Uncle Vaughn gave Mama and Daddy an upright piano years ago. It had a mirror up at the top and, as it turned out, had been converted from a player piano. My brother Steve learned to play it and practiced on it for his piano lessons.
Every afternoon, when Steve finished practicing piano, he’d go off to play baseball with his friends. By the time I was about three years of age, I would climb on the piano bench and play “by ear” the music I’d heard him practice. More about that later.
Mama gets a new piano
When I was 7 years old, we moved to a new house. The piano was in the otherwise unfurnished living room. Mama thought that piano was junk. When I was 10 years old, she traded it in for a new upright Wurlitzer piano. She thought the new piano was very nice. I remember the smell of the wood and the sound of the keys on the new piano. Mama had that Wurlitzer piano over 40 years. It needed a lot of work and wouldn’t stay in tune, so I donated it to some folks who really needed a piano.
Mama didn’t know what she had. That converted player piano was probably worth something. Value notwithstanding, I wish she had kept it, in which case I would now have it.
Ultimately, our cultural enrichment when we were growing up was piano lessons. I have written in the past about my piano teacher, Miss Helen Dean Rhodes. I started taking piano lessons in the fall when I started third grade. When Mama called Miss Helen to schedule my first lesson Miss Helen said, “Does Pam play the piano?”
“Yes,” Mama said. “She plays what she hears Steve practice.”
“Well, for two weeks before the first lesson, keep Pam away from the piano. When she starts learning to read music and catches on, she’ll start playing by ear instead of reading music.”
Mama told me about that conversation. For two weeks before my first lesson, I complied with the mandate not to play the piano until my first lesson.
I took piano lessons for 10 years. Although I do not have a piano and do not get to practice, I still know how to play and can read music.
A benefit of playing piano all those years is that I have always typed very fast with accuracy. In junior high school I learned the typewriter keyboard. That was before computers. Our teacher gave us timed writings to test our typing speed. As we made progress learning the keyboard, we typed faster and our accuracy improved.
My parents grew up during the Great Depression. There was no money for musical instruments or for lessons to learn to play them. Even so, Mama was admirably skilled at teaching us music appreciation and she did it with records. That’s right, vinyl. She had a boxed set of 12 records of various types of music. Each record was in a paper sleeve which told all about the music on that record. The classical music told about the composers, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven. There was American folk music, symphonies, gospel and an array of classical music. There was a baton so that you could direct a pretend orchestra while you listened to the music. Steve and I both enjoyed those records and in the process we learned to appreciate all kinds of music.
Memories abound of each of the pianos we had. I remember how the old piano looked in the living room at the old house, as well as how the new piano looked at the new house. When I think about playing those pianos I earnestly appreciate the piano lessons, and wish I still had Mama’s old piano.
Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal and welcomes email to her at email@example.com.