Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
MUSIC AND MEMORY
“What new piano book has the teacher given you?” I asked my 12 year old grandson, Kevin, when he began lessons.
I looked at it, noticed its tempo and four-quarter time and remarked, “You must be doing very well to get the fast-paced music with a beat.” I sat on the wooden bench beside him and said, “Play me something, first, that you like and already know.”
A short melody put me into a time many decades old, and I ‘saw’ my mother doing handwork in the living room as I practiced nightly. Kevin quickly played a selection that had much repetition and my mind forgot I wasn’t 14.
“Kevin,” I began, “I’ll tell you what I’m thinking or seeing-and-feeling with each piece you play, and then you do the same.” I got up from the bench, and went to a soft chair with a very high back that was facing Kevin’s profile and keyboard.
“Well,” I began, “the repetitive piece took me back to age 14. I had to practice for 40 minutes every night, and my Mom was sitting on the couch knitting, or sewing, or crocheting for the whole time. I had a social club meeting I wanted to go to. I was dressed in my green wool pleated skirt, and a sweater that I had on backwards with all the buttons going down the back, just to be different, and wanted to finish my session fast. I kept speeding up my scales and the whole thing sounded just like the music you played.” I couldn’t believe how I actually had returned to my childhood’s living room, and even remembered my clothing. My head leaned on the chair’s fabric, and I appreciated that it was so tall.
Kevin asked what crocheting was, and I explained that. I smiled, but kept it to myself, that I learned every sewing or handwork skill my mother taught me but I just couldn’t get comfortable with a crochet hook. I almost felt how my usually adept fingers felt clumsy attempting to use only one skinny metal piece to create an afghan or such. When Kevin wanted to know why my sweater was backwards and I told him ‘cool’ before there was such a thing as ‘cool’, he grinned. Did I get to the meeting, was the next question? I did, but my Dad drove me so I wouldn’t be late. Then he told me that he saw a mirror, as he was playing, because a mirror repeats everything in front of it.
He turned the page and a combination of notes took me to a place by water where I could be alone. It was Long Island Sound. Sometimes I’d even take my diary, secure it in my bicycle basket, and with sunlight and shimmers on the water, I’d re-read my private thoughts. My mind moved into the present: I live 400 miles from my childhood home, and I was no longer young. Lapsing again into the music, which Kevin repeated on the piano, I told him about my experience. He said he’s in the woods and a bird is flying. He’s running with it, but not chasing it. He’s alone, and as long as the bird is there he isn’t frightened, but the bird goes too high and he no longer can see it. He then realizes he is alone.
“Grandma,” he continues, “the last note is lower. That shows sadness, don’t you think? When the last note of a song is higher, the whole song seems happier.”
How could I be so privileged to be sharing not only my love of music but inner thoughts with this child? How could I be so privileged to have him be doing the same with me?
He’d never been given “Greensleeves”. I moved from the chair back to the wooden bench, showed him the fingering for a chord, and briefly explained the sharp vs the flat note with just the F-key. He played it with gusto. But then I told him how the melody had me standing where the wind is blowing, and I’m young and my long hair is lifting, and my skirt is being moved by the wind. I’m feeling relaxed and pretty and safe. “Can you play it that way?” I asked. To my surprise, he changed not only the tempo, but the way he depressed the keys.
“I heard a music box, Grandma, like the ones you put near a bed. And the sound was quiet and nice and I felt sleepy.”
Music boxes. I had one as a girl and a tiny ballerina twirled as the pink rectangle made its sounds. I hadn’t realized they were still being made. I wanted to change mine and drop the sound an octave, I once told my mother this, and she laughed.
Had an hour passed so quickly? I was learning how Kevin related to the world that he sees and how it might relate to him. But I was back in my parents’ house, not much older than he now is, and actually re-living memories I’d simply stored someplace in my mind. While my Dad, who died at age 45, didn’t have such pleasures as I now was experiencing, I was grateful to have lived this long to, without judgment, tell my experiences to Kevin, and all because of his piano books. I took my son and daughter-in-law aside, told them how many observations and feelings Kevin shared because of his piano practicing, and encouraged them to do the same.
My son, David, noted “I never would have thought of this. How did you?”
Maybe my parents did this with me, maybe my personality just lends itself to prodding and revealing with a trusted person, maybe my mother influenced me with her allowing me to tell her anything and she never laughed........ it didn’t matter ‘why’ or ‘how’, it only matters that, in this time and place, a unique bonding happened with my grandson.
© 2005 The Jewish Press
reprinted 2005 United Methodist Publishing House