- Books, Literature, and Writing
Thimbles, Rhythm & Natures of Things - Part 4
I was once asked what instrument would I most want to play if I could have and know how to play one single instrument well? Without hesitation came my answer: a fine grand piano!
As a child, I dreamt I could fly, to escape kidnappers.
My repetitive dream as an adult is set atop a hill in a shady green grove surrounding an amazing almost temple-like house with walls of glass around one large, airy, visible room occupied solely by a magnificent grand piano on a sleek parquet hardwood floor! I am inexplicably drawn to it and feel authorized to enter.
All other rooms in this structure are underground, pleasantly commonplace compared to the magnificent ground floor, set upon its slightly raised platform with deep, low steps leading to any of several sliding glass doors into this chamber all around its perimeter. There's no hardware on the doors, which simply respond to one's approach.
No one else is involved. I'm unaware of observing myself as in some dreams. I simply feel myself stepping lightly up the stairs, entering and approaching the piano. But each time I've dreamt it, I'm drawn away from the piano without playing it. I'm called upon to look into the rooms below and wander through a maze of lovely stairwells and hallways which open into many comfortable, attractive, independent living nacelles consisting of nicely decorated sleeping, bathing, cooking and eating quarters. Each nacelle is independently clustered separately from the others. I try to choose one for my own living space. So far, I've never decided on one, though I notice their features and accouterments but continue to move along, investigating the next one. All the while, my real interest remains up-top with the piano. But this lower area seems a foundation for that experience in every way.
in real time ~ always kinship with the piano ~
Perspectives in the previous parts of this series led to this one:
- ~ An off-beat relationship with thimbles,
- ~ An off-beat relationship with rhythm,
- ~ Discovering a sense of the natures of things, inside like buried treasure,
- ~ All elements of my relationship with pianos I have known and loved.
but ~ who was I? ~ I wondered
Enrolled in first grade two years earlier but emotionally less ready than my peers, being much younger than my siblings, with older parents than my peers, plus being half-blind and fragile-boned, - all contributed to a somewhat wispy self-image.
I was a happy, but sensitive child, made stronger by constantly needing to compensate for lack of depth perception and sundry other challenges connected with that malady. Frequent skinned shins and broken bones were my trainers, but learning keen awareness of my surroundings provided no sense of accomplishment, any more than knowing to breathe or sleep. There were challenges with consequences, lacking names or identity and raising no red flags to alert others; - except, of course, my eye doctor, setting and splinting bones. Damage control for vague invisible feelings: none. Mother didn't think kids had "nerves", her term for sensitivities and anxieties.
For all I knew, it was all standard human procedure for everyone, including giants surrounding me, who did nothing to mitigate my impressions or fears. They were as unaware of my unnamed bugaboos and predicaments as I, the little baby sister.
My odyssey with pianos and music started young, along with my quest for self-identity.
timing and self-confidence
For me, progressing amongst sketchy lessons, music played a significant role though maps of Its progress include circuitous paths and detours, but always present.
Along with progress was a resistance to learning mechanical counting and timing of a piece, but mistrust of relying on my own strong sense of rhythm and tone which were in my very bones. It all cast a vague sense of uneasiness over the process which I couldn't sort out or verbalize. Otherwise, it might have allowed my teacher to address my quandary and help me wade through it so that confidence in my timing didn't flounder. But flounder, it did!
Of course it's a teacher's job to teach established methods and procedure rather than to encourage individual innovation before a student has mastered the basics! To me, though, in my murky place, it was an unnerving dilemma. This doesn't justify it, but reports how it was for me so that it impacted my unsteady musical journey!
~ duh ~
I didn't analyze or fully realize the basic "what or why" of my resistance to playing to the beat of a metronome or to performing for an audience, though I recall early feelings of mounting dread and revulsion whenever Mother had me recite my favorite poems "by heart" for her ladies' gatherings, from about age four.
Still, I always came through for those poetry recitations. My memory was reliable; it was performing skills at risk and diminishing gradually. As fearless as I was doing things when alone, I was that much more undone in front of an audience watching me doing even bits of them with their full at-attention view. It was rich ground for growing stage fright and dimming self-confidence!
So another obstacle looming on the horizon was the discovery that, once a musical level of proficiency is reached, one is expected to demonstrate it by playing for a live audience, while actually DOING it!
By contrast, with sewing, all 'doing' happens in private, culminating in a tangible result as its own evidence of achievement behind the scenes. This other discovery about live performance to prove proficiency was a rude awakening of that old dread/revulsion of less consequential performing.
So, fast forward to age twelve, when the conditions for performing my first recital which were brewing, unfolded so that my mind emptied and fingers turned to gelatin, dangling like lifeless things dangling over silent keys.
When I sat down at that stage piano for that fateful recital for which I'd learned the Adagio movement of "Moonlight Sonata" like I knew my own name, - - simply nothing musical happened, unless the racing and sinking of my heart was audible as cacophony to my rapt audience!
It progressed into deep reddening of my face and climaxed with my shamed retreat off the stage. The shame didn't subside soon, and when it did, left its calling card.
