Radiogurl a la Carte

Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005
Take Note


The aforementioned ridiculously overblown affirmative brough to you by a very happy Radiogurl. I have discovered that within the shadows of this complex's clubhouse lies... a PIANO! What's more, it's a BABY GRAND piano!

Therefore, while I was supposed to be cleaning house and running errands this morning, I was sitting at the keyboard, plunking out very bad attempts at what might once have been considered music. In the half hour or so that I sat there trying to remember even some simple tunes, there were several folks who peeked in to see who was playing. They were very kind in their comments. And I guess I must've done okay because their dogs weren't howling in pain or nipping at my ankles in protest.

A piano has been a part of my life since I can remember. Heck, music has been a part of my life since I can remember. We were among the poorest of the poor, but we ALWAYS had a piano in the house. When I was growing up in Iowa, our keyboard was an antique upright with a finish that had seen much better days. A lot of the ivories were cracked or split, and for a few keys the ivory surface was missing altogether. My mother still played, and I picked up a few odds and ends, though I never learned with any proficiency.

Then when I was fourteen we moved to Arizona. By that point I had six years of violin lessons under my belt, and had been privileged to study under Anthony Bacic for several years. I just thought of him as Mr. Bacic, my violin teacher. I would later learn that he'd played clarinet with Benny Goodman and went on to make a name for himself in the world of music. At the time, he was teaching at UNI (the University of Northern Iowa,) if I am not mistaken.

There was no Mr. Bacic in Arizona, and in fact there was precious little for a violinist here, particularly in the area where my parents chose to live. When I ran into a course conflict during my first couple of weeks as a high school freshman, just a few months after our move, I asked about music courses and was pointed to the head of the music department. I explained my history to him, and he convinced me to sign up for music theory. He told me that he was trying to form an actual orchestra to augment the school's existing jazz band and marching band.

Music theory remains one of the most difficult courses I've ever taken, and quite possibly the one that's stuck with me most. I could already somewhat read music before taking the course. By the time I finished I could sight-read almost anything. Part of our course work required us to learn composition, including orchestration. We were required to pick up and learn at least two instruments we'd never played before. By that point I played at least a little piano/organ, violin, viola, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, and accordian; during the course I picked up flute, bell lyre, drums and clarinet. What I learned on flute and clarinet were pretty rudimentary, granted, but it gave me a clearer understanding of orchestrations, and of the fact that what's middle C on one instrument is NOT middle C on another.

Perhaps the more important point driven home was that I could actually learn to PLAY piano now - could read both clefs and make my fingers find those keys. And I did. To my parents' credit, they didn't clap their hands over their ears while I was practicing. (Granted, by that time I was practicing with chords vs. clunking on single notes, but stil...)

When at age 18 I lost two fingers in an industrial accident, I was in the hospital for six weeks. Within a couple of weeks of getting home, I was back on the piano. My left hand was in a cast, granted, but my thumb was sticking out of it and by golly, I wasn't letting a little thing like amputated fingers stop me! (By the way, don't feel sorry for me for losing the fingers. I certainly don't. I am not in pain and I do about 70wpm on a word processor and play the keyboard. If you can do that with all your fingers, you're permitted a brief twinge of pity, and then get over it, hehehe. I've had people who knew me for months in real life before they even noticed!)

Of course the loss of fingers DID impact my ability to play the violin, which I missed for a long time, though certainly not any more. Thirty years will mellow that sort of thing pretty effectively.

With the violin and accordian and a few other instruments now pretty close to impossible for me, I turned my focus exclusively to piano, or at least keyboard. I will never be a concert virtuouso, of course, but with a lot of practice I got to be passable. I understand music, know to avoid parallel fifths (which no, is not a mixed drink) and other things that go clunk in the night.

In my brief stint at NAU in Flagstaff, I didn't get into the whole college social life; I wasn't a drinker or toker or partier even then. That didn't matter to me one iota: I discovered the music practice rooms, and I was in heaven.

Then I married and promptly had nothing. No piano, no violin, nothing like that and no prospect of the same. I got a piano from my ex for Christmas one year - along with payments I had to make. I had a short period during which he hounded me to practice so I could start playing in bars and make him more money. Nothing sucks the fun out of things like someone standing over you and demanding you produce more money. That's especially true if you're already the household's sole breadwinner and paying for a babysitter because your husband can't be bothered to change diapers on your baby. I still played when I could, until I got pregnant again, lost my job and we lost our place to live. There was no room in the car for two babies, another on the way - and a piano.

Since then I've been church pianist from time to time, but didn't have regular access for practice so was always self-conscious of making mistakes. Today's discovery, coupled with some very sweet encouragement from the neighbors, really made my day. I am liking it here more all the time.

Before - After

In the grander scheme of things, no soul can truly be replaced. Each one of us has a place in the universal tapestry. We each contribute our own color and texture. When one thread is snipped too soon, it distorts all the threads around it. Other lives can unravel and tear. If the wrong thread is ripped away, the whole fabric of life becomes dangerously fragile.
- LeiLani, aka Radiogurl aka Bright Opal (1957 - )