Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
One of the unadvertised perks of living in my community is that the Director of Music at our local church manages to arrange small venue performances by professional musicians who are making their way from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. Not being one to turn down a chance to hear world-class music in exchange for a small donation within walking distance of my home, I take advantage of these opportunities.
Last Sunday’s concert was given by an award-winning pianist, who shall remain nameless. Once we were seated my friend made a comment that caused my mind to wander, as it so often does these days, to the early days of my childhood. How lucky I was to have been introduced at such an early age to fine music!
Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that until I was seven our young family lived in one-half of a duplex that we all referred to as The Double. My paternal grandmother and great-aunt resided in the other side of this abode, and you practically walked into the end of an upright piano when you entered through their front doorway.
My grandmother was the musician in this house, and even though I rarely saw her attend church, it was mainly hymns that she played. Occasionally, my father would sing along in his strong bass voice that resounded quite elegantly within the confines of the small living room. Trust me, his tiny audience was always transformed.
We were not without music when visiting with my maternal grandmother either. As a young boy, my uncle had desired to take music lessons, but times were hard and money was short. By doing odd jobs and delivering newspapers over a period of time, he had been able to save enough to purchase a secondhand player piano and subsequently mowed the piano teacher’s lawn in payment for the desired lessons. The story of how hard my uncle had worked to earn his piano was oft told to us as children, so that we would learn the value of hard work.
As soon as we would arrive at her childhood home in Indiana, having driven over from Ohio, my mother would ask my uncle to play for us, and he never failed to oblige. As he grew older, he added the accordion to his collection of instruments, and we delighted in hearing the lively tunes he would bring forth from it as well.
Seventy years later, when my mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, unwell himself, my uncle had traveled a great distance to say his goodbyes, the first thing Mother asked was for him to play the piano. With fingers now hampered by arthritis and wrists that were known to give out, he took a seat at my sister’s piano and obliged, playing all of my mother’s favorite pieces for almost two hours – truly a miracle! Believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in that house as the notes said what he couldn’t.
When I was five, I needed a new bed, and my parents were offered an antique spool bed and matching vanity by some family friends, who were moving. The woman, who had filled the downstairs of her home with the modern blonde furniture that was popular in the ‘50s, thanked my mother profusely for “taking this old stuff off our hands,” as we trudged upstairs to a large dormer bedroom. I have no idea what my parents paid for this beautiful set, but I’m sure that it wasn’t much as my father was still in graduate school at Ohio State and their third child was already expected. Whatever they spent, I have surely gotten their money’s worth, as I still sleep on this bed and use the vanity to this day.
That winter I contracted virus pneumonia and spent several weeks in the bed – long enough to realize that the headboard was slightly larger than the footboard and to get well and truly bored. Often I would place my short fingers in the grooves created by the “spools,” pretending that the larger headboard was an organ and the shorter footboard was a piano. Busying myself with giving grand performances for vast audiences, time spent “resting” passed quickly.
My mother, too, knew how to play the piano, but where and how she had attained her skill, I don’t know. It’s possible she learned while spending the summer on an aunt’s farm or while visiting a cousin. I never heard of her having received formal lessons.
When the opportunity came to purchase a secondhand piano from my third grade teacher, who was moving to California, my parents dug deep into their near-empty pockets and purchased the beauty. How excited we were!
Each night as she put her boisterous brood to bed, Mother would read us a story and then bargain with us. If we would close our eyes and lie still, she would play the piano in the living room. I can’t recall a time, when we didn’t agree.
A hush would fall over the bedrooms in our small ranch-style house, broken only by the rustle of sheet music. Then the first notes would carry along the hallway to our rooms. Often we would have sent her to her instrument with our requests, and the challenge was to stay awake until your special favorite had been played.
All of us girls were eventually provided music lessons with various degrees of success. I took piano for several years and violin for a few months. I was never very good, although I still enjoy sight reading when I have the chance – by which I mean I am completely alone in a house, just me and a piano. No one should ever have to hear me.
Obviously in my case the family talent skipped a generation, as Son #2 inherited it. Teaching himself to play both the piano and the guitar, he has formed bands that made it to New York City and still writes and plays music for his own enjoyment.
My next sister down also took both piano and violin, exhibiting substantial talent for the latter, although she wasn’t motivated to continue playing. Years later, she passed her violin onto her son, who played in his high school orchestra and connected with his future bride through his playing.
My third sister took a few weeks of piano and can play anything by ear. She also has a trained voice and has composed and performed her own pieces. Her music room now houses the piano from our childhood home. The youngest of us took piano both as a child and as an adult and still has a piano in her home for her use.
As I waited for the concert to start last Sunday, I realized that I couldn’t imagine a world without music. Even though I’m not a musician myself, my lessons instilled in me an appreciation for the talent of others. Classical music fills my home every day.
Times have changed. Air conditioning has removed us from our front porches and our neighbors. Two income households are now the norm, and computers and TVs have fragmented what used to be time shared with one’s family.
Do modern family’s that rarely even share a meal together ever stand around a piano and sing? I doubt it. Few homes even contain a piano, and both art and music are now mostly absent from our schools.
As a write these words, a young man is screaming at me from my TV as part of an ad, accompanied by an electric guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I once stood in line for four hours to pay $18 for two tickets to a Rolling Stone’s concert, where the warm-up artist was a little known singer named Stevie Wonder. But still…
The classical music I listen to every day and the beautiful old tunes my uncle played for mother are worth preserving. Take a few minutes, and turn off the TV and the computer. If you have one, sit down at the piano or pull out a guitar and let loose with one of the “old ones.” I guarantee that, if you play, those within earshot will come.
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