Dec 11, 2008

The Most Beautiful Music In The World

When Lily was three or so I remember being home alone with her one day.  I think it might have been a day her preschool was closed, but it was a wonderful lazy weekday hanging around the house.  We were sitting in the breakfast nook finishing up breakfast or lunch and Lily began to sing.  It was a sweet little "three year old girl song" and she sang it so beautifully.  It was almost as if it was offhand, something she was just letting slip out of her unconsciously.  But it was french.  She sang it like her own language, and I have no idea what it meant.  But it was just the most beautiful thing I may ever hear in my life.

Later she said she would only sing it on days that were "our days" and it was just the two of us home alone.  When you put a little girl on the spot to sing she'll usually clam up, and this was no exception.  As time wore on we forgot it and now when I ask her about it she says she doesn't even remember the name of the song or what it was.  So I will never hear her sing it again.

My father never learned how to read sheet music, and he never took lessons.  He taught himself how to play the concertina after he came back from England (he was there with the Air Force during the Korean war - ask me some time about his unlikely loan sharking).  Somewhere in there he sat down at a piano and began picking out music.  

He could play folk tunes on the concertina and often he and my Aunt Jean and Uncle Jerry would sing at family happy hours up at the lake.  It mortified us, of course, as it's sooo embarrasing to have someone you know sing out loud.  (We didn't know what we were talking about, stupid kids.)  Sometimes he would just play on the concertina -- not just play music, but play like he was on a playground.  He would close his eyes and get a look on his face like he was somewhere else and just play and play and play.  It was rarely anything we recognized, and we would complain that it was "too loud" or that we were trying to watch TV and we couldn't hear Charlie's Angels because of the racket.  We never recorded his playing, but I remember it as a wonderful thundering collection of chords and passion.  

He also used to play the piano.  It was within 10 feet of our television, so if you wanted to watch tv after dinner you would have to put on the massive black headphones and plug them into the side of our little black and white tv.  Whenever we got a new tv Dad would solder in a headphone jack on the side just for this purpose.  You would huddle right next to the screen and crank the volume all the way up just to hear over the playing.

His piano playing was completely different.  He showed me how he did it once and maybe I'll try and learn it for good some day.  It involved chords and just hammering random tunes out, but they were seldom chaotic or ugly.  He had one particular tune he used almost like a baseline and then would noodle from there.  In the summer it might be lighter and brighter, in the winter cooler.  At Christmas time you could hear tunes float in and out of the music.  A little reminder of a carol here and there, but it would be fleeting.  He never stopped playing to adjust his tune or start over, he just kept going.  It was almost as if he was directing currents of music.  It was really beautiful.

When his mother died you could hear it getting darker.  It would boom and thunder and darker bass sounds would pass throughout the tune, casting a shadow over his usual music.  But that was a great exposure of his often reserved emotions.  I remember my sister and I being wide eyed and amazed at the grief of it.

Like the concertina, he would play with his eyes closed, head tilted slightly upward as if he was fumbling around in the dark with his hands trying to find a particular note or phrase.

When he was done playing either instrument it was like the sound was sucked out of the world.  The tv would be too loud, the house too quiet, and when you heard him quietly close the cover over the keys or flush the last of the air out of the bellows it was like you could breathe again and everything was as it was before.  But that something very large and important was missing.  It was some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I seem to remember once recording his piano playing on a Fisher Price kids tape recorder, set right on top of the piano.  It was just a loud noise and was taped over by some family game.   (We had a "radio station" - JMLB)  Other than that, we have no recording of his piano playing, and since he never read music, he never wrote it either.  So I will never hear him play again.

1 comment:

LCBrisson said...

Robert you make me cry! I remember liking the Craig siblings singing at the lake, not being embarrassed by it, and I don't remember the headphones. But I do remember the amazing piano music, and especially when he played after Grandma died. I often regret that we never recorded it really, but I'm thinking it wouldn't be the same anyway. Kind of like the answering machine message we still have.
We had an amazing father. I hope my children feel half as amazed by me as I am by him. I also hope your chidren are amazed by the father they have. He is carrying on a family tradition.
Thank you for sharing that memory, though I still think blogging is wierd :)