“Softly, deftly, music shall caress you. Hear it, feel it, Secretly possess you.” ― Charles Hart
My music teacher, Ms. Pender, never smiled or complimented me. She never asked me personal questions, but she was the perfect teacher for me. I would ride my bike to lessons each week before school and sit on her porch until my time, no matter how cold it was. Entering her house was like entering a funeral home. The only light was an arm lamp on the piano which was aimed at the music. The house was always dark.
Her black crepe dress, sprinkled with either white powder or dandruff, was perfectly plain with long sleeves, no jewelry. Her white rolled curls, which matched her white powdered face, were pinned in place with black bobbi pins. Her appearance never changed from one lesson to the next. Her black and white appearance matched her drab personality and colorless house. As an adult, I now wonder what her story was, since I know nothing personal about her.
When she gave me a new scale or a few new lines of a complicated piece, she would write a “4” at the top of the sheet which meant to play it four times a day. When I returned the next week, she would either reduce the practice number or cross out the “4” and add a “6.” I practiced because I was scared not to play well for Ms. Pender, but one scale still shows the 32. Did she really think I would play that one line 32 times a day?
I remember crying as I rode home in the rain one Saturday morning after a makeup lesson. When my mother met me, she consoled me with “Linda, you don’t have to take piano.” My immediate response was, “No, I want to take piano lessons.”
Her recitals were an anticipated town event held in the large school auditorium in Tarboro, North Carolina. We girls wore evening dresses while the boys wore tuxedos, and you did not play in her recital unless you had memorized the piece perfectly. She was not going to be embarrassed.
While several of my grandchildren are gifted musically, I am not, but because of Ms. Pender, I could play well past my four years of lessons. When I was 13, we moved. I started lessons with a recommended piano teacher who complimented me whether I practiced or not and gave me non-challenging pieces. After one year, I lost interest even though I continued to play for pleasure. Playing the piano is still a wonderful pastime. Unless I set the timer, I lose track of time and could play for hours.
One summer my son-in-law asked if I would continue his four children’s piano lessons once a week until they resumed. I felt confident I could at least help them not forget what they had learned. We went through their books, and I wrote “4” at the top of the new pieces. I even made a chart for them to mark off when they practiced. I enjoyed the time with them. The next year Mark asked if I was going to give “piano boot camp” again!
Three of those four grandchildren have switched to string instruments. Ethan received a guitar when he was fifteen and his passion was ignited. With a book from the Coronado library and YouTube instruction, he taught himself to play. Besides the guitar, he quickly learned the ukulele, bass, mandolin, and the banjo with the latter being his instrument of choice. When he was a freshman at Pt. Loma Nazarene College, his recital piece was a Bach concerto for the cello which he had configured for the banjo. Thinking he was joking, the secretary entered cello in the recital program, so on stage he had to explain he was really playing the banjo. His instructors took note after that performance. He has since gone on to be a praise leader at The Church in Rancho Bernardo.
Both Sadie and Ainsley, Ethan’s sisters, performed in their annual school talent shows, singing and playing guitar or ukulele. Sadie even wrote original songs for two of the shows. Three other granddaughters have also performed. Caroline plays the piano and violin; Abby sings with charismatic stage presence, and Emma danced and has recently rediscovered the piano.
Music is an important part of life’s joys. When the children were young, I would often burst into song for no obvious reason whenever something triggered my response. My two favorite tunes were “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” and “A You’re Adorable,” which I learned in childhood from my mother’s old records. Two recent gifts from the grandchildren were a black metal wall hanging, which I placed among my collage frames of the twelve grandchildren, and a black wooden block, both with the “…bushel and a peck” sentence. My sister’s grandson once asked if she had a song for every occasion. It must be in our genes.
When grandchildren spent the night with us, tickling them awake with “Rise and Shine” or “Good Morning, Good Morning” was the routine. I sometimes wake the teenagers with those songs, but they only groan. When they were young and I chauffeured, I had tapes in the car of familiar songs we could all sing together.
Our beach week always has a talent show where anyone can sing, dance, play an instrument, read a passage, present an original picture, or bobble a soccer ball. All talent is appreciated. One year, to encourage even the reluctant boys, my daughter-in-law Sam bribed them with a dollar for anyone who participated. At their young age, a dollar was worth the effort. The boys whose talents were more academic than artistic drew a simple picture or told a joke to earn the dollar.
All four boys are now unenthusiastic about participating in the annual talent show although occasionally they will sing a song together as a comedy routine, which makes us laugh. Ethan is now writing praise music with a friend, and I am eager to hear his first efforts at our future talent shows. My unsolicited advise to him is not to repeat a line more than three times, except as a chorus, because too much repetition becomes boring, and to be sure the words say something.
Music makes the world a better place. It can chase sadness away and make you want to dance, if only temporarily, can recall romantic times, and can make connections and memories with your grandchildren. One of my regrets, which I had no control over, is that I lost Ms. Pender as a teacher.