empty nests brilliant blue sky–
what songs lined your walls?
* * *
Music was huge in our home: piano practice, singing grace before each meal, old phonograph records played over and over. Mother taught us to sing in three-part harmony while she accompanied us on the piano or a small portable electric organ. She also played and taught us children’s songs from the old Childcraft songbook for kids, and silly kindergarten songs with all the motions.
Three memories come to mind when I think about music that lined the walls of my childhood homes.
First, a 1948 vinyl record on which I’m singing “I’ve Got the Mumps.” I was 4 1/2 years old. Mother taught me the song and accompanied me. I always felt proud and special when I sang it.
Second, a musical fiasco when I was 15 years old. My parents were sitting in the parlor waiting for waiting for colleagues to arrive for a difficult meeting. The group supported a ministry that paid my father a small stipend. The meeting was an attempt to resolve deep differences of opinion. My parents’ future as part of the ministry was uncertain.
While they waited, my parents asked me to play the piano. The mood was heavy, so I played Chopin’s prelude in B minor (Opus 28, No. 6). I didn’t know that this prelude was performed at Chopin’s funeral. Halfway through, my mother asked me to stop playing because it was too sad. Apparently, so was the meeting.
Finally, my senior piano recital. It was late spring 1960, only weeks before my high school graduation. Yet my senior piano recital was the really big event of that spring.
Mrs. Hanks, my piano teacher, selected the program and helped my family think about all the details. My job was simple: practice and learn by heart all pieces on the program. I did just that from early fall 1959 through mid-spring 1960.
The big day finally came—a lovely Southern Sunday afternoon. I wore a ‘graduation dress.’ It was a white sheath made of silk-like material covered by an outer layer of white lace. Simple white pumps. No jewelry for me, and no fancy hairdo. Just a corsage.
Mrs. Hanks wore a simple, elegant black dress, her usual gold earrings and necklace, sturdy black pumps and a corsage. She had pulled her wavy gray hair into a loose twist across the back of her head. She introduced me and took her seat just offstage out of sight of the audience, with her eyes riveted on my back.
I walked out and gave a little bow. Then I sat down, got positioned just right and began playing. I relaxed as my fingers and my heart found their way into the music. I loved getting instant feedback at the end of each piece.
Afterwards, there were lots of hugs and a simple, happy reception. About 100 guests had come, many bearing cards, notes and small gifts. It was, in fact, my happy graduation party.
The next day my father told me the bad news. The tape recorder hadn’t captured my playing. I was devastated. He suggested we get permission to use the recital hall and try again. I agreed to do it, though I knew I could never repeat that performance.
The next day we returned to the recital hall. My father set up the tape recorder. We tested it. It worked. One by one, I played through the pieces. It wasn’t the same at all. No audience. No sense of connecting with the music. I felt self-conscious, especially with my father as my audience of one.
I have the tape recording. I’m grateful to have it. It caught some lovely pieces and passages. It also caught my discomfort. I just wanted to get done and get out of there. It was definitely time to leave the nest.
What music lined the walls of your home?
Haiku written 12 September 2014
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 September 2014
Photo credit: DAFraser, 2012