Darkness falls in the cozy Summerville neighborhood. Nancy Thompson ventures onto her screened porch just off the dining room.
She sets up her music stand, decorated in gold scroll and flowers, and raises the silver flute to her lips.
The notes escape, trilling and light. The songs dance through the trees and meander into the open doorways of nearby homes. Mrs. Thompson says she is just practicing, but residents around Queens Way describe her music as a wonderful sound track for their neighborhood.
"We'll go outside, lay down on the lawn, look at the stars and listen to music," said Elizabeth Seward, who lives just across the alley from Mrs. Thompson on Central Avenue. "It's like listening to your own private symphony."
Mrs. Thompson, an elegant woman with long gray hair, has the poise of a musician. When she plays the flute, her arms splay in precise angles and her back is ruler straight.
She has lived in a white stucco house on Queens Way with her teen-age son and husband for 15 years. For 10 of those years, she has delighted neighbors with her flute music, a talent she cultivated in the sixth grade.
"I actually started because I wanted to be a majorette, and you had to play an instrument," said Mrs. Thompson, who grew up in Erlanger, Ky.
She twirled for three years in high school, but her affection for the flute lasted longer. In college, she played with the Dixie Redcoat Band and the University of Georgia orchestra. As an adult, she performs occasionally with the Augusta Players and at the Church of the Good Shepherd.
But her accidental nighttime concerts get the most notice from neighbors and friends.
"I think with all the horrible noises that neighborhoods now have with cars whizzing by and sirens and all of the sort of unpleasant noises, this is something out of the blue that is so pleasant to hear," says Barbara Stenstrom, who lives on Anthony Road.
"It's just kind of charming," she says. "It's just a fun extra little perk to have in one's neighborhood."
The songs come whenever Mrs. Thompson fancies playing. Sometimes she will take requests from neighbors like Ms. Seward, who enjoys An Affair to Remember. Other times, the flutist practices her technique, playing fast songs that make her fingers dance across the keys. Other times, she concentrates on tone, blowing melodic, round notes as airy as a bird's song.
"Once in while she'll stop and we'll clap and we'll hear this little giggle," Ms. Seward says.
Mrs. Thompson says she plays outside so she doesn't bother her son, Scott, when he is studying or disturb her husband, Mason. The outdoor setting also provides better acoustics for her rehearsals, she said.
"It sounds better out there. It carries better," she says. "I also do it for my own enjoyment and relaxation."
When the sun fades and the day is winding down, Mrs. Thompson finally allows herself the chance to relax. The family dog Gatsby, a Yorkshire terrier, often follows her to the porch and accompanies for a while with his nipping bark. The darkness, the music and the concentration it demands helps wash away the stress of the day.
"She doesn't play every day," Mrs. Stenstrom said. "It's a real treat when we hear it."
For years, Mrs. Thompson played unaware that her music carried past her yard and that neighbors were listening.
"I thought I was invisible," she says.
About seven years ago, though, some families gathered for a Neighborhood Watch meeting and began talking about the beautiful music. They knew it was coming from the Thompson home, but they didn't know who was playing, Ms. Seward says.
"It's like fairy music," said Ms. Seward, whose view of the Thompson home is blocked by a towering Magnolia tree. "You never can see her. All you hear is music in night."
Mrs. Thompson admits she was initially embarrassed by the phantom listeners, but she honors neighbors' requests to keep playing.
"We love it," says Martha Seward, who lives with her daughter, Elizabeth. "In the summer or early spring, you just kind of have this smell in the air and here's this flute floating. It's really very pretty.
"It's sort of like hearing chimes on the wind."
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