Imagine, if you dare, eight young children all learning piano for the first time. And all of them live together. With you. In one house. A small house. And the piano is a real piano, it’s not a keyboard, and there are no headphones because this is way before the days of digital.
And that piano is right in the living room, in the very heart of that small house, where every plink and plunk of the keys will be sure to reverberate to the farthest reaches of that small house.
So there is no escape!
And there are innumerable such plinks and plunks all day long, because all eight children must practice. Every day. On that one piano.
So there is no respite!
Welcome to my mother’s world. And even more, she gave up smoking to fund that very musical enterprise, using her cigarette money to pay for the piano lessons! Which meant that at the very moment that small fingers first began banging the ivories with all their pre- and primary-school zeal, she was simultaneously going cold turkey off nicotine.
Talk about jangling nerves!
I tell you, that woman is a saint.
Albeit, for a time at least, probably a pretty jittery one.
My mom told me that she is forever thankful to our piano teacher for assigning each of us kids a different song to practice. As Mom said, a person “can only take so much Reuben, Reuben, I’ve Been Thinking.”
These reminiscences were sparked by news of our family reunion. My sister who’s spearheading the organization booked a place and sent an e-mail with details of date and locale. When I told my kids the excitement level went through the roof. They ran and immediately started packing (the reunion isn’t until summer and it’s still January, but their eagerness was not to be dampened by trifling considerations such as the constraints of the space-time continuum).
Outside it was minus 40 degrees while inside the kids were trying on swimsuits.
Actually, the timing is probably perfect. We’re in our second day of crazy cold here in Minnesota, with more still to come, so it’s good to have something to look forward to.
But I’m not so sure about the pile of packed bags sitting in the front entryway. Six months is a long time to be stepping over suitcases every time you open the door. I guess we’ll leave them for now and just think summer thoughts.
Anyway, one of the things the kids are most excited for is the music. Because Grandpa will be bringing his guitar (and if we’re lucky, his banjo, too), and many of the aunts and uncles (16 of them total) will be bringing guitars, mandolins, flutes, and keyboards, and every year more and more cousins (of the 20 total, so far) join the ranks of melody makers. With all the harmonicas and tambourines and melodicas and shakers and other musical accoutrements that join in with the string-things and flute-toots, it makes for a joyful noise.
Because now, years after the cigarettes were sacrificed for the symphonics, that first generation of little kids has grown up and gotten to be pretty darn good. Especially as songwriters. We play a whole eclectic mix of tunes, but the originals are my favorite, and there are dozens of them. My dad put together a CD sampler of sibling originals and culled 43 tunes for his final selections.
However, this may be an opportune moment to lodge a small protest, as I feel my own compositions were somewhat underrepresented. Perhaps this can be rectified on a second sampler. But then again, the way the new generation is shaping up, I may not make the cut at all for the next CD! There are some fine musicians among the next generation and some really excellent singers. Which is good, because even if I don’t make the CD, I get to enjoy the music.
And to think it all started with the jangly nerves of one mom giving up her smokes for the fumble-fingered piano pokes of eight little kids all learning an instrument for the first time. But then, as my -om also told me, with the big things in life the fruits of your labors often aren’t apparent until far down the road. You have to put in years of hard work before you see the rewards. But when that time finally comes, it’s sweet music.
And I don’t think she was talking just about the piano!
Copyright 2019 Jake Frost