Oddments

In search of story


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March 29.22: Coping, but barely

\The 88th day

of a calendar year

is a hooray for the piano,

proud modern clavier.

Eighty-eight keys

to knot up our fingers,

uncountable hours

that put us through wringers.

Lessons and practice

dulling many a day,

but what a delight

to just sit down and play.

From Czerny to Joplin

is an arduous travel

and can make your resolve

and your neurons unravel,

but the family and friends

who won’t whimper or squawk

will help you endure —

they’ll have your Bach!

The time that it takes

to learn the technique

makes thousands of hours

dismal and bleak,

but just when you think

it’s too much to withstand

the mystery of music

flows out of your hand.

Eventually it comes,

a soul satisfaction,

after dragging delay of

gratification.

So whether some Gershwin

or Schubertian lieder,

may a piano today

accompany you, dear reader!

 

 

As some of you know from my blog, I lived through many, many years of piano lessons. I hated my lessons and I hated practicing, but, boy, did I love to play. My piano was my upper and my downer and my go-to for the stress du jour.

As I understood it, my piano teacher was, pedagogically speaking, a descendant of Liszt. This did not work well for me because, as everyone knows, Liszt had three hands. The expectations were hardly realistic for those of us with a mere two.

Nonetheless, like others, I persisted. Persistence and piano go together. Today I salute the teachers of both. Happy Piano Day, dear reader! And thanks to my friends Donna and Bill who tuned me into it!

 

 


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January 27.22: Coping

The baton. The magic wand that transforms a traffic jam of soloists into a country drive of beautiful sound. That is, in a certain hand.

Some years ago, I worked with Rick, an elementary school band director who had that hand. Two days ago, I heard of his death.

I know that I have touched on the subject of music teachers in the past, dear reader, and I bet I do again. There are few things in life we turn to the way we turn to music, and music teachers have had much to do with that.

Have you ever heard the call of the beginning trombonist? Could you take it? Beginning Band is not for the faint of heart or tender-eared. Rick was one of those brave and gifted beings who took the squawks and bleats of those beginners and turned them into real music. By the time those beginners graduated from eighth grade, their sound was good. Really good.

Rick was hilarious, energetic, an entertainer at heart and a teacher in his soul. I think my favorite memory of him was from his summer marching band practices where, out on that hot blacktop, he could be heard in his best martial voice shouting “Your OTHER left! Your OTHER left!” I still laugh.

And every Christmas I think a thank-you to Rick for educating me about Mannheim Steamroller.

If ever anyone lived a life of value, Rick did. May the angels lead you, Rick, and may they lead with the right left.


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June 4.21: Coping

Bassoonist in the pond,

tireless serenade,

accompanies the hours

from dawn through midnight shade.

In sunshine, gruff continuo

beneath the madrigal

of chirp and honk and buzz

in summer’s concert hall.

By moonlight, Shostakovich

in solo lullaby,

sandpaper to the ear,

yet weighty to the eye.

The fish in slow ballet,

the heron straight and still

attune themselves to tuneless

amphibian leaden trill.

Redundant though its song,

endless though it seems,

its hopeful constancy

all monotony redeems.

 

As you may recall, dear reader, frog song used to keep me awake,

and now it seems like an old comforter.

 

 


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December 31.20: Coping

A wink, perhaps,

lightly nefarious:

above the noble

“Stradivarius”

the truth is stamped,

hidden slyly —

“Copy” — by luthier

deft and wily.

 

I think it was no coincidence that 2020 was the year I attended to my father’s violin, which I had allowed to fall into disreputable condition. I’d needed some sense of grounding, of continuity, in a year of such cataclysmic instability. I had it repaired and renewed for my grandson this Christmas, and there was indeed grounding. This was the instrument my father played in his grade school orchestra, circa 1925.

 

The one he played in our family Christmas concerts (a merry barnyard kind of sound) and introduced to his grandson circa 1977.

 

The one I rescued from my own shameful neglect and presented — in its well-worn KantKrack case, beribboned and (it seemed to me) proud — to his great-grandson this Christmas.

A violin doesn’t have to be a Stradivarius to be priceless. And 2020 has made us acutely more mindful of the priceless things that ground us.

Thank you, dear reader, for all your encouragement and insights this year. May the new year bring us all the repair, renewal, and tuning we need, may we be grounded in the priceless things of life, may we be mindful of those who grieve and who care for our sick, and may there one day again be real hugs!

 

 


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December 24.20: Coping

Stories connect us;

the tales that we tell

try to fill the unfillable

of a deep human well,

but sometimes words falter,

they’re easily spent,

and we must turn to music

to say what is meant.

 

Whatever your stories, dear reader, whatever your traditions,

may they bring you peace and comfort.

Whether you soar with Beethoven’s Ninth

or (like me) warble along with ancient Robert Shaw records,

may there be the wonder of music for you.

Maureen

 


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December 1.20: Coping

Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends

 

Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.

 


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September 29.20: Coping

Long, long ago,

when I was very young,

there was a folksy ballad

plaintively sung.

“One meatball!”

was the soulful refrain,

and now it recurs,

stuck in my brain.

One rudbeckia

is all that I got,

a full-throated solo

in one flowerpot,

brass grand finale

in luminous ONE

as my garden is close to

officially done.

There’s hint of embrace

in this radiant burst,

a hug for the elders

that all blossomed first,

a farewell to the summer,

and hail to the fall,

singular reminiscence

of one sorry meatball.

 

 

I didn’t ask for this old song to pop into my head,

but my head often does things without my permission.

Besides, for those (few) of you who know this old song,

one ear worm deserves another, yes?