Discover Prompts – Day 20 – Music

I’ll be caught up today with Discover Prompts. Root canal interruption but no excuses. Today is April 24, the day after Shakespeare’s birth and death days.

Sometimes I write just to write, which is what prompts are good for. But this has got to be the least inspired piece of writing. Forgive me, dear readers.

Music – Where to start? Music means so much to so many people. I know people for whom music must be playing at all times, for whom music is placed on a loop and listened to unconsciously, who listen to music to get them through tough times, through break-ups, who go to clubs to move their bodies to a beat. Music has never been that way for me.

When I was growing up, our house was filled with music. My dad played the piano every day. He was a great player, but not a polished player. He could play anything. He would hear it once, fiddle with the melody and then he’d find a bass to accompany it and he’d have it for the rest of his life. My mom made sure that my dad always had a piano. So we all took lessons.

I took lessons longer than most but I don’t play as well because I never practiced. I went through periods when I practiced. But I don’t play well. Right now, I don’t even have a piano. The last piano I had was an electric console but I sold it because it wasn’t right for my apartment. That was 5 years ago. And right now, I’m itching to get another piano.

My dad could play any instrument handed to him. We had a variety of instruments in our house – castenets, bongo drums, sticks, a zither, guitar, ukulele, recorder. But it was the piano we all gravitated toward, fought over. Whenever one kid wanted to practice, there was a fight for the piano.

In school, we had music lessons in 5th grade, instruments in class, and we learned songs and had choir for assemblies and christmas concerts. I definitely have good associations with music and many stories involving music. I really can’t tell you why I don’t listen to more music these days.

I listened to and played a lot of classical music. I still like to listen, especially Vladimir Horowitz – anything really. I studied Beethoven, but I love Mozart and Chopin, and Rachmaninoff, Debussey, and on and on. Of course, I spent my teenage years listening to classic rock, except it wasn’t classic then – I was a little late for the Beatles but they were always all over the airwaves. The 1970s superbands were part of my adolescence, with the Eagles and the Beach Boys right near the top, and of course Journey, and Queen, and Foreigner, and later U2. I came to the Grunge movement late – turned off the radio for grad school. But I love Nirvana and then there’s Madonna – my fav.

But I don’t know why I don’t turn music on more regularly. The girlfriend listens to podcasts so there’s not much music coming from her either.

I had two traumatic experiences with music. When I was 7, I had my first recital. My piano teacher was a larger lady, more than 300 lbs. I went to her funeral and they buried her in a piano case. She came to the house and sat in a small chair – we had chairs not a piano bench, and she taught all of us to read music well, but she didn’t teach us to keep time well at all. For my first recital, I was playing the first part of Fur Elise, by heart. It was one page long. I had memorized it and practiced and practiced. It’s one of the few pieces that I can still play today. But on that day, the gremlins were at work.

The recital was in a bank with marble floors and a great echo. I had to dress up and wear a tie and nice shirt. Everyone was dressed fancy and chairs were set up all over the bank lobby. There were quite a few kids playing that day. When it was my turn, I gave my music to my teacher and sat down and played. I did well, except I blanked out at the last line. I stopped. I couldn’t remember how to pick up again. I had to ask for my music and looked at it and remembered and finished the last line. We went out for ice cream afterwards, but I was inconsolable. It was quite embarrassing.

I missed the day between elementary school and jr high school when instruments were assigned, so all through Jr. High school and High School, I didn’t get to play in band or orchestra, even though compared to many of my peers, I was quite advanced in piano since I started taking lessons at age 4.

But I was friends with many of the band geeks. In high school, a classmate who played the viola asked me to accompany her for a competition. She gave me a long and complicated piece of music by Mozart (I was used to playing Beethoven), and we only had 3 weeks to practice. Every time I tried to get together with her to practice, she was too busy..

I worked on that piece diligently, working with my piano teacher who lived across the street in his studio with his two big black Steinways side by side. For my part, I had the intro, about 1 page of music. Then we had 12 other pages and then back through the first 4. Our recital was at a busy school for a music competition. My entire family showed up and no one showed up for Carolyn whose competition it was.

I started playing. I screwed it up so badly that when it was time for her to come in, she didn’t know where I was and scowled at me and told me I needed to start over. So I started again. We made it through, although I did a horrible job. My family applauded wildly. What was most embarrassing is that the judge at the competition gave me an impromptu piano lesson on playing thirds together to make sure both notes played at the same time – evidently that grated on his nerves.

Despite all, playing the piano is the second greatest stress relief I have in my life, beyond sailing. I can’t wait to get a piano again.

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