Throughout her life, my mom has been a wonderful pianist. Entirely self taught and without the ability to read music, she could listen to most pieces and in moments play it back for you almost verbatim. It’s a skill she seemingly had to pick up as her father, a violinist and concert organizer, forestalled my mother’s desire to study and participate in the classical ensembles he’d put together each weekend in the family’s home in Newark, New Jersey.
And my mother never got over it. I think she’d say her father’s grand ego and perhaps chauvinism on some level was the mitigating factor, so mom set out on her own and in the 1940’s and ‘50’s joined various USO groups and began writing music for live, staged performances to welcome soldiers home from the war and those who’d later shuffle on off to further conflicts.
I of course didn’t know my mom in this guise—her musical endeavors having been set aside to raise two kids later on. But oh, the house was full of music daily and her weekend piano performances quite literally could be heard through the neighborhood. And it seems, even up until recently at 84, she was serenading the aides who’d come in three times daily to tend to her and make her meals. I’d hear quite often, “Jon – your mother is SUCH a wonderful piano player...” I’d nod and agree as I’ve heard this all of my life. Self taught, never read music.
In her absence last week, I sat at her baby grand which has followed her throughout her entire life. It’s been well maintained and the innards have been rebuilt many times over and it still rings pitch-perfect.
There was a notebook on top of the piano that I started to flip through and the header on the very first page took me back a bit. In my mother’s oddly singular longhand, she had begun the page with “Memory Lapses.” What followed was an enumeration of things she’d forgotten—some were merely actor’s names or songwriters of popular standards or movie titles. This list grew longer and longer as it became clear she was adding to it over time.
Most surprising however was that, with exacting detail amidst cross-outs and erasures, she’d begun to transcribe all the songs she knew by memory into basic scales and keys with the accompanying lyrics. Page after page, each one marginally less focused than the last until nothing was left but empty white lined pages in her notebook.
Responsibilities we understand, the body fitfully performs.
The Kinks - Catch Me Now I'm Falling (Mp3)
The Bolshoi - Happy Boy (Mp3)
The Vapors - News At Ten (Mp3)
The Blow Monkeys - The Bullet Train (Mp3)
The Monkees - Pleasant Valley Sunday (Mp3)