My wife would be the first to admit that my memory is terrible.
It’s even more amazing that I play music on a regular basis.
There are so many things to remember: rhythm, melody, chords, lyrics, string lines, harmony, synth patches, accents, note patterns and midi channels ad nauseum.
I was thinking about memory today and the most obvious that surfaced was that of my mother; my first music teacher, the one that taught me how to love the art deeply.
She knew a tiny bit of my biological lineage; a history where music played a vital role, so it only made sense that she should light a creative fire underneath me—little did she know how widespread that fire would rage.
I remember my sister and me taking piano lessons way back when from the same teacher. The big mistake the teacher made was in giving us the same exact lessons.
My sister could never do the things I could do with the piano.
She had a beautiful singing voice but the ebony and ivory just wasn’t her thing.
We were both working on the same piece called “Prayer”, a fairly simple and innocuous composition.
My sister would actually sit, read the music (Absurd; a travesty!) and play the piece as I stood outside the door “memorizing” the notes she played.
I was too lazy to be bothered with reading music.
Why read it, when I could just listen and go in and play it?
I was, in a sense, beating the system, and it made perfect sense to me.
I think I went for some time committing what I heard my sister playing to memory.
The jig was up when my mother came into the den one day, where I was supposedly “practicing”.
She sized me up, came over to the piano and gently placed her hand under my chin pushing it up so that all I could see was the music in front of me.
Wow, I thought, what the hell are all those little black things?
My mother said one word that put the fear of God into me.
She said, “Play.”
To this day, I swear she taught me, in her own special way, how to develop my ears, a talent (and gift) I still use today. My mother had inside information, I just know it.
As my wife will attest, it’s sometimes a curse as well.
High School choruses are almost unbearable to me.
I can hear one alto voice singing ¼ tone flat…or sharp. Truth.
Sounds fine to me, my wife says.
I just shake my head in agony.
Next Saturday will be one year since my mother died, the woman that originally taught me all about memory; the incongruity of it still intensely tender.
As it was with “Prayer”, the piece of music I “memorized” many years ago, so it is with the memory of my mother.
Her spirit is strong when I play all alone in the still of the night, a rare occurrence these days.
I can still hear her voice from so long ago as she whispers, “Play.”
The music comes from a distant and unknown place, like all music does.
And it’s a comfort to think that somewhere she still listens…