My family–all musical, except for dad–played together a lot. I played Gesu Bambino on the clarinet and my mom played piano accompaniment. I taught myself to play the piano part to “On My Own” when I was nine years old so I could sing Eponine’s pain. Later, I would practice the accompaniment to “I Still Believe” from Miss Saigon and and tell my sister which part she had to sing (Kim, duh). We worked on the Chess duet, too. I asked my mom to learn the piano accompaniment to Andrew Loyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu,” then made my brother learn the boy soprano part so I could do the really high Sarah Brightman notes.
Even away from home, I found partners. I learned a few songs from “24 Italian Songs and Arias” well enough to accompany singers at NYSSMA competition in high school. I learned the left hand of songs I studied in college so I could hear the whole thing better when I practiced the vocals.
A few years after college, when David and I bought our first house, I found myself at a piano sale at George Mason, yearning to play again. We bought a digital piano–smaller, never needs tuning–and I took out all my old piano music and relearned it, finding it was easy to shake off the dust on the old songs I’d practiced a million times. Muscle memory kicked in. I relearned Chopin. I sang old songs. I learned the left hand to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” musical episode songs.
But no one played with me. No one sang with me. My husband has a lovely baritone, but not much practice with harmony. In more recent years, I worked on my children. Owen plays guitar and occasionally will sing along with himself, but isn’t much for vocals. Amelia sang a few rounds of “Castle on a Cloud” in second grade but probably sensed how much I wanted it and begged off quickly. I had temporary success when I downloaded the sheet music to “Let It Go” a few years ago, and led a neighborhood singalong, but it was short-lived.
BUT TODAY, ALL IS FORGIVEN.
Nathaniel, now in 5th grade, is learning the clarinet. He’s picked it up nicely, and is taking private lessons from a high school girl in addition to his weekly school lessons. There’s a festival coming up where they can play solos, but accompaniment is required. His teacher loaned us a solo book and said she could probably find the CD with accompaniment, but if I have learned anything from Hamilton it is that I am not throwing away my shot, and so Amazon Prime to the rescue and three days later I’ve got the piano accompaniment book in my hands.
My youngest child, light of my life, tracked that sucker via UPS and when it finally arrived today, ripped it open and suggested we try the piece together with a metronome. We played it (at 80, but we’ll work up to 108!) a few times through and just when I thought I couldn’t be happier, he said “let’s try another one” and we found another song in the book and sight read it together and IT WAS GLORIOUS.
I told him about playing all the time, with my family. He smiled, and said, “Except granddad. He was probably busy outside, knocking down hornets’ nests or something.” And I thought, O Lord, this is the what life is made of: music and grief and songs and tears and dorky joy that sneaks up on you so that your heart could burst.