So, as my first husband emptied out the house we were married in after its recent sale, he offered me a keyboard he'd bought his current wife that she no longer wanted. It's a convoluted way to start this story, except to set the emotional context and to get me to the point where I said yes and took it home -- the place that I now call home. I set it up in my dining room -- with its big table and expensive chairs we hardly ever use, and with my relatively new, upright hutch with its glass doors and inside lighting, the hutch that symbolizes, as I've written here before, my perceived ascension to full adult womanhood. It seems right to me to have the keyboard in a room devoted to womanhood; if I had not turned into a heathen and left the church as soon as possible, defying my parents' hopes for me, I might have been the kind of woman who'd play piano (and organ) on Easter Sunday, at prayer meetings, at revival meetings, and at funerals as needed.
So I set the keyboard up there, facing the wall in the northeast corner. For ten years of my childhood -- six to 16, when my mother mercifully agreed I'd learned enough and let me quit -- I took piano lessons from a trio of long-suffering teachers; first delicate young Carol Martz, a dark-eyed beauty in Canton; then a sturdy, intelligent woman named Pat Ramsay who tried to teach me how to improvise hymns in Akron; then sweet Jesse Williamson in Coshocton, a powdery, formal old dame who wore lacy dresses and cried when I played Berceuse. I faced the wall in three different parsonages, banging away on our dark brown Estey and setting the Seth Thomas metronome dutifully at adagio or andante or larghetto depending on the piece. Looking back, I liked it. When I quit I had had enough of my daily hour on the piano bench, but I liked making music, learning the keys, working first the left hand (always awkward and plodding, a slow learner) and my spunky right, then putting them together. I had a good long reach and long fingers. But I wasn't obsessed enough or driven enough to really get every piece down. I showed up in party clothes for a few recitals, an important part of childhood, but performed unreliably positioned somewhere in the middling mediocre.
Nonetheless, sitting down now to the keyboard -- which has only six octaves, not eight -- I've been remarkably soothed and delighted by re-discovering the old patterns. My sheet music, saved over all these years in a dusty box, remains in the attic for now, so I've been playing only hymns, from an ancient Evangelical Hymnal from one of the churches of my childhood. Luckily for my neighbors, I quickly discovered the volume option, and thus I can save them from cringing at my repeated attempts to get the sharps right in "Christ the Lord is Risen to day" (labeled "Worgan 7777 -- the metrics -- with Alleluia, words by the prodigious Charles Wesley, from a 1708 tune) or handle the charming left hand in "Christ Arose," which although it's in the sharp and flat-free key of C still flummoxes me every time.
Anyway, I'm enjoying this re-emergence of an old skill. And the hymns, even to my apostate self, are fun to play. They were, after all, my very first music.
Not a hero
5 years ago