I love this woman and her words. I love I can go to her words for strength. And I love she had these words today, they somehow seem appropriate for me, even though I have no desire to learn how to play the piano. She writes like that, and I forget I'm not the only one for whom she's writing.
BY ROCHELLE RILEY
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
In my growing-up house, the one where my grandparents raised us with a sense of purpose, extracurricular activities were not just for our educational resumes. We were expected to do the things that the ancestors never could. We studied literature, played sports, gave speeches, participated in pageantry on a regular basis.
They weren't just activities. They were duties.
Music also wasn't extracurricular. It was integral. Mahalia Jackson's soulful wail painted the walls on more than Sunday mornings. Nat King Cole was a regular, too.
And when those voices were silent, I heard the songs anyway. Man, my grandmother could sing! We heard "How Great Thou Art" along with "Straighten Up and Fly Right." And when she wasn't singing, she kept trying to make my brother, sister and me perform in front of her friends.
In the corner was the piano, an extravagance that became a necessity, a part of a cultured upbringing. It was so much a part of my house I can't remember when it wasn't there. But I do remember this
I never played it.
I didn't know how. And I was scared to learn.
Lots of excuses
I've always wanted to play, but every year, I put it off, still fearing, still feeling that it would take too much time. I kept telling myself that we each had our purpose, my brother, sister and me. My sister took the piano lessons and sang. I took writing lessons and read, dozens of books a month. And my brother was the MacGyver of our family.
My father, when I got to know him later in life, had a favorite nickname for me: Independent Cuss. I went places without directions, visited other cities without fear, flew around the world and grew into someone more and more fearless, someone who hated not knowing.
So it has bothered me for years that I left my musical training behind in high school and haven't played an instrument since clarinet in the Marching Trojans, too scared that it would be too hard, scared that it would take too much time, scared of the 88 keys, scared ...
It bothered me more when I realized that my daughter has a talent that I haven't really nurtured. Oh, I was one of those parents who placed her in piano and violin lessons at 3. And she excelled. And she hated it. So I also became one of those parents who refused to force her to do something she hated.
So I let her quit.
But since December, I've been hearing songs from the living room. She has been teaching herself music, picking out the notes by sound. I can't tell you the joy of Christmas carols in February.
Let there be music
So I made a decision for my grandmother, for my daughter and for me.
I am starting piano lessons. But more than that, I'm taking them with my daughter. We'll do it every week and grow not only stronger in our understanding of music but also confident in our ability to each create our own chords, playing notes to match our moods.
In the past, we could hardly wait to shed our week, putting aside briefcase and book bag and heading out to the movies or to hang out with friends. But this Friday, and for the next many, many Fridays, she and I will dutifully match wits with this unwieldy instrument.
Do we have time? No. But sometimes life isn't about time. It is about keeping traditions for more than a generation. It is about taking a moment to stop fitting things in and decide what's important. In my grandmother's house, music, real music, was. And it will be in my house again