We weren’t poor, just not quite rich enough to be considered wealthy.
Average would be more like it and mother would make sure there was always music from the piano playing nightly. This would become a common theme in our home, back then in the mid to late 60s. As children, there was a code of silence that no one would break, for every time a mistake was made on the keys.
It wasn’t just classical piano, but a lot of times, more contemporary pieces could be heard. Myself, I preferred the classics. This would become important in the upcoming years before discovering some sort of rock n roll.
Now being much older, those pleasant memories come back. Those moments that become more and more cherished.
Lucky for me that the acoustics were quite good as the bedroom claimed with my name on it, also contained a fireplace and was situated directly beneath the living room where she would play. Not quite a concert hall but it would suffice as one.
Many nights the fire would crackle with little spits of brightness to keep the mind hypnotized while she played. Sleep was good, very good!
Learning To Play – Learning The Keys
Patience was the name of the game for her, as she took the time to teach all of us the very basics. Good God, those scale etudes made me frustrated and the hands would tire, but they were required. Start again! Over and over, on different octaves, it seemed like it would never stop.
Sitting side by side on that polished hardwood bench, would the pedals be able to be reached? That would become a lesson much later on. Simple pieces at first, then progressing until each one of us were ready according to our individual abilities. Eventually it was Chopin’s “Spring Waltz” that would seal my first accomplishment into the classics.
New Kid In Town – It Had Strings
Time was moving forward and so was the development into the teen years. A couple of pimples here and there, the girls walking to the bus stops looking more and more interesting. It was the edge of a new discovery.
School was boring to mediocre. Just didn’t seem to be much of a challenge most of the time. What did catch the eye was that one girl in class, always carrying that small black case around. What was it? It became a mission to find out.
Then one day while at lunch, she sat there all alone and opened up the case. A wooden instrument, a stick with hair, and a small rectangular piece looking like amber. What the heck?
After twisting the end of that stick and gliding the hairy part on that amber piece, she plucked on the strings while holding it up to her ear. Slight twist of the knobs on the far end and she was ready. A sweet and yet not quite perfect melody came forth and at that moment, love was discovered. I never did ask her name, but that didn’t matter anymore.
After a good discussion, it was agreed that mother would help me learn and in return, she would get an accompanist. Back to the scales again, except this time, it was the tip of the fingers that would get sore. Quite sore at first!
Forget about twinkle -twinkle for she had other plans in mind. That bow squeaked a lot in the early days, but that’s just par for the course. Between the piano and the violin, it became Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and of course, more Chopin.
Somewhere along the way, an opening came up and for some unknown reason, my name had been submitted. After mother and I spoke to the director, Dr Eugene Reichenfeld, it was agreed that I would become one of his students. He was a kind man, but always with high expectations of his students. He must have loved his suits, as we never saw him in anything else. This was Penn Hills after all, you had to have some dignity in yourself.
After a couple of years and several youth symphony concerts, the family decided that it was time for a change and move west. West coast that is!
Six Strings Before Twelve – No Stick
The change was good for all of us. We were in our teens and mother would still play those she considered her favorites.
The music from the piano would flow with more variety from here forward as my sister and I, being the eldest of the four, had changing attitudes. The hair a bit longer, and the music way more modern.
While still continuing to play the violin for several more years, the interests began to change. Eventually the guitar made its way into my life and that of most around me. Although the electric bass and full sets of drums had made their way into the orchestras, 6 strings seemed better that 4. Modern music had sent it’s invitation and I bit.
Again with the scales! Just couldn’t get away from them. Taking lessons from a mentor to ease the conversion, it started with classical guitar tunes ( Moonlight Sonata, Claire de Lune, and a hard to master Flight of the Bumblebee) before progressing into a more modernist version of music.
Before long, the guitar became the entire focus and the violin, eventually sold. There was so much more to play and it all felt more upbeat. You can pack it up and play just about anywhere and not be considered geeky for your choice of instrument. Music was way more fun now and the options were enticing. It was a form of freedom.
For many more years the sounds of guitars stuck around as a progression to include twelve strings for an even more refined type of sound. Mother loved it too and now her accompanist gave her even more choices, modern ones. Yet, at night, she would still play and I listened to every note, even the mistaken ones.
The Age, The Time, And The Ears
While it has been a number of years since picking up an instrument, the love and passion for music has continued to grow in my heart. There are no longer any certain styles that are left out of the vast library in my mind, for I love them all.
I met an elderly man some years back and you could tell there was something special about him. Although in his 80s, that gleam in his eyes told me he had something to tell.
On the living room wall at his home, there were photos of him performing with an orchestra and as a 1st chair, solos were part of his repertoire. In a case beneath the photos, was the most beautiful violin that my eyes had ever seen, He handed it to me. My hands began to shake a bit and the heart pounding. It was a Stradivarius!
He showed me the small gold metal plate attached to it. It had an inscription denoting that this was a gift bestowed upon him from a grateful nation. For he had inspired the young minds of that country to become passionate about their music and their taste in the styles of.
Before departing, he handed me a small book. It contained several Haiku poems, of which he was the author. Each page separated by thin tissue paper, also contained original drawings to accompany each poem. I still cherish that book today and it inspires me to write. Several weeks later, a large white envelope arrived at my work and was addressed to me. After my supervisor handed it over, it was opened to reveal its contents.
Inside there was a note, scribbled in a child like manner, but created by the hands of an octogenarian. It was the violinist. The note stated that he had learned of my upcoming marriage and that for taking the time to listen to his story, he had written a piece to be played during the ceremony should we choose to. He passed several weeks later, I felt honored!
A Fire, Some Wine – The Memories
Sitting by the fire, the warmth from both the wine and the flames begins to stir the mind again.
Mother passed several years ago and still today I can hear her play just above me, in her own concert hall. After all, it is night when the best sounds come out. She would always start by doing a couple of runs on the keys, playing those confounded scales and then the music from the piano would begin to flow.
It is of those moments in life that are cherished the most and not let go of. Those moments when the heart and soul feel at peace and that passions are inspired.
The regretfulness is that a continuance was not in the cards of life for me to continue to play. It has not lessened the love and passion for music in the heart, but there are those much more gifted that will carry on to entertain, to teach, to discover.
Being a sexagenarian, the time may be too late to learn a new trick, and the body tiring too quickly to endure the hours of practice to make the sounds as perfect to the ears as possible. Then again, once you have it in you, as we all have, why not give it a try. Instead, words seem to be my new instrument.
Boy, those drums sure are starting to look nice. The best part, they don’t really have scales!
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Thank you for visiting and please be sure to leave a comment as to your thoughts and experiences with music in your life.
Come back soon for more adventures. You too can enjoy being in you sixties, I do!
That’s my show