Monday, March 7

Pentatonic memories

Life without music would be a mistake

The above quote from Nietzsche is what my oldest daughter uses as her wall slogan on facebook. An accomplished cellist, Isabel, now 20, has been a music lover all her life. Perhaps a bit longer even. I remember going to a jazz club in Madrid one night with my wife María when she was seven months pregnant with Isabel. The swirling sound of Frank Lacy’s rollicking trombone seemed to touch off an especially vigorous round of kicking and dancing from our soon to be firstborn.

As a newborn, hearing music would almost always arrest her attention instantly. Lullabies soothed her to sleep, although at times not without some poignant whimpering and gurgling that we eagerly took to be attempts to hum along. A few months shy of her second birthday, she had already learned to use the sound system in the living room, pushing Play on the CD player and adjusting the volume. It is an abiding image I have of her, standing on her doughy baby legs in front of the amplifier and CD unit, concentrating as she poked her finger at the button, waiting in rapt attention as if for an oracle to speak, and then raising her faint eyebrows and waving her arms to spin into a triumphant dance as El Señor Don Gato would come on for the umpteenth time that day.

When she turned three we signed her up for a music academy. The system followed there was that a parent had to go to the classes with the child in order to be able to guide their playing at home. So once a week for three years I had the pleasure of attending piano lessons with my daughter and a small group of other toddlers. The goal for the first year was for the child to learn how to pick out middle C on the piano (do in the do-re-me-fa-sol-la-si musical nomenclature used here in Spain) with her right thumb and play the four keys to the right of it, each key with it is own finger. They were to recognize those five notes on the pentagram, sing and play them on the piano; five notes, C-D-E-F-G (do re mi fa sol sounds so much nicer) on the G clef — the treble clef, up there where Langston Hughes heard “the tingle of a tear”.

At first this struck me as quite ambitious for three year olds, but the kids were up to it and more. After a few months they could read, sing and play simple tunes with their right hands using those notes. The second year expanded the musical palette of the child musicians to a full octave and to the left hand as well, one octave lower, the F (bass) clef. Down there it was the left pinkie that played do, ring finger re and so on.

I tell you this as background for an anecdote I have always cherished. One day at home, when she was four years old, a red-faced Isabel marched up to me with a mournful pout, a few big tears straggling down her cheeks, holding her left hand out for me to examine and dote on a swollen finger while she bawled out her mortified lament: ¡Papá! Mi hermanica me ha mordido en Re de la clave de Fa — “Daddy, my baby sister bit me on D of the bass clef!”. Needless to say, she did not know how to say “the ring finger of my left hand”.

So from the tender youngest age, music was already part of her life and body. Her hands as staves, each finger a line of music. Ah, the grace notes I still hear when she points one of those lines at me in my memories.

Hands of Pianist - Rodin (Musée Rodin, Paris)
  Image at top by angelp from vectorstock.com

26 comments:

  1. A sweet and tender recollection. Great image of Rodin's pianist's hands.

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  2. Entrancing recollections Lorenzo!

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  3. Impossible to tease out and separate which layer of this story gives the most pleasure: Isabel "listening" and moving to jazz before birth, her toddler self having free rein with the sound system, her declaration to her papa in the musical description of her left ring finger, the great joy of hearing that anything like this music education system exists, the pairing with Rodin's piano-playing hands, or your story telling ability and beautiful writing. So I'll give up trying and just smile. Big, from the bottom of my bass clef to the top of my treble clef!

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  4. smiles. i think music and the arts should be encouraged in all children...it opens the doors to imagination and creative development...lovely tale...the babysitter bit her?

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  5. Love this!! Your sweet, amazing, clever daughter, her doting Papá, Rodin's magical hands, your magical prose...Long may Isabel play and enjoy her piano! All of her music, in fact. (My mom learned at 4--70+ years later, she is still most comfortable on the piano stool)

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  6. you know lorenzo the saying wealth follows wealth. i would say that your daughter chose you knowing that you would open every door as she ran down the hall of the world and into music! steven

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  7. Such a well told and enjoyable story! Music is a part of our lives before birth. In my classroom music plays a central role in the curriculum—just about everything connects to music in some way. Music, too, is among the last things we lose when our forgettories annex our memories.

