Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Musings on my Childhood, and Loving Piano Lessons

It's raining's been raining all day actually. Marvin is snoring in bed, and I am, once again, not able to sleep a wink. So strange how I can't sleep anymore. If you're a night owl like me, then you know how quiet the world can be at night. I just love it. Sometimes, I'll go outside and look at the moon and stars and think about how amazing the sky appears. I used to want to be an astronomer....counting the stars and watching for UFOs....and then I found out that you have to go to college for at least 12 years for that. So, I decided to stick with music. : )

So, instead of counting stars, I try to enlighten people with my piano playing. You know, being a musician is a very enjoyable job. I'm doing what I love, and I get paid for it. When I was a little girl, I begged my mother to let me take piano lessons.....and dance lessons, and singing lessons, and acting lessons. So I guess she didn't take me seriously. I mean, we lived in a small house at the end of a LONG dirt road, and we were kind of cut off from society. So, I guess that colored our family's view of the world.

Back then, the internet didn't exist, and our television only received 4 channels. NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS. Our big highlight on TV each year was "The Wizard of Oz". I must admit that the witch scared the bejesus out of me every time. I usually hid behind the recliner during those scenes. My step-dad loved to watch Hee-Haw, so he could stare at the pretty girls. We would all watch it together and laugh at all the predictable jokes. Hey, at least we were bonding.

During the 70's, we watched all the Sunday Night Mystery shows like Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife. I still love Columbo to this day, and have purchased the DVD sets for Season One and Season Two. It's so nice to watch it without any commercials, and it makes great viewing on my knitting and spinning nights. I just wish I could get a signed photo of Peter Falk. I have an 8x10 glossy that I bought on eBay, but I haven't got the nerve to ask him for an autograph. I should just go for it, I know. I'm just being silly.

Back to my story about begging for piano lessons from my mom.....

When I was little, my mother always said "NO" to any request for lessons. I used to watch the lady at church on the organ and just be amazed. I would glance over at the pianist and dream of being able to play. My grandmother had a piano at her house, so when we went to visit, I would sit at the piano and play the keys. I used to stretch my arms out as far as they would go so that I could play the first and last keys on the keyboard. Then I would "walk" my fingers in on each key until they met in the middle. Sometimes, I would pretend that my right hand was an angel coming down from the heights of heaven, and my left hand was a demon coming up from the depths of hell. When they met in the middle, they would have a fantastic battle!

Sometimes, I would pick out a tune, like "Happy Birthday" or the melody from "The Entertainer". I just kept wishing and wishing that I could take piano lessons. My favorite class in school was music. Our music teacher would gather students from several different classrooms and we would sing or play with percussion instruments or xylophones. I was in my element. The music teacher's name was Rebecca Kay. She was so sweet, and she could play the piano so well! One day in music class, I went up to her and handed her a sheet of paper. On the sheet, I had written the words to a song I had made up. She asked me to sing it for her.

"Spring is here. The bells will ring. And when we're out, the birds will sing.
They'll sing, they'll sing....they'll ring, they'll ring.....the whole day through when it is spring."

It was a silly little song. Believe it or not, I had written 3 verses. Mrs. Kay was so proud of me. She had me sing it for the class, and told me that she would write a piano accompaniment for it that night. I was so excited! The next day, when I walked into school, my song was posted on a bulletin board at the entrance of the school. Mrs. Kay had written it up real nice and had decorated the board with music notes and clefs. I couldn't believe it! I was so proud!

I was even more excited when she offered an even greater honor to me. Every year, each grade would have an assembly at the end of the school year, recognizing gifted students. (The school had grades 1 through 8 at that time) She asked me to sing my song for EVERY assembly! She was an angel sent from heaven to me. I couldn't believe I was going to get to perform for the whole school! She practiced with me, and I was so pleased to hear the piano accompaniment.

The assemblies all went by like a dream to me. Performing music was in my soul. Mrs. Kay wrote a letter to my mother that said, "Get this girl some piano lessons!" I was in the 3rd grade by then, and my requests had been falling on deaf ears for 4 years. But, my mother was no longer deaf when she read the letter from the music teacher. She was proud of my song, and she started calling all her friends on the gossip chain about it. (That's how she is.....she's a TALKER!) So, eventually by talking to every person in Union County, she discovered the name and phone number of a nice piano teacher.

I finally got to take piano lessons! I was ecstatic!

It was kind of funny how I started lessons. My mother wasn't willing to buy a piano, because "it would be a waste of money". So, my first lessons were practiced on a CHORD ORGAN. You remember those? A little tiny keyboard with about 12 or 14 notes, with some buttons that you pushed to play chords on the left. At least, I could find a C, D, E, F, G on there. I devoured my piano book. I was mastering each song without a problem at all. My piano teacher told my mother "Get this girl a piano!", because I didn't have enough keys on the chord organ to practice anymore. Thank God for my piano teacher, Catherine Ritch.

My mother searched the classified ads, and called about the pianos that were in her price range. Then, she and my piano teacher agreed to go together to look at some of them. I went along, of course. I wanted to be involved in the choosing! We ended up buying a lovely brown studio piano with the name "Westbrook" emblazoned above middle C. It had been well taken care of, and it cost $400.

When we got the piano home, I immediately put all my piano books on the music stand and played every song. It felt SO GOOD to have a real piano of my very own. I played constantly, driving my entire family crazy. The piano was in the living room...the same room as the TV. So, they always made me stop playing when they wanted to watch anything. Sometimes, I would stay on the bench, and play VERY SOFTLY until they didn't care anymore, and gradually my volume would get louder and louder. My stepdad would end up yelling, "Quit banging that thing!" But, I just couldn't stay away from the piano.

During the summer months when school was out, I played and played. When my mother was leaving for work in the morning, she would wake me up and give me breakfast. As soon as she left, I went to the piano. When she came home from work, I'd still be playing. She would come into the living room and say, "Have you been playing piano all day, Sandy?" I would nod.

Music books were my passion. Whenever I went for lessons, I would look through my piano teachers files and ask for new books. She would choose things that were appropriate for my level, and I would learn them immediately. Catherine was such an encouraging piano teacher. She gave me tons of recognition at each recital. "Most Practiced Student" "Best Student" I had such nice awards sitting on my piano at home.

Some of my favorite pieces were in a large book titled "Sensational Seventy for the 70's". Carole King, James Taylor, Elton John, Bread, The Beatles, you name it. If it was on the radio in the 70's, it was in that book. I would play and sing my heart out. I still use some of those pieces today when I perform.

And I still have that same piano in my living room. It's in my house now, of course. That poor piano has been moved so many times. A piano leg was broken during one move, and during another, one of the bench legs was pulled loose. The broken legs were repaired with clamps, screws, and metal bars. It's not as pretty as it once was, but it still sounds great.

I don't practice as much as I did when I was young. I don't think my hands and wrists could stand the constant motion anymore. I actually prefer to practice on the grand piano or organ at my church anyway. The instruments are much nicer, and they sound heavenly in the sanctuary. Sometimes, when I'm practicing on the organ at church, I'll hold the last chord of a loud piece and look up at the huge stained glass window behind the choir loft. I feel so close to God during those times.

I just thank God for giving me that silly little song in the 3rd grade. If I hadn't written that song, and if Mrs. Kay hadn't convinced my mother to let me take piano lessons, I would still be dreaming of being a pianist.

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