It’s February. The time of hearts, flowers, proposals, diamonds, gold… and my birthday! Technically, I love February, month of Aquarius the water-bearer, with its hint of spring, daffodils, earlier sunrise (7:36 here in Oxford, England), and of course the lavender gemstone amethyst. But with my birthday so close to Valentine’s Day, like those who have birthdays close to Christmas, every year I feel jilted! I want a separate birthday gift and a distinct Valentine’s Day present, not two rolled into one. Saying that, the advantage is that everything comes love-cut, heart-shaped and dripping in tenderness. Who could want for anything more?
What else indeed? I venture this: a secret something, deep, dark and rich, supremely delicious and never before disclosed. Something extraordinarily special, a real mystery, like the Valentine in grade school that just showed up on your desk along with a sticky Necco Sweetheart with the dodgy food-dye letters that spelled out TRUE LOVE, KISS ME or ALL MINE. Who knew? Could be John or Greg (fingers crossed), but you would never know. Probably it was Tim. The big deal was that it was a surprise: scary, special, hopeful and terribly personal. Okay, so I will let you in on my secret, undisclosed Valentine’s wish: music. (Iffy food-dye lettering and all.)
Recently I started reading concert pianist James Rhodes’ book How to Play the Piano. In it he claims I will learn to play Bach’s exquisite Prelude No. 1 in C Major in six weeks, even if I know nothing about music and have never touched the piano before. Okay, I agreed. Game on. I’ve been meaning to do this for years, and if it takes twelve weeks, or sixteen, I will take it one note at a time. I love music. Sound. Plain and simple. That’s my secret, the love of sound, of one single note, one solitary key pressed down. A, B♭, C. It doesn’t matter which. I fancy music. I like playing, making, it.
Admittedly, I have numerous five-finger piano books, and I’m amused when my grade-school sight reading along with the clearly illustrated Left Hand-Right Hand guide can help me sound out ‘Music of the Night’ or Papageno’s aria from The Magic Flute. Last night I figured out ‘Chasing Pavements’ by Adele (actually only the chorus) and was able after a quick listen on my iPhone to sing along. As a child I wanted to ‘take’ choir. All the popular girls did, but after a moment of recklessness, when I asked my father for a clarinet, that hope was gone for good. I trudged off to ‘band’ and football games, marching in step, playing third chair, third clarinet, while the girls with bouncy hair got to sing. Eventually I was able to tongue ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let It Be’.
After ditching the clarinet, I fell for a singer, songwriter, acoustic guitar-playing boyfriend (can’t be one, date one?), who sat me in front of a microphone in the school auditorium for the Folk Fest. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘just look good.’ We sang (he sang?) ‘Yellow is the Color of My True Love’s Hair’ to a great round of applause. Since that time, I’ve tried off and on to join a choir or teach myself piano, even guitar, but time always wins out—there’s never enough of it. And sadly, sin of all sins, horror of horrors, I unleashed my latent craving on my son, who did, bribe by bribe, make it through his ABRSM Grade 5 Piano and Grade 8 Singing.
Now, older and maybe wiser, I do my thing and he does his. I’m enjoying my secret love, music, even the scraping together of time to devote to it. With the help of Mr Rhodes’ book, I’m testing the waters, learning to play that Bach prelude. Remarkably, with no pressure, no marching in time and no audience, I enjoy it. I’ve always heard music is meditative, and hand on heart, it is. I go someplace else. Zen? Like downhill skiing, I can’t do two things at once. I can’t play music and worry about anything else—family conundrums, business plans or whether or not Juicy Fruit will ever sell.
Along with Bach’s Prelude in C Major, I’m learning to sing the ‘Skye Boat Song’ and ‘Moon River’, picking out the tunes on the piano keyboard. I have an ancient hourglass made from a sort of spindle that I flip over when I commence playing. Rhodes claims anyone can find forty-five minutes a day to practice, and I do, even late at night, including listening to different composers and vocalists. In that interlude, with sand spilling through the glass, a tightly coiled me will unwind. I come home, in a sense. Maybe it’s like yoga, or meditation, or lying in the arms of someone you love. Tender and sweet. Music.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
I wish you yours,