Friday, September 10, 2010

The Poem My Piano Teacher Wrote


Crazy. I spent ten cents the other day on a selection from the Etude Musical Booklet Library — a short biography of Johann Sebastian Bach by James Francis Cooke. Copyright is 1928 by the Theodore Presser Co., then located at 1712-1714 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

The booklet is beautiful to me most because it reminds me of Mrs. Crawford, the piano teacher who loved my mother and who so patiently sat with me through lessons I had practiced only once or twice during the week. This is not to say I didn’t play during the week; I did; I simply focused on other things, rummaging through my lesson books at will and exploring the simplified bits of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart that struck my fancy. I loved music, and this was something my teacher recognized and understood, especially early on in our relationship, since instinctively I sang along with whatever I was playing, which led her on more than one occasion to remark to my mother, who was reading or crocheting nearby, that I had perfect pitch.

Mrs. Crawford was from Texas. I loved the way she talked. She is remembered, among other places, in a short poem I wrote which became, on December 24, 2007, part of my Songs and Letters:


The Poem My Piano Teacher Wrote

The poem my piano teacher wrote
brought flowers all the way from San Antonio
to California, just to give to me.



Through her voice and grace and charm, that’s the way she made me feel. If not for her, I would not have kept at my lessons so long — five years in all, if memory serves, the first two at her grand piano in the downstairs living room adjacent to a tall window looking west out over her dead husband’s vineyard, the rest at an upright in a small bedroom across from the kitchen and behind the stairs. I remember being disappointed about the change at first, but what was lost in ambiance was gained in intimacy, which was made all the more real by the potpourri fragrance emanating from my dear teacher. I also remember the light fabric of her dress and its old-fashioned, soft floral pattern; she was a lady.

I saw her once many years later, during a visit to our hometown after I’d moved with my family to Oregon. We met in the post office. Despite the changes in my appearance, she recognized me as soon as I greeted her; we spoke briefly — long enough to thank her for all she had done, and say that I wished she could have taught my children as well. But, of course, she was retired now, and — that was the last time I saw her.

Until Mrs. Crawford died in her upper eighties, she and my mother remained friends. At one of their meetings, she passed along a book to give me as a remembrance: Modern Music and Musicians, Vol. V, Normal Study, published in 1918 by the University Society in New York. Mechanically speaking, a lot of the music in it is beyond my ability. But I can still understand the phrasing and read the notes, and I can listen to the melodies in my head. Some come to me more clearly than others. They sing like birds on a wire. Others spiral, then blur into blackness.



[click to enlarge]



Update:
In the Forum: vulgar, popular, personal.

17 comments:

RUDHI - Chance said...

You're a surprising multiple personality, William, I guess! Or better to say - multitalented?

William Michaelian said...

I don’t know, Rudhi. It probably depends on which one of me you ask.

jasmin said...

liebe Grüße von Jasmin, nicht jedem ist es gegeben, schöne Dinge zu empfinden und weiter zugeben,schön was ich mitnehmen konnte...

Lorenzo said...

You are pitch perfect in this lovely recollection of a special teacher.

William Michaelian said...

Hello, Jasmin, I’m pleased that you feel this way. Thank you.

Lorenzo, thanks. This is one melody I know by heart.

Caio Fern said...

this is a really beautiful post ...
and this relation with someone for so long is an experience i can only learn fron books as I am fron a city where is impossible to see the same person twice .
I had feel piano classes, it was with 8 years old or less. The teacher was an lady that i can't say her age now... she had big boobs and sat on my right so i loved to play the righest notes because my elbow touched her boobs . She got ungry with me and complained with my mother , not about especificaly this , but it was implicit. I never had piano classes again or any class where I couls stay alone with a woman in a room. sad...
my family thought that opened air sports would be the best to me .

my dislexic brain when looked to the picture read " wooden music and musicians" . It made me wonder.
when i read again... modern... it made too much sense , more sense than i need , but it seems to be a beautfull book.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Caio. Growing up on a farm outside a small town still influences the way I think. What was set in motion in my brain as a kid is still there, and I naturally seek those rhythms. I didn’t mention that my family and the piano teacher lived miles apart, but on the same long, straight country road. That’s where she lived until she died, in an old white two-story house, a place I’ll always remember.

Your piano story makes me smile. What a boy knows, he can’t always explain.

And now I have the image of the wooden musicians in my head. Maybe they are modern wooden musicians....

Anthony Duce said...

The memory you have put into words above is so very good. Thanks for allowing us in to share.

