Look for Me Sitting on the Piano Bench

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Dear friends,

I have been AWOL here at the blog for a couple weeks. Another trip to California. Upcoming books to promote, music to play, dog to walk, bla, bla, bla. I have been working through some poems from a few years ago and would like to share this one with you today. Most of it is true. There are moments when I see myself sitting at the piano at Sacred Heart playing songs I learned in my childhood and I’m amazed. Without lessons or encouragement, I never stopped learning to play those 88 keys. I’m still learning a little more every day and grateful for the privilege.

HER CALLING

Her mother says, “Go change your clothes,”
but instead she runs to the piano.
Climbing up on the stool, feet swinging
in her Oxford shoes with lace-trimmed socks,
she picks out the notes of the hymns
the sisters sang at catechism class.
“Ave, ave, ave Maria.”
“Holy God, we praise thy name.”
Her fingers half the size of the keys,
she finds the tunes and sings along,
grinning through the gap in her teeth.
“Stop that noise,” her father says,
turning on the baseball game.

But she cannot stop. She plays anything
that makes a noise—toy xylophones
and saxophones, plastic ukuleles—
and sneaks minutes at the piano when
her dad goes out to mow the lawn
or her mother leaves for the grocery store.
From a yellowed old instruction book,
she learns to clap out time and beats,
four-four, three-four, six eight,
quarter notes, half notes, whole notes
allegretto, andante, pianissimo.
Blocked by the family photographs,
she moves them to expose the keys.

At school, she finds the practice rooms,
a bench, a piano, an unlocked door.
But still she has to sneak. She’s
never had proper lessons, isn’t
authorized to be there, but
she’s drawn to it like a lover
she meets secretly at lunch,
then runs, breathless, to her English class.
One day, outside, a young man hears.
She blushes as he claps his hands.
When they marry, he buys a Wurlitzer
spinet, all 88 keys just for her.
He never tells her to hush, not once.

She’s widowed nearly a decade now,
but her wedding band shines in the light
as her wrinkled fingers dance,
playing the notes of the “Gloria.”
Her right foot pedals, beating time.
Behind her, the congregation sings,
one man in the back especially loud
and half a beat or so behind.
Leading the choir with nods and waves,
she smiles up at Jesus on the cross,
remembers that child with tiny hands
sneaking songs so many years ago,
because The Almighty told her to.

***

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

We’re Never Too Old to Sing and Play

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Gus Willemin and Trish Morningstar at the South Beach open mic

 

I was sitting at the piano at the Saturday evening Mass when I got a vision of me and my three-woman choir in Newport, Oregon being echoed at churches all over the world, singing and chanting the same songs at the same Mass. It was beautiful.

Behind me that night sat two visiting couples, probably in their 70s. Both of the men sang out, one in a strong voice, the other in a reedy rasp. Both came up to talk afterward. The burly guy from Vancouver thanked me for lowering the key on a couple of the songs, making them easier to sing. The other man, thin, balding, with an earring in his left ear, shared that he is losing his voice to cancer. “Did any of you girls ever smoke?” he asked us. We shook our heads. “Well, good.”

All three of my Saturday singers are over 70. I’m getting closer every day. Our Sunday choir also has its share of septuagenarians. But none of these singers are “geezers.” Nobody is ready to settle in their easy chair to watch TV till they die. In fact, they’re so active it’s difficult to keep up with their schedules, whether they’re singing with Sweet Adelines, hosting charity events, working at the rec center, serving as Master Gardeners, taking classes, visiting grandchildren, or traveling to the Bahamas.

To most of the congregation, I’m a fixture. They only see the back of my head, if they can see me at all. The music automatically happens. Maybe the teenagers think I’m corny with my button earrings and my pixie cut hair playing the moldy old songs like “Holy Holy Holy,” then rocking out to “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness.” But I catch the little kids staring at me as they come up for Communion. When I smile at them, they smile back, star struck. The piano lady smiled at me!

Of course to some of them I’m the guitar lady because I play for the kids in the religious education on Wednesday nights. Some of our big hits are “Alle, Alle, Alleluia” and “The Butterfly Song.” The little kids sing with gusto, but when they become teenagers, they seem to lose their enthusiasm for the music. Why is that? Will they get it back when they’re old like me? It’s hard for me to understand because I never stopped loving music.

I had a very musical weekend. Every Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., the Waldport song circle meets at the community center. We have a blend of “young” guitar guys just starting to turn gray, a steady group in their 70s and 80s, and Doug, 97, who can’t wait to get to the piano. The music is rarely perfect, but it feels good.

Yesterday, we had our monthly South Beach open mic—second Sunday, 5 to7 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. Again, it’s a majority of gray hairs. We get ukuleles, mandolins, guitars, fiddles, flutes, saxophones, cellos, and drums. We sing gospel, folk, rock, pop, Beatles, Dylan, Grateful Dead. Anything goes. We accompany each other and harmonize. This wave of sound builds up. Riding it is better than surfing, I swear.

