Old Sheet Music Brings Back Memories

Once upon a time there was little girl who was enchanted by the piano. She ran out and danced around when she heard her mother playing. She wanted to do that, too.

Her grandpa would sit down without a lick of sheet music and thump out old songs with an oom-pah beat. She wanted to do that, too.

Her mother stopped playing, she never knew why, but she passed on her old how-to-play books and showed her Middle C. A piano player was born.

Sixty-four years later, I am sorting boxes and crates full of sheet music, mine and my mother’s. I have the books and sheets I bought at Campi’s music store in the old Valley Fair shopping Center in Santa Clara, California back when you could get a single song for 99 cents. The best thing in the world was to buy a stack of new songs or a book full of the hits of the day and hurry home to sing and play them, each page turn a new wonder.

I’ve got titles like “World’s Great Hits of the Seventies” and “All-Time Hit-Paraders, music from Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, the Doors, Barry Manilow, “The Best of Broadway,” “Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” and stacks of country, folk, and church music.

I inherited my mother’s music, which had been stored in a closet for years. As a teenager, she used to go to the music store once a week to pick up the featured song. Her collection, mostly from the 1940s, includes songs by folks like Tony Bennett, Perry Como, and Judy Garland. There’s a heavy classical book, a volume of Shirmer exercises, and the beat-up beginner’s book from which I taught myself with one-finger ditties that gradually built up to full songs.

I have always said my family was not musical, but all this music proves that’s not true. I know my father played the saxophone in a traveling youth orchestra as a kid. He also played a little harmonica. From Dad, I inherited an orange-covered cowboy book with songs from the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and a thick falling-apart book that truly has all the songs someone would have wanted to sing around 1940.

I own a ridiculous quantity of sheet music. I have stacks of music for guitar, mandolin, ukulele, recorder, harmonica and flute, but the piano is the magnet that draws me when I’m supposed to be working or sleeping or when I have a few minutes before the kettle boils. Sorting the music takes forever because I want to play each song. It’s like those old days with the slim paper bags from Valley Fair with magic inside.

Today, sheet music stores are rare; everyone downloads their music. It’s not half as fun as opening a box and finding musty sheet music with big pictures on the front and copyright dates in Roman numerals. Many of my music books and sheets are signed. Mom’s say Elaine Avina and list the date, mostly in the 1940s.

I don’t know why she stopped playing for us. Was she too self-conscious? Too busy? When we were at school, did she sneak in a few tunes between baking cookies, washing clothes and watching her soap operas?

My father told tales of his family gathering around a piano at his uncle’s house, everyone pulling out an instrument to play for hours. People played music for fun in those days before World War II. Now we’re too busy staring at screens.

Why keep all this old sheet music? Because songs have no expiration date. Styles change, but a good song is a good song, whether it was made famous by Rosemary Clooney, Janis Joplin, or Beyoncé.

My throat was raw yesterday from singing “Shambala” over and over, looking for a good key that is neither too high nor too low. I settled on Bb. Never heard of “Shambala?” Have a listen to Three Dog Night singing it on YouTube. Wow, look at those outfits, that hair, the primitive sound equipment. But it’s still a catchy tune. Makes you want to sing along, doesn’t it?

What is Shambala? It’s a mythical paradise where everything is beautiful.

It’s not just music; it’s memories.

Happy Mother’s Day, and happy 74th wedding anniversary, Mom. I’m still playing.

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Piano from the 1800s needs a new home

img_20190824_0814447681.jpgWhat do you want to do about the piano at your father’s house? Everyone asks me because I’m the only one who plays piano. I taught myself to play on that piano. It ought to be mine, right? But wait. I already have a piano.

The piano is a Kranich & Bach cabinet grand, patented 1886. Take the baby grands we’re used to seeing on concert stages, turn them sideways, and that’s what this is. It’s a beautiful thing, and if it weren’t so God-awful out of tune, it would offer a big, rich sound. The keys are ivory and intact, the pedals are sturdy, and there is a delightful round stool that you spin to adjust the height. As kids, my brother Mike and I had a good time spinning on it at Grandpa Fagalde’s house until some grownup made us stop.

But we’re not children now. Grandpa is long gone, and now our parents are gone. We’re cleaning out the house they bought in 1950. As I understand it, Grandpa got the piano from his boss, Jack Dorrance, when he was the foreman on the Dorrance ranch in San Jose. Jack had show business aspirations. His family had more than one piano. At some point, this one may have provided music in the little theater he built on the ranch. I suppose my parents brought it home when Grandpa retired to the beach.

I didn’t have piano lessons. I envy people who did. My father apparently thought Mom, who did have lessons, could teach us. But taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach. She showed my brother Mike and me where Middle C was and gave us her old books to teach ourselves the rest. Mike lost interest, but I started a lifelong obsession with pianos, really anything with keys. I learned the notes. I played through the one-hand exercises, moved on to two, three, and more notes at a time. I practiced counting four-four, three-four, six-eight.

Not having lessons means I never learned proper fingering, and I can’t do scales worth beans, but I can make music. I even get paid for it these days as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church.

As an adult, I didn’t have a piano for a long time. I sneaked into the practice rooms at San Jose State. I grabbed time on my parents’ piano when they weren’t around. For a while between marriages, I rented a piano, feeling bad for the guys who had to get it up the stairs. Mostly I played guitar instead because it was cheaper and more portable. Also, it was the ‘60s and everybody was playing guitar.

