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My first love.

January 20, 2010

I haven’t played her much since the kids were born. Long before I met my husband, hours and hours of Chopin’s waltzes and etudes would drift into the alley behind my mom’s house. Concertos, sonatas and impromptus would bring curious neighbours peeking through the back window. I would play 3 hours before dinner, and a couple in the middle of the night. 3am was the magic hour. Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Mozart, Debussy all kept great company back then.

She’s an oldie but a goodie..

My parents bought this small upright back in ’76 for $200. “It was a lot of money for that time you know!”  They loaded it into my uncle’s pickup truck, and as he rounded the first corner, our lovely new piano fell over backwards! It stayed in the truck, but if you were to sneak a peek around back, you can still plainly see the two very distinct impressions of the truck bed’s edge.

I started lessons when I was four. Back then the Suzuki method was in, and we learned everything from memory. My brothers joined me in the weekly jaunt to Mrs. Treleven’s house. She always wore her grey hair in these dangling sausage-like rolls, and I remember how her little yappy dog would follow you up the stairs to the bathroom with the weird squishy toilet seat. I didn’t learn to read music until I was eight or nine when we switched teachers and I studied under my beloved Mrs. Montizambert. My older brother Jay then took drum lessons from her husband, and I think Mikey stopped piano altogether.  Mrs Montizambert had two pianos. One full grand which occupied her entire living room. If you were lucky enough she would occasionally play a concerto or sonata for you. And then she had a lovely old upright in the back room where I had my lessons. I remember the room was piled high with stacks and stacks of music books and sheets. It was wonderfully cozy. I studied with her until my mid twenties. By then her husband had passed away and she had moved her teaching space to his garage.

I remember one particular afternoon as I walked up her incredibly steep driveway, which had a wisteria with a stalk as thick as my leg growing through the hedges, I heard the most incredible music floating in the air. I couldn’t even bring myself to interrupt and knock on the door.  It started fast and haunting, and then flowed into a lovely passionate lyrical movement. And just when you though it might be over, suddenly it whips you back furiously racing through and then eases you softly to the flowing end.

It was Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu Op. 66.

Here’s the famous Mr. Horowitz and his uplifting version:

and Evgeny Kissin in concert:

It was the last piece I learned.

I remember I was once ditched by my date at a wedding. I didn’t know a single person, and as I wandered around  the country club after dinner, I found a beautiful full grand piano in the lobby just outside the wedding reception hall. I sat down and began to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. By the second movement quite a generous crowd had gathered along with the Bride and Groom. As I carefully drifted through the ending, I looked up and realized that I did have a wedding gift to offer after all.  2 years later, I was stopped in a nightclub one night by the bride, who immediately recognized me and gave me a big belated thank-you hug for playing for her at her wedding!

Maybe I’ll get her tuned up soon. I do miss her dearly.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2010 3:12 pm

    What an amazing story, I could picture you playing piano and listening to your teacher play that “once in a while” on her Grand piano – it sounds like you truly miss one of your passions that is still quite deep rooted within you…Go find it – get that piano tuned, I think you will spark when it happens again…those feelings will come back about one of your true loves!!

  2. John Magruder permalink
    January 31, 2010 8:49 pm

    Wonderful story. I never learned to play. can’t even play chopsticks. My wife took years of lessons but almost never plays. I do so love it when she does play her piano that we got from her parents. Especially Finlandia which is her favorite.

  3. Terri permalink
    February 7, 2010 1:36 pm

    What a moving story, so touching. Music it seems is part of your soul. You have to get your dear friend tuned and re-kindle your friendship.
    I never learned as a child, big family and not a cent to spare. Both my daughter’s play instruments, one the clarinet and piano the other the violin. I love that they have such a passion when they play, it makes their hearts soar to express themselves with no inhabitions, and it fills my heart with pride and my eyes with tears that they have had the priviledge to learn.
    Please, please find that passion again.

  4. February 7, 2010 11:10 pm

    Hi Sonia, good to meet today at Pebblecreek in town!

    This indeed is a lovely memory and I think perhaps you will return to the piano, since you have such strong ties with it.

    Look forward to connecting again….

    Erika aka Kate!

  5. February 16, 2010 11:14 am

    what a beautiful story and memory!

    my spinnerette piano hasn’t been tuned in about 3 1/2 years. i feel guilty and barely touch it since it’s out of tune, but for a while, i didn’t know if my family would be moving or not. the piano i own was bought by my great-grandfather for my mom when she was around 10 years old. she passed it to me while i was pregnant with my son and bought herself a grand piano.

  6. March 30, 2010 5:50 pm

    what a lovely story and pix. it made me smile. you have a beautiful face

  7. Heather permalink
    August 26, 2010 3:34 pm

    Sonja, I cried when I listened to Fantasie Impromptu. It reminded me of long forgotten memories too. For me it was a horse named Rebel. I spent hours in the dressage ring, practicing jumps, canters and walks. When I was thirteen I was in a serious riding accident, and before I returned from the hospital my parents had sold all three of the horses I owned. A sad day, though I can’t say I remember it, due to the nasty head injury I sustained.
    My mother thought I’d like a new hobby, so she bought a piano for me – “You can’t hurt yourself falling off a piano bench,” she insisted. To this day I still question that! Do you think she’s right?
    Alas, piano was never for me, and the lessons lasted no more than a year, though the piano sat – unused and dusty – in the living room for much longer.
    I am, however, still very much an appreciator.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. September 1, 2010 9:52 pm

    Oh Heather! For the record, yes it IS possible to fall off the stupid piano bench! LOL! I’m so sorry to hear about your riding accident *hugs*

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