Poster A child in Paris
The 7-year-old girl Hailey Colwell babysits, in Paris's Parc Monceau, as the two crossed the neighborhood after a birthday party. Hearing an unknown song from Colwell's childhood while making dinner in her family's apartment brought back memories of when the writer was her age growing up in St. Paul.
Hailey Colwell

The mystery of the missing melody: Part 1

When I was seven years old, I acted in my first play — in my elementary school gymnasium. The Little Prince was based on the book by the famous French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but I did not know that, nor did I care. What I cared about was remembering my lines and the dreamy piano music that played throughout the show.

The music transformed the production. Parents cried at the end of it — maybe from seeing their kids perform, or maybe from seeing the kindergarten teacher everyone loved break down as the pilot said goodbye to the prince. I think it was a combination of both, but without the music, the faces would have stayed dry.

Now, 15 years later, the music still haunts me and I still do not know anything about it. I currently live in Saint-Exupéry's country: I'm working as a nanny in Paris, where I babysit a French girl who just turned seven. When I was her age, music just...existed. I grew up thinking the song was unattached to any names; just a beautiful array of sounds my drama teacher had chosen from a box of CDs.

Then one evening, as the little girl's bath filled up and I re-heated a quiche for dinner, familiar notes came floating through the walls of her family's Haussmann-style apartment. A neighbor sat at a piano, playing the piece that normally just played in my head. I wanted to run down the stairs and knock on the musician's door and ask in my shaky French who wrote the song.

Instead, I just stood there. Two thoughts crept into my mind. One: I had to finish making dinner. Two: It was time for me to find out the name of this song.

The search began late at night after babysitting. I opened my laptop and caught the family's weak Wi-Fi signal, searching classical music websites and YouTube for piano playlists. Looking for good Internet and new leads, I went across the street to Parc Monceau and sat listening on the grass one Saturday afternoon. (Yes, Paris's parks have Wi-Fi.) Still empty-handed, I went to a used CD store. I found a classical piano album and snapped a picture of the back cover. Searching the songs on my computer, I got a sampler course on Chopin, Liszt and Schumann, but did not find what I was looking for.

Then one Sunday, window open to the rain, door open to the stairwell to catch that signal, I tried again. I turned to Spotify because I thought its playlists might get me into deeper territory than YouTube videos like, "This Song will make you cry, i promise it will!"

I had started to doubt the song even existed. What was my neighbor playing through the walls, then? Was I hearing things? Maybe, at 22 years old, I was losing my mind.

Then I skipped to a new song, and with the first few notes, I knew I had found it.

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Hailey Colwell is a St.-Paul-bred writer and recent University of Minnesota graduate who is currently living in Paris. You can read about her experiences as a Minnesotan in Paris on her blog, Des Mots du Monde.

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