My five-year-old fingers stretched across the keys of our church sanctuary’s piano.
My mom, who’d never taken lessons, played for services. The keys sang lovely songs she’d absorbed after one hearing. Soon, she played them in any key.
The piano would do musical magic for me, too.
Our family, preparing for a mission trip, lived in our church’s two back rooms. We children were forbidden to touch the church’s unlocked instruments.
My brother Ned explored the organ’s mysterious tubes and wires.
The baby grand’s rich tones drew me. Besides, fooling with the organ warranted worse punishment.
But keys rarely cooperated when I played. Sometimes, a strand of melody escaped the chaos. But the piano did not love me.
Later, I realized that before confronting us, Mom listened. Her belief in our budding talent later led to Old Camo’s appearance in our sparsely furnished living room.
I’ve never seen such a piano before or since. Gray-and-white camo vinyl covered it. Metal studs outlined its silhouette. No wonder we could afford it. Still, I fell in love.
My fumblings drove my family to the same sentiment as George Bernard Shaw, music critic as well as playwright. He said, “Nothing soothes me more after a long and maddening course of pianoforte recitals than to sit and have my teeth drilled.”
But I recognized more and more melodies. My excitement grew … until lessons sapped the magic.
Mom encouraged practice, then bribed, then chained me to the bench, hoping I would make friends with written notes. After four years, I continued to balk. She gave up.
Still, I played for church youth meetings. My peers dove for cover, but melodies and harmonies eventually found my hands. I even played the sanctuary piano (though neither Ned nor I crawled inside the organ anymore.)
Ned, also a piano practice delinquent, nevertheless worked for a piano craftsman. After Old Camo collapsed, teenaged Ned rebuilt a baby grand for Mom.
I missed it after I married. No money for pianos. Given our fabulous $97.50-per-month studio apartment, we’d have had to sleep on the bench.
We were skinny, but not that skinny.
After graduation, a new spinet graced our living room. Despite toddler abuse, teeth-gritting kids’ practices, and my thumping, it remains a monument to the magic.
As is our daughter. Like her mother and grandmother, she often ignores little black notes and discovers her own songs.
Mom was, too. Battling dementia, she played what Dad called his “dinner music” while he cooked.
“Beautiful,” Dad told her.
Though Mom didn’t remember repeating the same song seven times, her fingers and her spirit found their way to lovely music.
The magic triumphed again.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is piano music magic for you?