Students at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn were curious when pianist Guy Livingston, the guest performer at a recent assembly, walked on stage carrying two baseballs and a well-worn catcher's mitt. For his first two numbers Livingston let the glove and balls sit untouched, but to his audience's delight he brought them into play for his finale, an avant-garde composition by Annie Gosfield entitled Brooklyn, October 5, 1941.
The piece, which Livingston first performed at Lincoln Center in December, was written to commemorate the fourth game of the 1941 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. That was the game in which Brooklyn catcher Mickey Owen dropped a third strike, allowing Tommy Henrich—who would have been the final out—to reach base and the Yankees to rally and win. New York clinched the Series the next day.
Livingston knew that the evocation of that heartbreaking moment would touch a chord at Poly Prep. Last season the Blue Devils had been one out away from beating Hackley 1-0 for the Ivy Preparatory School League championship when a pitch got away from the catcher and a Hackley runner slid home with the tying run. Poly Prep wound up losing 2-1 in 15 innings.
The students watched spellbound as Livingston rolled the balls back and forth over the keys and reached inside the piano to rake them across the strings. Then, donning the catcher's mitt, he played groups of keys at once. At last, after striking the piano's soundboard with a ball to create the final note, he tossed it high into the air and caught it. "It's a piece about risk," said Livingston. "You can't drop the ball."