Tuesday, September 15, 2015


"Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom," I sang, plunking out the familiar chords.
Randy sat beside me.
He sang in falsetto, batting his eyelashes, "I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills. I love the flowers. I love the daffodils. I love the fireside...when all the lights are low."
Randy played the melody on the higher notes.
"Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom," I made my voice an octave lower.
We played and sang in rounds for a few more minutes.
The side of his left hand nudged the side of my right hand. He bumped his left hip into my right hip on the polished piano bench. We laughed.
It was fun...singing with Randy, goofing around at the piano (vivace-lively). Randy was my across-the-street-neighbor, sometimes babysitter. Conscientious and kind, he carried the world on his shoulders; so when I was with him, I never had to worry. I just had to play the notes; and Randy could carry the tune.
* * *
It was Christmas Eve. Aunt Betty stood by the end of the piano, her hand curled around a cup of coffee.
"Let's all sing some carols," she suggested. "LoLo can play for us!"
I sat at the piano, the raggedy hymnbook opened to "Joy to the World."
It had a few too many sharps. I hated sharps; but I knew nobody would mind if I stumbled over some notes. Aunt Betty led the carols. I played along, holding some notes a little too long. Aunt Betty slowed down to accommodate.
We all sang too loud (fortissimo-very loud). We were all off key. Our timing was bad; but it was Christmas, and I was the only one who knew how to read the music. I played; and we sang our way haltingly through "Silent Night," and "Hark the Herald Angels," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
I just had to play, and everyone sang, and it was Christmas Eve; and even though I was concentrating on the notes on the page and the position of my fingers, I was smiling.
* * *
I was not a musical kid. Eight years of piano lessons, eight years of struggling through John Schaum's relentless collections of music, and still, despite my progression from book to book, my timing was not very good. I spent six years with Mrs. Lindon, who looked at me with disdain, her metronome ticking accusingly from the top of her Baldwin, when she thought I had not practiced. For two years, I worked with Terry, a younger, friendlier piano instructor, who tried to teach me to play chords and let me order some current sheet music. I still struggled. I was a dedicated student; but I couldn't "hear" what I was doing wrong.
Recitals were agonizing. I practiced for hours, red blotches blooming over my chest and up my neck as I imagined the silence of the dark auditorium...the only light shining on me...the unfamiliar piano, the flimsy sheet music that could drift off the piano with the slightest puff of air...leaving me wondering what note to play next. For years, I dreaded recitals with the angst I usually reserved for trips to the dentist. Twice a year, once in fall and once in spring, my piano teacher selected a song that I would play for the recital. I labored over the notes when I would much rather have been reading a novel instead of reading sheet music. I practiced until my fingers were sore.
The recital date loomed ahead, as ominous as a dark cloud. On the day of the recital, I was frantic. My heart was a metronome on the fastest tempo setting (prestissimo-quickly). The beat was fast and loud in my ears; but the day dragged (grave-slowly). My dress was too stiff, the venue too quiet. Someone coughed when I sat down at the bench. My skirt was stiff and uncomfortable. The bottom of my patent leather dress shoe felt slick against the pedals. I went through the motions, cringing when my foot slipped awkwardly, flinching when my tangled fingers thumped out a sour note.
"You did great!" my mother exclaimed from her spot offstage, just behind the velvet curtain. Her own cheeks were flushed. "It's over now. You can relax."
But I couldn't. I couldn't relax because another recital would be in the works almost as soon as this one had ended...and then another...and another.
After eight years and 16 recitals, we sold the piano. I missed "Boom De Yada" and "Joy to the World;" but I relished the huge relief I felt when the moving men rolled the piano out the door.
* * *
My parents live and work on a summer camp now. Sometimes when I visit, I slip away from their house and play the old piano that sets in the camp dining hall. I plunk out "Boom De Yada" and sing both parts. I open the hymnbook to "Sweet Hour of Prayer." I sing and play badly until nostalgic tears roll down my face and drip off my chin. I remember the moments when I loved the piano and dreamed of playing with abandon. I play the old, out-of-tune piano alone. The acoustics are bad in the low-ceilinged dining hall. An overhead fluorescent light blinks, just a little off beat. I wear jeans and a sweater, my tennis shoe pressing the pedals confidently...no pressure, just playing (allegretto - a little bit joyful).

1 comment:

  1. I never had piano lessons. I am not musically inclined. I love writing. I think that is your talent too. You capture so much realism in this piece. Love the sounds and rhythms.