Thereafter, both that piece and every song I'd known "by heart" vanished from my musical memory cache; no other has refilled it since. I play strictly by reading the notes, including "Moonlight Sonata", while, mostly, my timing is almost totally "by ear" and by feeling it.
Not surprisingly, probably, is that I really don't "see" the notes. But if I happen to become aware that I'm not actually reading them, I have to scramble to 'find my place' so that I can resume consciously reading the notes!
Luckily my over-all memory capability was unaffected in any other, non-musical, area. In fact, it's a very keen memory-ability, as it once had been for music. It wouldn't be surprising if my music memory-abiity simply quietly returned.
always there ~ the MUSE-ic!
Growing up in my family, there was always music and access to a piano. When a kid, an old-fashioned heavy oak upright I loved to play, - or trying to, with Mother's help!
However, there was no piano at the ranch. The only music was from the wind-up Victrola. And the only piano was my toy grand piano with its few kid-sized keys, horrid tinny tone, and sublime artistic frustration in every key-tap. For three months every summer, every year, that was it.
So I used the toy to practice fingering and pick out simple melodies. Truthfully, what choice had I?
Mother was an avid antique collector and over time, acquired several fine vintage pianos, such as this chunky square one. They hardly fit into our house, so they were like tentative visitors coming and going, except for one, my pride and joy. It's the spinet grand now here in my den, which I was given when I graduated, though I wasn’t allowed to take it away to my own home.
the piano ~ eventually mine
So it was that I acquired my spinet grand piano eventually. It's moved with me several times since and suffered being dropped and injured during one of those times, as they feared might happen. Several of the ivories required replacements.
Meanwhile for the many years before getting it, I had access to and use of another upright during my dismal marriage.
When it ended, I managed to persuade a Louisville music store to sell me the little spinet upright pictured below 'on time' @ $16 per month till paid off. I had little cash and NO established credit record or rating! I was still paying those payments after the year when I moved back home to Texas! The trusting store folks got every penny and it was worth every penny to me!
I NEEDED a piano so desperately that my honest, pleading face and body language must have been convincing to folks who understood the obsessive need for music!
my little spinet
Yes, at that time in my life, along with having various innate creative ways to enjoy and express myself, especially outpourings of poetry, that little spinet was a crucial part of restoring my equilibrium.
When I wasn't at my work, writing or sleeping, I was playing it.
sensing the rhythms
As mentioned, I'd failed to fully master counting time, though I do so in a primary manner. Mostly I sense rhythms rather than systematically "counting" timing as prescribed. It’s meant needing to meld with the music and with that restriction, a need to expand feeling rhythms and sensing the nature of the music, along with needing more confidence to trust it, if it was to become applicable as music rhythms themselves rather dramatically evolve over the many decades since I first began to play. The self-imposed handicap of not learning to count properly, required having to work around it ever since then. I'm glad my teachers kept trying to pound it in as much as they did! And glad I did have some sense of rhythm.
About the time I acquired the little spinet, I was eager to play Burt Bacharach songs as he did. I love his sophisticated, but visceral and upbeat rhythms. I'd learned "Wives and Lovers" on that previous upright, but struggled to capture others, many I liked much better. But I hadn't yet fully sensed his rhythm reliably.
(other Bacharach options at end of u-tube)
Then one magical day, when playing the piano I'd persuaded that music store to sell me, - suddenly, - almost out of the blue, - sense of his rhythm came to me in a flash!
That rhythm! ~That beat! ~ I felt it! ~ I found it!
I "GOT IT"!
I COULD play Burt's rhythms in all his songs I liked better than "Wives and Lovers". I could even play those from other contemporaries with their newer rhythmic styles which had eluded me!
What a revelation!
Though I still needed to read the notes, my innate rhythm had caught up with my agile mind and fingers! Whoopee! Thanks, Mother. You got me off to a good start with your help at home and then arranging for my lessons next to Piggly-Wiggly! Thanks, music teachers for insisting I try to use the metronome! Thanks to ME for determination to apply an innate sense of rhythm!
So in my house now, there are various instruments: George's electronic organ, my two pianos and wonderful Yamaha Grand Piano keyboard. I relish them and recall with pleasure the many others I have known and loved!
Given limited talent and erratic training, I compensate with passion for piano and for music. It provides deep satisfaction, my own "magic carpet" ride into its realm. One needn't be master of all its many facets and levels in order to fall under its spell.
I fell and it feels natural and vital. I won't be an expert pianist, but playing fills my soul, even reading every note and playing rhythms with my hybrid combination of reading a bit and by ear as felt. Even the stage fright if I'm watched when playing is part of its nature! I've no quarrel with it.
secret ~ the nature of a piano
Oh! Needing not
To plunder my piano,
Nor rape, nor ravish
Any thing, -
I caress the keys
And their music
Which I create not,
But merely share
______© Nellieanna H. Hay
My John Thompson Piano Book 3
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- Thimbles, Rhythms & Natures of Things - Part 3
THE NATURES OF THINGS