The cement that holds our family together is music. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many music stories can I fit into a little essay?
Baby Mary Eileen was the youngest of us all by far, and she is the only professional musician among my siblings. Our father never tired of telling the story of Mary's first piano recital. She was six--beautiful, blue-eyed Mary, with her curly dark hair and classically pale Irish skin. Imagine little Mary timidly walking up to the big baby grand in the church, the pews filled with her relatives and those of all her fellow-recitalists. She's been taking piano lessons for a year and she never has been too fond of practicing. Nonetheless, here she is at her first piano recital.
Mary approaches the keyboard, as they say, and she looks for middle C, the opening note for her little piece. She has been taught to find it by tracing her finger down from the first letter of the manufacturer's name on the upright board above the keys. Whoops! This is a different piano. There is a different placement of the manufacturer's name. Middle C is nowhere to be found.
Mary chooses a note that might be the right one and tries out her piece. Nope. Doesn't sound right. She stops and chooses another note. No luck. She tries three times in all, after which she simply chooses a note at random and plays the piece on whatever notes present themselves under her fingers. Relatively speaking, she plays the piece well: all the notes are in place relative to that first note. But the first note was not middle C, so the piece ends up being in lydian or perhaps mixolydian mode instead of in C major. Mary knows it's wrong, but what can she do? This piano obviously has no middle C. She finishes, bows to the applause, and takes her seat. She's done the best she could do.
In the meantime her father, Myron, and her sister Sara are in hysterics in the back pew. Myron has tears in his eyes from laughing so hard. Sara has nearly wet her pants from laughing.
And because our father, the tease, never lets go of a good story, Mary's first piano recital becomes a legend to be retold at every family feast, as regularly as a Scandinavian edda at the banquet of long-ago warriors.
Lest you think our father was all malice, however, here's my own piano recital story. I was a pupil of Mrs. Eikenberry, whom I adored as a teacher. I was a senior in high school and the recital, held in Mrs. Eikenberry's house, was for her "advanced" students. I was to play a Beethoven theme and variations that I'd been working on forever.
We arrivedparents and nervous performer. Suddenly I realized I was not wearing "my ring." This was a "friendship ring" my father had given me several years previously for my birthday. I later realized that my father never in his life bought a gift for any of his children or for his wife, so the ring purportedly from my father was actually chosen by my mother. But at the time, when I still thought it was possible to be my father's beloved daughter, I believed that he had given me my friendship ring.
But where was it? I had left it at home! Oh no, my lucky ring!! My ring that I nervously twiddled between my fingers, using pinky and long-man to twirl the ring that was on my right-hand ringman. Oh, and I was SO nervous that day. I knew I'd never be able to play without my ring. It was my talisman.
I asked my father to go home and get it for me. I couldn't play without it. Please, Daddy! He thought the request was ridiculous and pooh-poohed the whole idea. I pleaded, tears in my eyes. Finally my mother took my side and said, "Myron, just go home and get the ring!" And he did. (This was NOT across a big city, you understand. This was a three-minute drive in our old station wagon.) So he brought me the ring and I put it on, feeling immediately more at ease, or so I said. When my turn came I played the Beethoven as well as could be expected. And certainly no better than I would have without the ring.
And in the generation after ours, do we have musicians? The "children"now ranging from 30 to 50are either totally musical or totally lacking in musical interest. (The latter circumstance is obviously what happens when we marry outside our musical gene-pool.)
We have drummers, keyboardists, an acoustic bass, a couple of singers. Some are part-time professionals (as in, "Don't quit your day job!"); some just do it for fun. But the music gene is still strong among at least half of them and goes into the next generation. All the young parents watch the new babies for extraordinary talentalthough why they would is a mystery. Since they have seen the difficulties of the full-time musician's life, you'd think they would want to stomp out any musical talent, not encourage it.
I remember one of my daughters saying about her baby girl (only a month or two old at the time): "I was singing the mockingbird song and she hummed it along with me!!"
Copyright 2011Ann Tudor