For as long as I can remember there was always a shiny black Steinway Baby Grand Piano in our house. Neither of my parents could play it but I think it served two very important purposes. First it was an integral piece of status furniture for the living room. These things were much more important in the 1950s I guess. Second, it was the musical instrument that my father liked the most. In fact, he didn’t believe that any other instrument was worth playing at all. The children of the family however would bear the burden of this closed-minded musical obsession. Similarly, the only actual singers worth listening to were those in the opera. No one else was worth the time to listen. It was an interesting opinion from someone who had never actually been to the opera.
As my sisters got a little older they played in the school orchestra. I think they both played violin. I vaguely remember that they were sequestered to the farthest part of the house at practice time. Soon though, Dad signed them both up for private piano lessons. Since they had spent some time with the school orchestra they were able to read some music and they were able to play after some lessons and practice.
Barbara, however, hated every minute of it. She did have some musical talent but it just wasn’t for her. Dad insisted however, and a deal was struck. She would continue with the piano until she was able to play Chopins Warsaw Concerto. At that point, she could decide to continue or to give up the piano forever. Well, as I said, she did have some talent. I am told that she was able to play not only what was required but a lot more as well. The day came and she never touched a piano for the rest of her life.
Janis loved the piano. She practiced harder and learned more than any of the other students. She was clearly the one student that every piano teacher cherishes. She achieved wonderful things with the piano. She continued to play and learn all through high school, and then learned to play the concert organ. She went on to become a church organist for many years in addition to being the Music Director and the Bell Choir Director. But I think the piano was always there for her and she has been a very successful piano teacher for many years.
Then when I was 9 it was my turn. I had not participated in a school music program up to that point so I couldn’t read music at all. And although I loved the music (and still do) I had no penchant for actually playing it. There was a technical term for it but basically I couldn’t do one thing with my right side and do a different thing with my left side all at the same time. So chords with the left and melody with the right was not something I was ever able to do. My piano playing career lasted about 18 months before it was decided that perhaps not everyone could play the piano.
But there was always music in the house and most of that was piano oriented. But not Van Cliburn playing an exquisite piano concerto, instead it was Roger Williams or Peter Nero playing easy listening standards from that era. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was able to put names to the music and gain a real appreciation for not only the music of the masters, but also how that music translated into historical importance. I was never sure of the reasons, but it may have been Dad’s complete lack of education in the Arts. Since he grew up in rural Pennsylvania and then in rural Ohio in the 20’s and 30’s, he would have had almost no exposure to the classics. Survival was the first order of business and his rural roots were what drove him so hard in his professional career. There was no time for Chopin or Monet or Michelangelo, and no practical use for them. There was the Great Depression and every waking hour had to be spent to earn enough money for food.
On reflection, it’s possible that having music in the house was the sound of culture to him. Today we wouldn’t consider Muzak to actually be music; in his case it was a substitute for a lack of formal Liberal Arts education. The beautiful baby grand piano complete with candelabra, the best McIntosh component stereo available at the time, and a large collection of records was as far as he would ever go in the music world.
He would eventually buy a Hammond Organ and take some lessons, but he would ultimately only play “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma. In his lifetime he never bought a painting of any kind and never understood anything about either art or artists. He never went to a Broadway play, never attended a live opera performance, never went to the ballet, and never attended a live symphony orchestra performance. His life and his career were completely left-brained. Although he could be considered an engineering and managerial genius, he always considered the Arts to be a waste of time. Dad was the classic example that what you learn in your formative years is what you carry with you throughout your life. I would spend my own life desperately trying to fight this truth.
© J T Weaver
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