One of my earliest memories is of lying on the floor next to the piano while my mother played from a big book of popular songs called, “Reader’s Digest Treasury of Best Loved Songs” and my younger sister danced around the room. My sister would always say, “Mom-play the oo-oo-la-la song.” We knew what she meant, she wanted “Blue Moon.”
From my vantage point I could see the hammers striking the strings of our Kimball spinet piano and it was fascinating. Music was important to my parents. So important, that the first piece of furniture they bought after getting married was that Kimball spinet.
I come from a family of 9 children (no that is not a typo). My mother’s greatest musical talent was a desire for her children to be musical and to instill a love of music in every one of us. My father has a beautiful singing voice and he can sing every song in the hymn book at church without looking at the music. Not just every hymn, but every verse of every hymn and for each verse he will sing a different part-bass, tenor, alto, and soprano. Yes, it does sound a little odd when he belts out those high notes, but every time I hear him I’m impressed with his ability to pull it off.
Growing up I played three instruments-the piano, the harp, and the French horn. Two of those instruments I love and one I loathe. I had to lug my French horn back and forth from school every day, and that was a heavy load for a petite girl who could have fit herself into the case. Sooooo, my father built me a custom French horn trailer for my bike out of a luggage carrier and bungee cords. Since I don’t think an actual picture of this trailer exists, my totally talented artist husband sketched this out for me in just a couple of minutes. This is me:
Forty years later I still have people commenting on me riding my bike to school with my French horn trailing behind. Apparently it’s legendary.
I spent my junior high and high school years as a band and orchestra geek and loved it. To this day, every time I walk into a music store, school music room, or rehearsal hall and smell the valve oil, dried spittle, and bow rosin, it just calms my soul and I know I’m with my peeps.
In high school when I would come home after having a not so good day, I would sit at the piano and play Mendelssohn’s “Agitation” as fast and loud as my fingers would allow. Always made me feel better and that was my go-to stress reliever, and inevitably left me with a sore left hand.
On those days when I felt I would burst from happiness, my go-to song was Debussy’s First Arabesque. This piece still makes me happy inside.
On days when I was feeling adventurous and excited I would play Fire Dance from the Petite Suite by David Watkins.
On days when I just wanted to fit in with other teenagers I would play Jessica’s Theme from the Man from Snowy River. (Because apparently every teenager that played the piano loved the drama of this piece and it was a necessity to know how to play it. Common question in the 80s, “Do you know how to play “Jessica’s Theme” from the Man from Snowy River?”)
Eleven years ago my husband and I decided to move 1000 miles away from our home, our family, and our friends so we could start a new life. It was rough and I was very sad and very lonely. The Kimball spinet came with me and we spent countless hours together that first year because it was my best friend. It was always there, it let me express myself without words, it soothed my troubled heart, and it made me remember what it felt like to be happy.
Even now, when my children see me stressed, sad, or anxious, they ask, “Have you played your harp or piano today?” They just know. Music is what feelings sound like. Music is what gives sound to my thoughts and life to my soul. I may not be the best pianist or harpist, but that doesn’t matter. What making music does for me is life-forming and life-changing.