Piano Lessons, Part 3

What student has fond memories of piano recitals?  Not me.  With over 80 students, Wally held his recitals in the HUGE sanctuary of a church in NE Portland.  As one of his more advanced students (remember, I’d practiced two hours a day during that contest!), I was the last student to play at my later recitals.  Though I had practiced earnestly and memorized the assigned pieces, the wait was agonizing.  By the time it was my turn to play, my insides churned and I made a last-minute dash to the rest room.  But I played my piece with aplomb, made the mandatory bow, and sat down to applause.  Relief–over for one more year.

Wally taught his students to improvise.  I learned to play the hymns out of the hymn book, but Wally taught me chords for the left hand and fancy variations.  By the time I was in seventh grade, I was the church pianist on Sunday night.  I wasn’t the best available pianist, but I was church pianist in training.  The organist, song leader and other encouraged me, loved me, gave me frequent words of affirmation. 

I played for Sunday School singing.  I played at Youth Group on Sunday night and for the singing at Afterglows, youth gatherings in homes after Sunday night church.

Playing the piano had practical application in my life, a skill I used and shared with people who affirmed me for doing so.

Piano Lessons, Part 2

After a year of lessons with Inez, Waldon C. Ratkie–Wally–became my teacher.  A college student majoring in music, he was part-time choir director at our church.  He drove his pink Studebaker to the homes of his students since he didn’t have a studio.  On piano lesson afternoon, Mom brought one of the chrome kitchen chairs into the dining room and set it out for Wally.  He sat down, placing his bulging leather briefcase beside him.  It contained file folders of sheet music and instruction books.

Wally was average height with curly red hair, freckles covering his  visible skin, and big dark-rimmed glasses.  He was an accomplished musician with a quiet personality.  He never raised his voice, but calmly and competently led me through learning the basics of music.

The biggest challenge that parents of piano students face is getting their student to PRACTICE regularly.  I don’t remember this being conflictual.  In my mind, if you took piano lessons, you had to practice every day.  I was a compliant child, so I did.  My mother’s memories are slightly different, but she says I usually practiced faithfully.

Wally, an innovative teacher for his time, had contests for his students.  We received prizes for practicing.  We earned busts of piano composer or got stickers on our music.  The contest I remember best took place when I was twelve.  The young Van Cliburn had just won a piano competition in Russia and was performing in Portland.  Wally promised to take two of his students, the two who practiced the most during the contest weeks.  That was all the challenge I needed.  Determined to win, I practiced an hour before school every day, an hour after school.  I was one of the winners.

On a Friday night, Wally picked me up along with Dennis Gano, a cherubic nine year old with curly blond hair and dimples.  We drove to the Civic Auditorium in downtown Portland (now Keller Aud.).  We sat in the side sections that existed before the auditorium was remodeled in 1967.  I don’t know what Van Cliburn played.  Being at a concert enthralled me.  No one in my family had ever attended a classical concert.

Piano Lessons, Part 1

The fall of 1958 was a significant time in my life.  That was the year I began piano lessons; more than 50 years later, playing the piano, teaching piano remains a central part of my identity.

In 1935, my then 10 year old mother lived in Rainier, Oregon.  To her great delight, her father arranged for her to take piano lessons.  But it was the Depression and money was scarce in that family with seven children.  The lessons ended after just four weeks.  Decades later in 1958, Mom was grateful to have the money to provide piano lessons for her daughter.

Buying a new piano wasn’t a consideration.  My parents searched the classified ads and found a used upright piano.  A neighbor who knew about pianos and music went with Dad and Mom to inspect the piano, a lovely old Kimball upright.  They bought it for $150, borrowed a pickup truck and moved it into our house.  It occupied one wall of the dining room for 25 years.

Our former next door neighbor, Inez Tracy, was my first teacher.  She was a big, kind woman with a broad smile that showed a gap between her front teeth.  When she hugged you, it was like being hugged by the Pillsbury Dough boy.  Lessons took place in the living room of the two bedroom house that was home to her family of six.

Each week, Mom drove me to my lesson.  I handed Inez the dollar bill Mom had given me for payment and opened my John Schaum Primer and Note Speller.  I remember the first song in my first book, the song that taught me Middle C:

Putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt (all middle C’s)
Goes the flash speedboat.
Putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt (all middle C’s)
On the same old note.

Not great music, but I was playing songs.  I practiced daily, proud of each mastered note.

Life Lessons: Sudokus

 I did my first Sudoku six years ago.  I was on a SW Airlines flight from Portland to Chicago.  The snack box had a Sudoku printed on the side.  I’d never done one because I thought they were like math puzzles and I’m no math whiz.  But my sister had told me they were FUN, so why not try? 

When I finished it, I checked it from every angle.  Correctly solved.

About a year later, I was facing gall bladder surgery.  I felt scared and anxious.  I thought doing Sudokus might distract me.  I bought a book of them at Target and did four or five a day.  They DID keep my mind occupied.

FIRST LESSON:  Doing a Sudoku is a great distraction and stress reliever.

Since then, I’ve built my skills.  I do one or two a day.  I’ve plowed through the Martial Arts Sudoku series and have completed White Belt, Green Belt, Brown Belt, and am now on the last section of Black Belt level–SUPER TOUGH.  Some days I complete the morning’s puzzle perfectly the first time.  Other days, I get stuck, make stupid mistakes.  Not enough caffeine?

Last spring, during the weeks before and after my father’s death, I noticed I was a terrible worker of Sudokus.   I wasn’t conscious of  the sadness and stress distracting me, but apparently it was.

SECOND LESSON:  When you’re stressed or sad or worried, your brain doesn’t work the same. 

In doing the super tough Sudokus, I usually pencil in all the possible numbers for each square.  There’s no way to rush the process.  I must proceed carefully.  Sometimes I have 81 squares full of little pencilled numbers, only a few solutions.  It looks impossible.  Then I find one correct answer.  That leads to another, and the puzzle gradually gets solved like falling dominoes.  

THIRD LESSON:  When life gets hard, just do the next tiny step carefully, accurately, patiently.  Eventually, the solution will appear.

About Me

I’ve named my blog  A Patchwork Life.  I AM a quilter, but this isn’t a blog about quilting.  This is a blog about my life now.  I entered my 60’s last year, but they say 60 is the new 40 so I guess you could say I’m a 40-something woman who continues to stitch her life together from many diverse pieces.

When I was younger, 60 was REALLY old.  But I don’t feel old.  And I realize, I like my life now better than any stage in my life.    I’m not a person who has lived with one central passion or focus in my life;  I’ve had many.  It’s a PATCHWORK LIFE.  The many different pieces of my life have come together and they’re forming a quilt that gives me great satisfaction.

My greatest life work is my 40+ year marriage to Don and the two adult children we produced together, Beth and Caleb.  Steve and Brooke joined our family by marriage and then grandchildren–Sophia, Auden and Grace with one more coming in June.  I’ve joined the Sandwich Generation in the past 5 years as I’ve assisted my aging parents while enjoying grandchildren.

Themes that started in my childhood–love of books, playing the piano, sewing–have remained important all my life.  My childhood faith has matured into a faith that has sustained me through many life challenges.  In 1991, Don and I returned to Portland, Oregon, the town where I spent my growing up years.  I stay busy teaching my 25 piano students, journaling and writing pieces for my Thursday morning writing class, doing Sudokus, making quilts and enjoying my family.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts and reflections about My Patchwork Life.