We share a language of music in common, songs that we all know from school, church, the radio, and American Bandstand: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” We grew up in an era when teachers made time for music. I remember loving those thick books full of songs that we sang while teachers played clunky old school pianos. “Waltzing Matilda,” “Funiculi Funicula,” “Little Brown Jug.” Do you remember? I wonder if children do that at all now.

Kids whose parents can afford it, still take music lessons, but do they get together and just sing? Are they too busy fiddling with their phones? Do they think listening to Granddad strum and sing is too corny to think about?

We old folks are still learning new songs and new skills. We battle arthritis and hearing aids. We struggle to figure out which pair of glasses will let us actually read the sheet music, but there are too many great songs to ever stop. We may have to lower the key a little these days, but like that man at church who is losing his voice to cancer, we’re going to sing until we can’t sing anymore. Then, like one of my favorite songs says, we’ll whistle, and when we can’t do that, we’ll listen.

Outside, wind and rain, but inside, it’s Christmas!

IMG_20151207_101213973[1]Wind and rain have been slamming against my bedroom window all night. In the thin gray light of morning, I rise with trepidation to see what has happened outside. The trees are rocking dangerously, the wind chimes clanging an alarm. Branches litter the lawn. The area around my garden shed is underwater, and I know the inside is soaked again. My garbage and compost carts lie on their backs, smacked down by the sound wind. There is no sign of the robins, jays, juncos and other birds that usually feed in my yard as gusts upwards of 60 mph roar like airplanes taking off.

Outside, it’s a black and white movie, everything in shades of gray. Inside, it’s a riot of Christmas color. After being forced kicking and screaming into Christmas music at my Friday jam (where I was the only one expecting to sing “regular” songs), I plunged into Christmas on Saturday, decorating the whole house and even starting my shopping. I got out my cards. Haven’t written any yet, but at least they’re out, right? Does anybody else do Christmas cards anymore?

IMG_20151207_101308126[1]This is the first year it didn’t hurt to decorate the Christmas tree. My late husband was such a Christmas lover. He couldn’t wait to go chop down a tree and decorate it while playing his massive collection of Christmas music. We’d always attend the Oregon Coast Aquarium Christmas festivities, walking through the spectacular light display, talking to the otters, the jellies, and the puffins. We’d sing and sing and sing.

Once Fred was gone, I didn’t enjoy Christmas anymore. I still won’t go to the aquarium this time of year without him, but on this seventh holiday season since he went to the nursing home and subsequently passed away, I’m reclaiming the holiday for myself. On Saturday, with a break between rainstorms and scheduled activities, I hung colored lights inside and out, set up my fake trees, and played the music loud. Now there’s a Santa on my office window sill, bright red against the rain-spotted window and the grayness outside. Garlands hang off the china cabinet. Santa swings in the doorway. It’s Christmas!

For a small, rural community, Lincoln County is incredibly busy during the holidays. I could not attend everything that was happening: bazaars here, there and everywhere, the lighted boat parade, breakfast with Santa, the Seal Rock holiday greens sale, Toledo’s Hometown Holidays, and so much more. But I did get to the Sacred Heart advent potluck and the Central Coast Chorale’s Christmas concert. I Christmased up the family site at the local cemetery, and I took myself shopping on the Newport Bayfront.

We locals often forget to visit the sites all the tourists see, but winter is perfect because it is not crowded. So what if light rain patters on my hair and trickles down my neck? Umbrella? Too windy. Hoodie? Can’t see. It’s okay. We’re Oregonians. I got more than half my Christmas shopping done in the friendly shops, exchanged grunts with the sea lions hunkered on the docks across from the Undersea Gardens, and avoided shopping malls and big box stores.

As I passed the Bay Haven bar, I peeked in the window where the the Sunday afternoon jam session was happening. Decidedly not Christmas music, but it sounded good. A nice-looking man with wild gray hair walked up and looked in.

“Good music,” he said.

“Yes, it’s the Sunday afternoon jam.”

“Ah,” he said. “I brought peanut butter.”

It took me a minute. Then I laughed. Peanut butter and jelly. I get it. “But you need bread,” I countered.

“Think they’d let me play?” he asked. He didn’t seem to be packing an instrument.

“Sure,” I said, tempted to go in and sit in the back corner where the sign on the door said it was warm. A little cocktail, a little music . . . but it was getting dark and I had presents to wrap.

He went in, and I headed on my way, swinging my shopping bag and humming a little “Jingle Bell Rock.”

This Monday morning when I realize I haven’t done any of my weekend chores because I was having so much fun with Christmas, it’s 9:15 now, but it’s still dark, wet and windy outside. Inside, it’s Christmas. Merry, merry to one and all.