I chose the clarinet as my instrument in fifth grade because I wanted to be like my big sister Lannie. I remembered that she had played the clarinet. Only she didn’t. She had played the autoharp, which, being black and white, I mistook for a clarinet. Lannie was in college by then, anyway, and I doubt she was impressed.
My mother was a lead soprano in college and wanted to sing professionally. Her mother wouldn’t allow it, because no daughter of hers was going to be a show girl. Maybe that was why Mom stopped singing, or maybe it was because she married my father and had us kids instead. She always loved music, though. She sang when she cooked, and she sang when she cleaned. She hummed when she mended our clothes. She would put on classical albums, and we would dance around our big Florida room.
Tickling the Ivories & Guzzling the Strawberry Hill
I started playing the piano to make my mother happy and in the hopes that my father would like it and stop drinking so much. I loved playing the piano, but wasn’t especially good at it. Still, I was better at that than at the clarinet. I didn’t much like playing the clarinet, even though Mom said that maybe one day I might march in the inaugural parade. I couldn’t bear to be seen in the high school marching band uniform, though, so I stopped playing when I was fifteen. Besides, I discovered boys and Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine, which were way more interesting than band class.
Like a Rolling Stone
I sang in our church choir, too, and the leader was impressed with my voice. She called my mother in one afternoon to listen to me sing. She said I could hit a high B flat. Whatever that meant. I liked singing. But I also liked the boys and the wine, and I started smoking cigarettes to complete my image. I quit the choir. I quit the piano.
Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Traffic, Steppenwolf. Drugs. Sex. You know, life in the seventies.
I got a guitar for Christmas when I was sixteen or seventeen, but never learned to play much more than Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. I gave it to a long-ago boyfriend, I think, a guy I used to accompany to the bars where he played for tips.
My mother ended up getting dementia and accidentally sold our very valuable piano to some workman for a couple hundred bucks. It was the only thing I had ever told her I wanted after she was gone.
Oh well. Life, again. And death.
The Spirit Plays On
A few years ago, I got a used piano from my dear friend Brian – my former pastor, fellow environmental justice agitator, and a fine musician. The piano has a spirit all its own. My fingers also have a memory all their own. Although I struggle to read music – it’s been so long – my fingers recall the classical music I used to play for Mom and Dad. It’s miraculous, I think, as if there is this music running through my veins that I’m not even aware of.
New Year’s Eve, my buddy Lucky gave me his old, well-loved guitar. Guitar great Leo Kottke played it when he and Lucky were in the Navy together, about the time I discovered boys and Boones Farm. I’m going to get it re-stringed and maybe take some lessons.
It’s time to re-acquaint myself with making music. Not to emulate my cool big sister, and not because I want someone to pay attention or to love me. But because I have music in my genes, and it’s in my heart, and it makes my spirit whole.
I wrote this post in response to the Daily Prompt Challenge. Thanks, WordPress, for the question: