These books are among the first things I ever remember noticing. They belonged to my mother, until I absconded with them. They are the sheet music she used for her piano studies in Casablanca, Morocco, where she grew up. She lived there until 1953, when she married my father, an Air Force man from Kentucky. He was stationed at the base where my mother was working as a translator, (though how she managed that is beyond me, as she still speaks with such a heavy accent that it sounds as if she arrived in the States yesterday….). They moved to Boston so my father could finish his medical training at Harvard, and eventually to suburban Connecticut where I was raised.
My mother was trained as a classical musician; I grew up hearing about Madame Fenzi, her teacher, whose husband was a violinist. They played duets. My mother, carrying her music in a special black leather bag, walked through the streets of a city that was full of sunshine and fountains and geraniums; she drank mint tea; she lived in an apartment building and slept under ceiling fans on sheets of heavy, embroidered linen. Her life was unimaginably exotic and romantic to me. She had never seen snow; she had an uncle who drowned in the ripping surf of the Atlantic ocean; she had a cousin who raced cars through the Sahara.
I learned to play piano on her old upright. The books were always stacked on the top. My grandmother had made the brown paper covers, folding the corners precisely, cutting labels, inscribing on them the names and composers of the pieces, and gluing them down. My grandmother’s penmanship is quite beautiful, I see, now that I am really looking at these sheets carefully for the first time in years. I use them all the time, but I don’t stop to appreciate them. She used a fountain pen, and drew a faint penciled line on which to steady the letters, and then, in a rather idiosyncratic but elegant hand, wrote her labels. Her capital letters (which my mother referred to as ‘majuscules’ when she taught me to write, I distinctly remember) have great verve.
I love that they cherished their music so much that they wanted to protect it. The music itself is beautiful--and here I mean the publication, not the actual art, though that, too, is gorgeous. I have the same taste in music--are these things genetic? The paper is so thick and creamy that you can still feel the rag content, and the notes bite into the sheets, rather than lying flat on top of the pages the way more modern printing comes out.
These books made a great impression on me. The first decorating moment I ever had, when I was nine years old, involved covering every single book on the shelves in my new bedroom (my first room of my own) with bright shiny crocus-purple paper. Not the refined, understated look going on with this music--it was the sixties!--but I was proud of the effect. I see my mother’s music through new eyes now, and appreciate it all the more deeply as a moment of domestic art. What a testament to proud, loving ownership.