Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rhythm of the Soul

I know that I'm doing myself a grave disservice when I sit down to play my piano and the keys are dusty. Granted, I'm not the world's most enthusiastic duster person, and never will be, and that's okay. However, when the keys are that dusty, it means that I haven't been playing, and that's not okay.

Music is what I have always turned to, before there were words to write, before I knew how to write, before I did my first finger painting, before I had my first box of crayons. Music has always been there for me, the friend who has never failed.

I can remember being four years old, and I know I was four years old because I remember that it was right after we had moved into the new house on Bonnie. I had just started kindergarten and was enjoying my first cold of the season. I was sitting on the toilet (yes, I was) and amusing myself by singing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in my crackly cold-enhanced voice. Evidently I was the only one amused, because it wasn't long before my mother knocked at the door and said, "It's time for you to be done in there, young lady."

It was that Christmas that Dad bought a piano for "the girls," for Mom, Nancy and me. It was a sturdy Baldwin console piano. In my later years I learned that it had the best honkytonk sound of any piano I'd ever play. But, that Christmas it was new, and shiny, and foreign, and wondrous. Mom, still possessing a decent skill level after years of abstinence, sat down and played some tunes. I marveled at the way her fingers flitted over the keys, making recognizable songs come out of the big box.

I was curious. I was beyond curious. I couldn't stand not knowing how to play. My first song was Jolly Old St. Nicholas. I taught myself after Mom showed me where middle C was, taught me the rest of the keys in the octave, and how they corresponded to those mysterious dots all over the page. I only played the right hand. It was all I knew. Still, I was playing! Of course, as kids do, I'd often plunk at all the keys, running my fingers over the entire keyboard, pretending I was performing some grand classical piece. That's when Mom would say, "That is not a toy! Kindly stop banging on it." That was her word for whenever we played something she didn't like, or played too loudly... banging.

Piano lessons began a year later. I remember sitting down with the teacher and proudly telling her, "I already know how to play!" "Really?" she marveled. "Play something for me." So, the chubby little fingers of my right hand plunked out the melody to Jolly Old St. Nicholas. "Ahhh," said Mrs. I. "How about the left handwork?" "Oh..." So, she taught me the lower octave, and how that corresponded to the not quite so mysterious dots on the page. I ate it up. I wanted more songs. I wanted more knowledge. I wanted to know all the notes. I wanted to know what the numbers meant, and the lines and squiggles. I wanted to play.

So began my love affair with the piano. A few years back (can 25 years be considered a few?) I began writing my own music. It started innocently enough. I was going through some chord progressions with my left hand, and idly picking at single notes with my right. Wait a minute! What was that? I played it again. Hey, that sounds like something! I took it out a little further, then played the whole thing again. I realized I was humming. I played it again and this time words came out, "Walk softly, when you walk into my heart, Love." I was captive and captivated, down the proverbial rabbit hole for all I was worth. It had been shortly after dinner when I started playing, when I looked up at the clock, it was nearly midnight. And I had written a song.

I still play it. It's fairly rudimentary in terms of song writing prowess, but it's a sturdy tune, even if I do say so myself. It's got a beat and you can dance to it, and the lyrics, albeit sort of smarmy, aren't completely shabby. Over the years, and after almost a decade of being without a piano, I've gotten a little rusty at reading music. Something doesn't connect between my eyes and my hands quite the way it used to.

That old Christmas song book has been well used over the past 44 years, and is showing the signs of age. It's held together by tape that's been taped over, and taped over again. There is no longer any binding, save for the tape. I still play out of it every year. With both hands and with great love.

I've never had another force in my life like the piano. I've never had another friend as solid and sure. In the words of Stephen King at the end of his novella The Body, "Jesus, does anybody?"

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