My late husband’s wedding present to me was a piano, a Wurlitzer spinet, not as fancy as the old cabinet grand, but mine, and I could play it whenever I wanted. Fred knew the way to my heart. That instrument is scarred now from our many moves and three decades of hard use, but it sounds good, and it’s my piano. Do I want to replace it with the old Kranich & Bach, forgetting for the moment the cost of fixing it up and shipping it to Oregon?

After my father died, I came home, looked at my piano and knew that’s the one I want to keep, not the antique that was never really mine. But somebody needs to keep it and love it. My brother and I have asked around about the value of such an old, elegant piano. It seems it’s not worth much money in this digital world. It was not a deluxe model, plus musicians are going for electronic pianos these days. I play one at church, and I love all its many features, but there’s nothing like the feel and sound of a real piano.

That old Kranich & Bach is a beautiful piece of furniture, mostly used as a rack for family photographs in recent times. Is there someone lurking in the family who secretly wants to play piano? Does anyone remember how Grandpa used to bang out songs honky-tonk style with no training at all?

Grandpa Fagalde was always buying and trading musical instruments. Remember the pump organ in the garage? In his day, pre-TV, pre-Internet, everybody played music. Families would bring out their instruments after dinner and jam. And every house had a piano. Tune it? Not in the years since I’ve been around. I have friends who won’t perform on a piano that has not been tuned THAT DAY. I guess folks weren’t so picky a hundred years ago.

I can see this piano in an Old West saloon, the kind with swinging doors, floozies entertaining cowboys, and the stranger leaning on the bar, saying, “Whiskey!”

Where do I find that saloon?

The piano is in San Jose. If anyone has a yen to adopt it for their home, a museum, a school, a senior center, or anywhere it would be played and loved, let me know at sufalick@yahoo.com. I would be willing to pay the cost of making it sound its best again if somebody wants to give it a good home.


It’s Antique Week! Treasure-hunting in Lincoln City

As Saturday approached with nothing on the schedule, I thought I would either clean my house or catch up on paperwork in my office. As it turned out, I did neither. I woke up from a dream in which one of my antique plates got broken and said, “I want to go antiquing.” And I did.

It’s Antique Week in Lincoln City, Oregon. Once a year, the dealers put on sales, evaluate people’s keepsakes, hold special presentations such as this year’s “A.Lincoln” show, and scatter even more glass floats on the beach than are usually hidden there.

Lincoln City is always a good place for treasure hunting. In addition to an advertised 80 antique dealers, it boasts fabulous used book stores, plus the Tanger Outlets, Chinook Winds Casino and seven miles of beautiful beaches. Off I went with five dollars cash in my wallet. But I had a checkbook and a debit card. Let the shopping begin.

First stop was Robert’s Book Shop in the Nelscott section of town. Books floor to ceiling, wall to wall, piled on the floor, piled in the aisles, books everywhere. Smart shoppers come with lists, but I just wander from science to sheet music to fiction to poetry to essays, immersed in old-school publishing. No e-books here.

By the time I came out with my literary finds, I was hungry. I hit Vivian’s Restaurant and Bill’s Barbecue, one restaurant with two names. This place, located across from the outlets, has had several different owners and personalities. I think it was Italian when we first moved here. Now it’s barbecue, plus wraps, burgers, breakfasts, vegetarian fare, senior meals and more. Hearty, friendly and reasonably priced, they’re open for breakfast and lunch daily and dinner Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Sated with my burger, fat fries and about a gallon of iced tea, I hit the stores. The weather was gray, with a persistent drizzle which had tourists bundling up, but hey, what’s a little refreshing moisture between stores? The photo above is from Granny’s Attic, always a good place to start. There’s a parking lot behind it on NE 15th Street. Tons of treasures here, including a corner full of non-antique guitars, keyboards, ukuleles, drums and other musical instruments that drew me like metal to a magnet.

Granny’s led to a smaller shop full of surprises. I could barely get in the door for all the merchandise crowded in there. Someone literally had to move for me to step in. There was no heat, so it was freezing. The owner, a curly haired woman about my age jammed into a corner where she barely had room to move, has been ill and unable to organize her wares. She’s going out of business. But first, for the bold shopper, bargains were to be had. I don’t have pierced ears. Surrounded by racks and racks of earrings for pierced ears, I asked if she had any for ears without holes in them. Oh, did she. She handed me several bags and a plastic box full of earrings and invited me to sort through them. I found a corner of a 1960s coffee table and and started looking. Score! I came away with five pairs of earrings for $16.00. I’d tell you more about the shop, but it’s probably closed by now. Check it out between Granny’s and the Old Oregon Tavern.

Next stop: the warm, bright Rocking Horse Mall. Downstairs is loaded with glassware, doll house paraphernalia and model trains. But the blue-painted stairs is where I scored again. I found a bowl for $6 to match the set of blue Currier and Ives dishes I’ve been collecting. And then three CDs, $5 each, including one that goes with the piano music I’ve been working on.

By then I had purchased books, sheet music, a dish, three CDs and five pairs of earrings. I didn’t need to go on to the other shops, including the massive antique mall at the north end of town. Last year, I wrote about Antique Week for a local newspaper. It felt so good to visit the stores just for fun this time, with no obligatory stops for interviews and photo ops.

On my way south, I decided to stop at the beach in Taft. Despite the weather, I had to hunt for a parking spot, ending up near Mo’s, the famous clam chowder eatery. The tide was out, with people scattered on the beach looking for clams, agates and glass floats. Across the water, sea lions dotted the Salishan spit. It was a feast for the eyes and the camera.

I saw a guy taking off his coat, ready to walk the beach in his tee shirt. Crazy. It was cold and wet, but beautiful. A perfect day to run away.

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