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A few years ago a friend smiled wistfully as she listened to me stumble through an beginner’s sonata on our ancient Wurlitzer upright — the same piano I sat at for half-an-ungodly-hour day after day while growing up.
“I’m so impressed that you can read music,” my friend lamented and I was shocked. She plays at clubs, weddings, big events and restaurants around town, and my brain couldn’t compute that she could be so talented and yet not read the notes on the page. “It’s like I have some sort of musical dyslexia,” she said, explaining the musical malady that has frustrated her since childhood. “The notes on the page look like a secret code,” she said and we laughed, yet I could sense her pain.
It was a small, simple moment in time that left a lasting impression on me. My friend’s musical ear and talent is so innate that it penetrates every fiber of her being. Yet she struggles with being “normal” and wanting to read music like the majority of us. In her 40s, she hired a fellow musician to teach her music theory, bought an upright bass, and taught herself a slew of jazz standards and toe-tapping favorites from the early 1900s to the 1960s. Songs like Shine On Harvest Moon (1911), Java Jive (1940), and Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t (1946). Songs made popular by the Ink Spots, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bennie Goodman, She was on a mission.
Mission accomplished, my friend now takes her standup bass to retirement centers and plays music for the residents. She could be playing at The Dakota, I’m certain of it, but her personal groove is called Kate’s Music Memory Live. Why does she lug that gargantuan instrument and accompanying equipment around town at the risk of having a 90-year-old doze off, or worse yet, blurt out some obscenity?
She plays, “to awaken long forgotten memories of those living with memory loss issues and those who simply haven’t thought about their senior prom in, say, 50 years. The songs I play provide direct access to memories, and associations to music memories are often pleasant ones. “
Now, when I sit at my Wurlitzer, plunking out that same damn Chopin sonata, I know that there are others out there, sharing their innate or otherwise-acquired artistic talents, in all sorts of creative ways.
After all, as any hokey pokey fan can tell you, that’s what it’s all about.