Music has always been a big part of my life. My earliest memories were of booming organ music at the church I attended as a young girl. We didn’t go to church regularly but somehow that type of music stuck with me throughout my life. My grandmother owned an organ and on Christmas Eve we would gather around her to sing Christmas carols. I was amazed how well she could play, including working all the pedals. Sometimes she would let us kids try playing it as long as we didn’t pound on the keys. We could make it amazingly loud and of course we loved that. It was my first exposure to a musical instrument and I hoped someday I would learn to play it.
My older sister played saxophone in the high school band. My brother played the guitar and had his own band when he was in high school. The song that I will always remember him playing was “Little Red Riding Hood” and I remember how good he was at the wolf howling part. “House of the Rising Sun” was another of my favorite songs he would play. I guess music was in our genes.
When I was around 10, my dad bought an organ. It was a “cheating” organ in that the keys lit up showing the name of the keys in different colors. It came with simple music books that were easy to learn because they were also color coded. My dad and I were the only ones who played the organ. At some point, I took a few lessons at Schmitt Music. I was pretty good at reading “colors” but unfortunately it prevented me from ever getting the hang of reading the base clef with my left hand. As I got better playing the organ, I became the entertainment when my parents had their friends or family over to our house. I never played well under pressure and often felt I was a big disappointment to them. The songs I played that I can remember were “Green Sleeves” and “Born Free”.
As a teenager, I used to run an extension cord down to the dock when we lived on a small lake. I would lay in the sun and play my 45 records on my little phonograph including “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” and “Brown Eyed Girl” over and over again hoping to attract the attention of the 3 older boys who lived next door. To my disappointment, it never worked. In high school, I had the opportunity to take organ lessons from a music teacher and practice on a large organ the school had. The music I chose to play was mostly familiar hymns and classical type music. The organ occupied its own small room and I could practice there alone, make mistakes and play as loud as I wanted. At some point I was given the opportunity to practice on the pipe organ in our church. If ever I had a magical moment in my life that was it. The music filled the empty church as the sound reverberated through my feet from the pedals and off the walls. I often would dream about being an organist in a large church. However, once high school ended, I never really played the organ again.
Fast forward to 1976, the year I got married. My parents were downsizing and told me that they decided to give us the organ as a wedding gift. As a young couple getting married on a shoestring, we could have used so many other things besides an old organ. I wasn’t very happy with their gift but they had the organ delivered to our apartment. It sat there for 2 years before I decided I wanted to learn how to play the piano. To be honest, I had always wanted to learn the piano but no one had ever asked me. I had 2 small children by this time and was envisioning playing duets and chopsticks with them as they got older. I contacted Schmitt Music to see if they would give me credit for the organ if I bought a piano from them. Somehow a deal was worked out and before long there was a brand new piano in my living room and I was now having to make $49.00 payment every month which we really couldn’t afford. My two oldest kids loved to “play” and I tried teaching myself to read bass clef, something that was not easy after learning on a color coded organ. Even what I learned in high school wasn’t helping me very much but I got to where I could play songs for the kids and we could sing together simple songs. I loved my new piano.
In 1982, after we had been married for 6 years, a certified letter arrived from a collection agency. They were requesting immediate payment of delinquent student loans plus interest my husband had accrued from his year at the University of Minnesota in 1969 to 1970. The amount might as well have been a million dollars because we had no money to pay even our current bills. I was a stay at home mom taking in two other children for daycare money and my husband was working on and off at labor jobs for minimum wage. I was furious that this bill had shown up out of the blue but it was not the first time I was discovering things from my husband’s past that I did not know about. The calls starting coming daily, sometimes 2-3 times at all hours of the day and night. These were threatening and nasty people who left me in tears each time I talked with them and told them we had nothing to give them. But in the end, they got my piano. I had to sell it for a lot less than I paid for it. It was the only thing we had worth enough money to make a payoff agreement with these vultures and I STILL had to pay $49 a month for a piano that I no longer owned.
The next piano we acquired was a few years later when my aunt passed away. It was an old heavy upright piano that had been in her basement for years and years. I used to play it with my cousins when we were younger. It took 5 guys to lift it up the steep narrow staircase from her rambler and down the stairs to our basement of a house we were renting at the time. The piano was very out of tune and some of the keys didn’t work but I taught the kids chopsticks and my daughter started taking lessons. I had the piano tuned once but the tuner told me that the piano had spent too much time in my aunt’s damp basement for it to stay tuned very long. I could not afford to have him keep coming back. Unfortunately, this old family beauty was pretty much ignored in that unfinished basement over the next few years. Making music was not a priority while three active kids, a neurotic dog, and an overworked mom tried to make it through the end of the day. When we moved from that house, it was into an apartment and unfortunately the piano had to stay behind.
Maybe I wasn’t meant to have a piano, or learn to play one after all these chances. There are many days now in my later years that I wonder if I still have time to learn to play. If I had a bucket list, learning to play piano would certainly be on it. But alas, my townhouse has no room for one. Though I still love to listen to organ music, if you can find a church who still has one, piano music will always be my favorite listening genre. I close my eyes and listen to the music pretending it’s my fingers flying along the keys until I have to lift my hand to wipe away the tears that are not a dream.
Is there an instrument or music type that is near and dear to your heart? Did that love start in childhood? I would love to hear your stories about learning to play music. It really does make the world go ‘round.