Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Piano and the Joy of Music

I've always sort of played the piano. I am by no means a phenomenal pianist, but I love to play. Whenever I was stressed or worried, or even elated and bubbling-over with joy, I could sit down at the piano and let the emotion seep out into the notes. I suppose that sounds a little cliché, but it's just the way it worked for me. And I'm glad of it. When T and I were in CA last month, I got to play the piano I grew up with. I don't know much about pianos, but our piano isn't a Steinway or a Yamaha.. I think it's Kawai (it was purchased in Japan by my mother's family when they were stationed there), but it was a wonderful piano through the years. Ahh, I can't explain what a great feeling it was to sit down and play the old, familiar, memorized songs and hit every key correctly, if only because the muscle memory is still there. I was able to play almost perfectly songs that I struggle with on other pianos. It's amazing how precise muscle memory is, and how much a slight difference in key size matters. One of the best things about playing the piano in CA was that all my nieces and nephews were there, too--I had a non-critical audience! I could only remember a small handful of memorized songs, but I played those with gusto and the little kiddies loved to dance to them! They would ask for certain styles of songs, "Aunt Annie, play a ballet song" (Music Box Dancer). "Aunt Annie, play a FAST song!" (The Spinning song). "Aunt Annie, play a night-time song" (Little Boy Blue). Their favorite, by far, was the Spinning Song. Giulia, my oldest sister's oldest kid, liked it so much that she kept asking to hear it after T and I left: "Mommy, can you play the Spinning Song, please?" "Mommy doesn't know the Spinning Song, darlin'." So I sent Summer a copy of the sheet music the other day :) Hopefully Giulia doesn't put too much pressure on her to learn it superfast. But other than the songs I had memorized, I got to refresh my memory on other songs I'd learned throughout the years and use the original sheet music. One of my favorite songs, Gounod's Ave Maria set to Bach's First Prelude, I learned from my mom's mom's sheet music from the 40s. In fact, my grandmother's name is still written on the front. She was a great singer--could have been a famous radio star if she hadn't married my grandfather :) (And we still have some recordings of hers--it's amazing how much my mom and my sisters sound like her (in different ways and different ranges) when they sing!) I also played around with some Christmas songs I learned long, long ago... It was a great way to spend the afternoons (that is, the afternoons when little children weren't napping at Grandmama's house) in the summertime desert heat. The other great part about playing with little kids around is the way they are fascinated by it! The older kids wanted to show me what they could do (T's siblings do this too), "Look what I've learned, Aunt Annie!" and the younger kids wanted to play with me. But they tell me that they can't sit on my lap--they're not really playing the piano unless they sit on the bench right next to me :) I would thump out a simple base beat and let them just plink away on the high-note keys. One of these days I'd like to record some of those "jam sessions" because they're quite adorable. I think the next thing I need to work on for family piano time is learning songs they kids can sing to. T's family is great about this (they nearly have a string quartet in the family, though). Every Christmas, all the family members in town get together for a night of carols! There's a piano player (usually Mum, but Grandma Peterson plays the 12 Days of Christmas because all her children like to go superfast by the end of the song just to make it difficult for her--but she's never phased), a harpist, three violinists (at least), a cellist (sort of, T), and LOTS of voices (with pretty good harmonies, too)! I've even started practicing more here in Boston, on the pianos in the music department at school. When I get off work early, I head on over and work my way through a song book I got in grade school. Maybe I'll have a greater variety of dancing songs for the kiddies next time we visit CA or WA :)

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