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.
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