The way she holds the violin and bow together in one hand - lightly, with just two fingers - betrays a familiarity with the violin. Well, more than familiar. She and her violin are connected the way a bird and its song are connected. Yep. The violin is her. It's her voice.
A shy smile flits across her face, more in bemused bewilderment at this empty space between musical moments than in any joy applause can bring.
She's not comfortable between tunes. The tide of applause is receding, exposing fragments of conversation and the dull thump-thump-thump of annoying Morris dancers doing their hanky dance outside the venue.
Her smile swoops and dives across a pale face and then hides as her eyes turn up from under a ginger bob. Those eyes find the microphone and her thin body leans towards it.
"The next piece is called Picking Frangipanis," she says quietly. Her gaze flies across the audience and then returns to roost on the violin in her hand.
"The thing I like is you can pick them without picking them," she whispers. "They're there on the ground."
Okay. That's it. I'm nearly crying. I take a deep breath.
It's not that she's said something amazing. Or maybe she did; I don't know. And she's not the only person who has ever worn a Gypsy skirt knotted on one side, exposing bare feet. And it's not that she plays with an elegant melancholy that belies her youth. It's just that I'm…
I'm a mess.
Her music has poked at my heart, picked at the fresh scabs there.
I push my sunglasses over my eyes even though the lights are on. (Storm coming.)
It's okay. I'm not going to do anything weird - I won't howl like a lone wolf for all the pointless pain in the world, or sob like an old man for lost love.
She is doing that for me.
Behind her and the makeshift stage is a wall of glass that looks down on the Illawarra Folk Festival. The wall is glass because the festival site is a dog racing track the rest of the year and we're in the track restaurant. It has an excellent view of where the dogs forever chase what they will never have.
Her right hand starts picking frangipanis from the violin, bow tucked under her arm. Her left is a fret dancer. A loop machine at her feet records her percussive play. Her eyes are closed so she can see more clearly the human landscape she leads us into.
She stabs the loop pedal with a painted toe and suddenly she is wailing (well, the violin is) against her own plucking rhythm, the bow cajoling and caressing both love and pain from her instrument. She cries out loud so I don't have to; she soars high with ecstatic eloquence and plummets low with a rumbling grief. She fingers every wound; gets drunk with every love. She is describing life using sound. No - living it through sound.
She sways, eyes closed. So articulate is she with wood and horsehair, I feel she's telling me something important. Something I should know about my own life.
Like the racing dog I can nearly catch it...
At the peak of crescendo she rocks forward and hits the loop pedal again. The layers of music evaporate; a thousand blooming notes drift to ground leaving only a single suspended note, hanging. A note she sustains with a slow sawing of her bow.
Outside, the Morris dancers, the festival, the approaching storm - everything - is gone.
In the whole world there is only this note.
It smells like frangipani.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.