“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit and never dies.” -Edward Bulwer-Lytton, English Writer and Politician.
I’ve always been a big lover of music: classical, hip-hop, alternative. You name it, I’ve heard it. Since my earliest days I still remember how the church pianist could make my hairs stand on end as she tumbled her way down complex chord progressions. In middle school, I would spend hours in front of our home desktop in the computer room venturing deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole that was Youtube, always in search of just one more song. At 24 years old, I have hundreds of playlists comprised of thousands of songs, all ranging in style and genre. I’ve got folk favorites, ridden the waves of synth and electro-pop, and know the words to more than one 1920s-era jazz single. My love and appreciation for music has evolved a lot over the years: like the seasons, the songs and genres I identify with change with each life experience. But also like the seasons, they always manage to resurface as fresh and wonderful as the first time I heard them.
A Catholic boy born and raised, I experienced a lot of firsts in the pews at St. Gilbert’s church. My first crush on one of the Eucharistic ministers, a forty-something married man with a beautiful, full beard. My first taste of wine which, now that enough time has passed, I can admit tasted so foul I stealthily spat it back into the cup for others to “Taste and See” (for non-Catholics, that’s a church song.) And of course, for those that follow my blog, I also managed to get that first experience of public puking out of the way before I turned 9 years old. But there was one other first I rarely talk about: my first exposure to the presence of a live musician.
The pianist was a little white-haired, ancient looking woman. With one strong breath, I believe she might just have disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a pile of dust. But her fingers were nimble. They moved like dancers, each working independently as they tripped along the keys to bring the piano to life. I was so entranced that I even managed to tune out Sister Donna, a wonderful, well-meaning choir woman whose heart was as golden as her voice was not. It inspired me so much I went to my mom to request taking lessons. As she had bought a baby grand piano before having anyone to play it, she was more than happy to oblige.
According to my mom, I was a gifted natural: with little effort, I could sit and learn to play something in a short amount of time. But according to my teacher, I was “under-motivated”. After a week between our lessons, she could tell by the next Sunday nothing had really changed. Of course, this was just a nicer way of pointing out I was lazy. Which I was, although for good reason. While I was forced to sit at the piano bench, I would practice my scales and arpeggios while watching the neighborhood children play outside in the street. What is Bach to baseball? Chopin to capture the flag? So finally, after years of begging and half-hearted practice, my mom finally allowed me to quit.
I don’t say it often but I regret that now. I really do. A lot of what I learned has left me since those days of being forced to sit at the piano, hearing my father shout “play monkey play!” to the laughter of company. But lately I’ve taking to sitting back down in front of it. The seat is the same, still as stiff and hard as it was during those Sunday lessons. After years, some chords and scales still come to me. Bits of songs find their way back to my fingers as they stumble over the keys. They haven’t forgotten the progression of notes to Disney’s “Up” theme. The quick, complex movements to Comptine d’un Autre été: L’Après-Midi (a song I taught myself) still lives on through muscle memory. Even when I forgot, my fingers didn’t. So years later, after building a renewed appreciation for it, I’ve decided it’s time to return to the piano and try it again. Like music we hear or the cycle of the seasons, the things we love always find their way back to us in the end. All it takes is the briefest of moments, the faint glimmer of one single happy memory, for it all to come rushing back.
Have an instrument you played as a child and want to share a story about it? Or maybe your first experience with music was so memorable it makes you smile whenever you think about it. We want to hear about it! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on this article for other readers to see! As summer winds down and turns to fall, stay safe and hopeful!