Caio Fern said...

the image of miles apart but on the same road makes it even better.

i was now thinking about the word "modern" ...
what does it mean anyway ?
i am starting to believe this is the most evil word ever created .
hahah!!

have a great weekend .

William Michaelian said...

My pleasure, Anthony. Thanks very much for stopping by and taking the time.

Caio, the word “modern” seems like a joke to me, because it usually implies improvement and progress....

Woman in a Window said...

"Your piano story makes me smile. What a boy knows, he can’t always explain."

This is what I was thinking of you, and of me, too, sex defied. The intimacy in that room. You probably knew it then but the words come to you all these years later. These things, we hold these events in our chests like small birds, don't we? Not to cage them, but to tell them that we witness them. They are not imprisoned. They are set free over and over and over again.

Reading you is like pouring a larger history of my family, a history of all family, I think, from a ladle, directly into a small bowl before me. I am hungry and I know that I will be full.

xo
erin

William Michaelian said...

Erin, it’s just as you say, these waiting, timeless, cageless birds. We’re creatures of imagination and memory, and the two are inextricably intertwined. We’re much larger than ourselves. As peculiar as we are individually, as precious and seemingly unique, we limit ourselves when we think too strongly in terms of our individuality. We gain by embracing one another. We are alike. We are different. We are family. As with patriotism, nationalism, what we fear to lose when we draw lines and stake our claim to individuality we will lose in some other dimension of our heart. We will lose more than ourselves. We will lose, because we can’t see, our connection to each other. We don’t arrive at the marks that distinguish us entirely of our own accord; we are made of people and events, nature and hardship, pain, love, and longing for what we know but can’t explain.

And I am probably wrong, which makes this conversation, to me, at least, that much more interesting. The space between lines, between words, is where the wind blows. I’m only trying to say what I hear and sense and feel as it passes.

Woman in a Window said...

I don't think you are probably wrong at all.

Today while working a co-worker who, to my dull mind, has had little international interaction, who had never left her home to work until her 40's, who has not really left the north or this way of life, told me all about Islam and middle eastern culture. I said, June, how on earth do you know all of this? She said, Erin, when people speak I listen. I was dumbfounded by her wealth of knowledge, but moreso that she cared to listen, remember, and then share. It gave me great hope.

The other day I met Robert's 80some year old aunt for the first time. She has alzheimer's. She took my hand and we established that she, in fact, did not know me. After that she held my hand and we actually had known each other for as long as each of us breathed, for that is how it is with each of us if we dare to hold hands.

I hear you, William.

xo
erin

Momo Luna said...

William,
this beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. Because of the tender memories, the intimicy, the melancholy and goodbye.

That's why i love your work so much. It brings tenderness to me, and hope. The belief that the world and people the media shows us aren't that bad at all. Hmm difficult to explain in englis, i hope you understand me. :-)
I love your work very much.

William Michaelian said...

“... if we dare to hold hands.” Beautiful.... Thank you, Erin. I hear you.

I understand, Monica. Humanity is distorted by the media; the media pretends to be objective, but its main purpose is to sell. What is saddest of all is that we humans so often imitate what we see there. But when we step away from that nonsense, we find out that people are still real.

How wonderful to hear from you! Your artwork since you returned from France is more alive than ever.

Joseph Hutchison said...

This is one of your most beautiful posts, William, although it shares with so many that specific memory of yours—which I envy! By comparison my memories are cloudy, shifting, untrustworthy; the most vivid of them are absolutely unmoored in time and place: that frog my Cub Scout self was tossing back and forth with another pack member, until I missed a catch and the poor creature smacked onto a boulder: I can still see the glinting pale orange frog blood bubbling from his wry mouth and feel the pang of guilt. But did it happen, or did I imagine it, or hear it from someone else and adopt the memory as my own? (The last possibility has happened before with me.) It may be my nagging sense of unreality that makes me write poems: an unseemly grasping for imaginative/imaginary order....

William Michaelian said...

Well, Joe, if so, I see nothing unseemly about it. Poetry seems a natural enough response to the delicious turmoil in our minds, the light shining in odd corners when and where you least expect it, the riddles and loves, the changes, upheavals, and periods of blissful calm. Here your memory enters mine, awakens in it past frogs, mossy ditch banks, mud, hands, skinned knees, homemade ice cream, corn on the cob, chilly nights, a faceless shout beneath small town stadium lights — all of which, I guess, is just a long way of saying that it did happen, and you did imagine it, because a specific memory is imagined and transformed each time it is recalled. There really seems no other way.