3.22.2010

my mother's music

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.

11 comments:

bronxboy 25 said...

love your writing style, which sucked me in. It's a great piece. Your observation about the psalms is right on. Funny, I just am beginning to appreciate them at the age of 79. God, it goes fast. bless you! from this agnostic.

bellemusic said...

Hi! I really enjoy your writing. I just read your NYTimes article. You have a great perspective on things that is thought-provoking. Look forward to reading the book.

Morrison said...

There must be a parallel universe, because if there is, I'm in it right now.

I lost a high powered job at Apple Computer back in 2001. I re-found my life and happiness while working in my pajamas. I downsized my Hamptons home to a retreat in upstate New York AND a beach house in Rhode Island. I have 2 adult daughters who are unbearable (but beautiful, wonderful and uber successful).

We have much in common. (nice not to feel so all alone)

I am glad I found you (via NY Times article) and await your new book.

Kudos to you!

meghan said...

This is a beautiful, beautiful entry.

little augury said...

I have loved your writing and books,so glad to know you have a new one published. I found your blog through Mrs.Blandings. I look forward to reading. pgt

Ramesh said...

Dominique,
there's a great radio podcast on the generational transfer of piano music on BBC Radio 4 Choice [ go to the bbc.co.uk website ]. It's the programme of 9/1/10, 'Jane Austen's i-pod'. The Austen family recently found Jane Austen's piano sheet music, including works presumably composed by her, which had been preserved in the family music book handed down the generations.

Laura Casey Interiors said...

This post reminds me of the feeling I have when I am in my parents house. I have been playing the piano since I was a young girl and cherish my piano music. Sitting listening to my mother playing Rhapsody in Blue in their entry hall is one of my favorite memories. I can hear it now. I look forward to reading your blog and book.

{ f } said...

lovely words and memories. i miss playing the piano almost everyday...one day, i'll try to cram one into my apartment!

The Hausfrau said...

Oh, how lovely! I, too, learned to play piano on my mother's upright, and I have all of her old music. She gave up on piano after four years of lessons, but she kept all of her music. As a teen, I played "Tea for Two," "It Had to Be You," "As Time Goes By''--and I still love good old movies and music!

Hoshiko said...

Dear Dominique, I am very impressed with your writing and blogs, just bought your books this Monday, you're one of the educated persons I met on the internet, wish you all the best and hope to read and buy your new books in the future again.

Dominique said...

Please don't wait to get a bigger place before you give yourself the pleasure of playing a piano. I know this sounds like a travesty, but there are some lovely electronic keyboards around that are portable, and whose action is pretty nice. At least you'll be keeping the notes in your fingers! I will definitely look up the Austen treasure trove; what a treat. Many thanks. Morrison, I am laughing out loud at the thought of your unbearable (but I'm sure, well-loved) daughters! d