A Lifetime of Music

A Lifetime of Music

Growing up in a house with seven kids, two parents and a dog, our life together was always full of activity and motion. We had a piano downstairs, and once in a while I would hear my mom or dad play it, but for us kids it was always a magnet. Recorded music was also big in my life from early on. My dad loved Nancy Sinatra, and mom loved Andy Williams, Henry Mancini and many others. I remember one family favorite was the Whipped Cream album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. My dad had a stereo and turntable in his library where we would also gather to watch TV, and we watched The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz, both of them musicals, many times. 

I don’t remember how old I was when we all were signed up for piano lessons. Our teacher would see each of us, sometimes through the dinner hour. During one lesson, I remember telling her I learned a new song. I had figured out how to play it on my own without the music. She was not interested in the least. I found reading music rather difficult, but hearing a song and playing it came naturally. I may not have learned it in the correct key, but it was recognizable and that was all I cared about. Our teacher would have us practice scales and I remember our songbooks would have “G” or “E” rather than us learning the notes by sight. Somehow I was just not able to grasp it all. Learning to read music and play with both hands was hard! 

The piano was my go-to place – I think it was an outlet for me to feel what I was feeling or just a place I could trust was mine for the time being. With all my brothers and sisters I was very lucky not to have to wait very often for a turn to play. 

I would play the songs my parents liked, such as “Moon River,” “Send in the Clowns” or “Somewhere My Love,” and lots of Christmas songs. Then I started to learn songs from the radio and also ones that I heard my siblings play on their record player, including hits from Elton John, The Who, Seals and Crofts and even Van Halen or Jeff Beck! 

As I learned my way around the keyboard, I figured out more and more songs. In middle school I was selected to play the Overture for our production of The Wizard of Oz, all by ear. Then in high school I played in a talent show. Scared to death in fact! It was not as easy playing for an audience. I would get so nervous and it made it hard to play the way I rehearsed it. When the curtain opened I froze for a minute not remembering how the song started!! 

After I got married, my parents were selling our childhood home and offered me the family piano. I was SO excited – it had been hard to be without one since it always felt like a safe and special place for dealing with my feelings. So on their moving day the truck made a stop at my house to deliver our old Grinnell Brothers upright piano! It was strategically placed in our living room.

When I got divorced after 12 years, the piano saved my life in a way. I would play for hours while my son was visiting his dad, and it was like music therapy for me. Later, when my mom was sick and her health failing, music was something she could still enjoy. I remember making a cassette tape of my music for her to listen to. After she passed away, I was able to play at her funeral service to honor her. I never thought I would be composed enough to manage that, but a strength came over me and I played what my heart felt. 

Somewhere along the way I learned to improvise and just make something up so that I was not so worried about making a mistake. When I improvise I usually can’t play the same thing twice since I’m making it up as I go. I never knew how long it would be or when the song would end, I just decided in the moment. After my mother’s death I made a CD recording dedicated in her memory called From My Heart. It featured several improvisations and some of her favorite songs, like “Misty” and “Moon River”.

When my only son left for college that was another big adjustment for me. The piano once again was my go-to place. There was such a void with him away and I wanted more joy in my life. I ended up joining a community chorus and had to audition by singing Silent Night. I was so nervous I almost didn’t stay for the audition. However, I got through it and was invited to join. I started singing and built up my confidence as an alto. That was in 2010. 

In 2016 I wrote my first song with lyrics, “Pretty Little Red Bird”. I joined a local songwriting group where I could share my music and find encouragement to keep playing and writing. Other compositions soon followed, and together they became my first album of all original music released in 2021, Pretty Little Red Bird. Once again I dedicated the release in honor of my mom. 

As I continue to write, I find new depths that inspire more creativity. Looking back, I never in a million years would have thought I’d be singing and combining my own words with music. I absolutely love it, and love motivates creativity!