art shows in Rockport and Boston. 

She keeps a lovely Sophia Loren-like accent from her native Italy. I told her that I know Italian. "Crescendo. Allegro ma non troppo," I showed off. 

"How do you know that?" she asked. 

"They're terms used in music," I said. 

"What are others?" she said. 

"Well, my favorite is 'sotto voce'," I said. 

Always the teacher, she corrected me until I got it right. "Sotto voce," she said in a whisper.  "Under the voice".

Then I went through the various tempos: largo, adagio, andante. 

"Andante!" she said. "Like a walking speed!" she said. I had a deja vu of my old clarinet teacher in New Haven, Earl "Dinny" Banquer. I remembered him, a short man, taking long strides around the music stand. There I waited with the hot blood of youth, having put too much gusto into the passage. "In Italian, 'andante' means walking speed!" he said, glaring at me.

I continued with Nella. "To slow down, we use 'ritardando'." 

"What do you say to hurry up?" she said. 

I paused even though I recently used the term, rather, its abbreviation. She asked her smart phone. "Accelerando!" she smiled. "Accelerando!" 

"Accelerando!" I said, trying to learn. Fellow visitors turned to our animated conversation. This was not New York so we were safe. 

The cheese and crackers were nearly gone and it was closing time. "Let's go," Nella said to her carpool mates. "Accelerando!" She smiled. 

"Accelerando!" I said.

Bernie Zelitch is a choral composer and lyricist living in the Boston area. His piece, "Light Years to Storrow Drive", was premiered by Carduus this year, three streets away from Storrow Drive in Boston. samples: email:

1 comment

  • Deborah Nelson
    Deborah Nelson
    Bella! A beautifully crafted, thoughtful and “divertente” piece!! I felt l like I was there at the opening listening to you and Nella.

    Bella! A beautifully crafted, thoughtful and “divertente” piece!! I felt l like I was there at the opening listening to you and Nella.

Please or register to post.

Add comment