TITLE: For the Love of Music
By Miriam Basye-Carter
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My first introduction to music education was a miserable failure. My first grade music teacher had about 50 rowdy little blighters to teach so she sat us all on bleachers so we could see her graphic illustrations of the musical notes with faces on them.
Unfortunately, we were not introduced to the piano--just the notes. Which is like learning your letters but not the words or sentences or books! I saw no connection to anything I could use. It didn't take me long to figure out that a skinny girls like me could just slip between the slats in the bleachers and have a great time running up and down underneath with a friend of mine. That is how I spent my music hour all year so I never learned how to read music when I had the chance.
Finally, when I was 25 years old, I was at an auction with my husband. We were just moving back to Colorado, from Vermont, and, having sold everything before moving, we needed to furnish our house. Somehow, I managed to have $100 of my own money! (don't ask me how that came about--it was very rare for me to have more than a dollar!) We bought a dresser, a bed, a gun cabinet --all the essentials--suddenly I saw the most beautifully carved upright piano! I was immediately entranced! I could see myself playing that piano, even though I had never played one before in my life!
I told my husband that I wanted to bid on it with my own money. He didn't want me to get it, but he agreed to let me bid because he was sure that I wouldn't get it for just a hundred dollars. Somehow, when the piano came up for bids, my husband was on the other side of the crowd and I was on my own.
I began bidding at $10 by the time we got to $30 there were no other bidders! It was going once! Going twice! I was becoming extremely excited when a man that I knew to be a friend of the auctioneer stood up in the back of the crowd and began to bid against me. I admit it--I had auction fever--nothing was going to stop me from buying that piano! In a trance, I heard myself bidding higher and higher, I couldn't even stop when he passed $100 even though the logical side of my brain was yelling at the other side and kicking it! "You don't even have that much money!"
My apoplectic husband was leaping frantically up and down on the far side of the crowd like Rumplestiltskin, slicing a finger across his throat and screaming "stop! STOP!" but I seemed powerless to do so, even though I knew that I would probably be divorced by the next morning.
When the dust settled, I found that I had bought the piano for $150.
Then the auctioneer decided that, since that wasn't enough money, he would not include the piano bench. Although he was booed by the crowd, he auctioned the bench separately, and I got a piano with no bench.
My husband was so angry that he refused to even help me take the piano home and I had to get a couple of brawny friends to help me move it. (I had that piano through two more moves and my husband would never touch it.)
Okay, so what does all this have to do with learning to read music? Well, I remembered two things from my first grade music class and they were chants, "EGBDF, EGBDF names of the lines of the treble clef" and, "F-A-C-E names of the spaces are as easy as can be". From there it was a matter of finding middle C on the piano and the sheet music. I got a simple music book from a friend and began to learn music. I practiced every day for hours. After learning the simple melodies, I practiced contrary motion and harmony. I was so thrilled to be able to play four notes at once. Woo Hoo! Like riding a bike for the first time! Except you can't ride with no hands on the piano!
The most thrilling thing was when I played a simplified version of a classical song and realized that this melody was once a thought in the mind of a man that I have never met, hundreds of years ago in a country I have never been to! I felt like I had discovered time travel!
My favorite classical song to play was Fur Elise. I learned to play it pretty well, I guess. One day I was playing Fur Elise as a 6 month old little boy was playing on the floor beside me. I closed my eyes as I played and soon I heard a thump and a cry beside me. The music had put the baby to sleep and he fell over and bonked his head on the floor! I took it as a compliment... although I suppose he could have been saying that I was really boring!
Since the day that I first fell in love with a piano I have moved countless times and have had several pianos, and when I ran out of brawny friends to help me move them I even settled for an electronic keyboard. Now in my dotage I once again live with a piano and, though I am still not a virtuoso, we enjoy a special time together every day. I hope that I can find a way to introduce my grandchildren to the same love that I have known, but maybe they will just have to find the magic on their own.
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