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  8. Ah, music to my ears: “Daddy, my baby sister bit me on D of the bass clef!”

    This statement is a heroically tragic as if written by Woolf!

    Love your daughter's words as a child, even more so that you remember them and share them with us here.

    Music is a huge part of my family, every one of my siblings and myself play 2+ instruments: piano plus (from oldest sibling to youngest): violin; tenor sax & clarinet (myself); trombone; trumpet; alto sax.

    All told, we have been known to make quite the blessed cacophony, still.

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  9. i love cello and rodin, i´ve always loved the sound of cello, very human, i mean, like the sound of a human voice... so beautiful. oh, your writing is sweet ... maybe i see sweetness because everything has become sweet in my life... lOL. beauty in your blog!!

    my grandmother used to play piano. yes, music forever!!
    thank you!!
    xoxo
    yolanda

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  10. You brought on me memories of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, Do. I still sing music in my head with these notes when trying to reconstruct a melody. Once you learn them as a child they stay there forever. Even when I play the piano, many times I can still hear them.

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  11. Ah I think you did well to start her so early. I began piano at 7 but after emigrating, never took it up again, something I regret. You're lucky to have such a talented player in your family.

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  12. A wonderful bit of memoir, L. Such a sweet memory and fine and elegant telling of the tale...xxxj

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  13. What a wonderful story, Lorenzo. Your daughter is such a gift, a grace note who creates grace notes for others. Yes, life without music would be a mistake. Indeed, life without art would be unbearable. When I think about art, I often think about what the world would be like without it — no music, no paintings, no sculpture, no literature, no dance, no theater, no film. It's almost beyond my imagination to grasp. I say this only to emphasize how much I appreciate what artists, including musicians like your daughter, provide to the repair and regeneration of life.

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  14. What a lovely story, Lorenzo. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  15. What a beautiful tribute to your daughter, your love for her so apparent! And what a conformation of the power of music in the life of a child!

    Thank you so much for visiting & leaving such kind & generous words. I am humbled & most appreciative.

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  16. How marvelous, Lorenzo.

    Your writing is elegant and strong and always leaves me feeling blessed with how you see . It is clear that you love your family so well and so much.

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  17. what a lovely recollection of your daughter's early days and her burgeoning love affair with music. and the quote about being bit on D of the bass clef is just priceless....

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  18. A refreshing site here, Lorenzo.
    I found you through your comment on synchonizing, I think. And I adore the Rodin's hands addition. I saw his work at Philadelphia's Rodin museum last week.
    Thank you for your beautiful poems and additions of art.
    Dianne

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  19. Oh, Lorenzo, you know I love this wonderful story about your sweet daughter! I'm so glad you remember that and tell her about it, too. Just beautiful, on all levels.

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  20. Oh, I love this. As have your writing from the first :). Thanks for the friendship here, Lorenzo!

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  21. I loved this story, Lorenzo. I am a piano player myself: I used to go to the local Conservatoire for 12 whole years! I took up learning the piano on the same day I went to Primary school: I remember that I still confused the right and left hand ;) Ahhh, I have such fond memories of my piano. It's in my parents' house and I miss it. Many a time I tap the notes of favourite piano pieces of mine on my writing desk.
    I love the powerful expression of Rodin's fragmented hands and those of a pianist are my favourite ones. They seem to be dancing to eternity...

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  22. Wonderful story Lorenzo! Has Isabel read it? What does she think of her papa's gifts as storyteller, poet, blogger friend?
    I wish I had learnt to read and play music.. difficult now!! Father learnt to play the cello, determinedly, but his ear, oh his hopeless ear..
    I like that this story has images that will stay with all of us... and Isabel's music too... perhaps we shall hear her someday?

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  23. What a beautiful well-told memory. I'm so glad you put this into words and shared them.

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  24. As a musician just beginning to learn piano in my 50's, I am charmed by and jealous of your daughter. But of course you have left all of us wondering....whatever became of the finger biter?

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  25. Maravillosa historia la he disfrutado mucho Lorenzo, un abrazo desde Chile,

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