In my storytelling role, I often compare the writing process to playing a song. Each life memory told is a musical note. The notes are sung to me one by one in no particular order, and then in the silence of just me and my keyboard the song slowly takes form as I reposition the notes, one after another, until they form a beautiful melody that is the story of a life.
I was reminded of this again when last night my husband and I watched an episode of 1883, “The Crossing.” Music played the leading role this episode. As the German immigrants traveled west with their guides, they were told they had to remove most of their belongings from their wagons in order to make it across the river. Their heavy furniture would bog down the wagon in the river and make it impossible to pass.
They were faced with an ultimatum: leave all of their treasured possessions behind or be left behind. One musician was racked with despair when he was told he had to leave his piano behind. To him, it was irreplaceable and defined his life.
After the piano had been discarded in the middle of a grassy field, and they had moved on, one of the main characters sat down and played "Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven, reminiscent of the life she had left behind. It was haunting and beautiful to see her playing a melody in an abandoned field littered with once prized possessions, as the emotion overtook her.
Music can bring back beautiful memories, while also pulling you back to times and places you would prefer to forget. A song stays with you like little else can, and hooks onto your heart with an unbreakable hold.
It is unbelievable to me that the musician treasured his craft so much that he was successful in traveling from Germany to America with his piano and then attempted to travel across the Great Plains with the piano in a covered wagon.
It made me think of our recent move, not across a country, but just a few miles across town. We had a piano, which I have had since I was 21 years old. I can’t even precisely count how many times that piano has been moved. I’m going to guess on the low end at least nine times. It is actually my daughter’s piano, gifted to her by her great-grandmother who played professionally at some point in her life.
My daughter is now a young adult and has her own house for the piano. And luckily enough, our new house had a piano that was not moving with its owners. As my daughter and I both play, this worked out perfectly.
We hemmed and hawed about how we were going to move my daughter’s piano, who we could get to help, what a hassle it was, etc., etc. When I think about the musician’s complete agony leaving behind his piano it makes me realize how ridiculous we were to complain about moving my daughter’s piano. That piano has played beautiful melodies for over a hundred years. Two of my children learned to play on that piano. We gathered around it to sing Christmas carols. When too much dust would gather on the keys, I would feel that guilt of neglect and dust it off, pull out my old songbooks, and play again.
This last week my husband paid to have the new piano tuned as a birthday gift to me. As I sat down to play I wondered where this piano originated and who has played it over the decades. A few keys needed to be repaired, there are some scratches and dings in the wood, but I don’t think I have ever quite appreciated a piano as much as I did in that moment. There is something to be said about valuing history, be it an object, or a memory.
When I pulled out my old piano books to find something to play I hit some wrong notes, well maybe a lot of wrong notes, I missed a flat or a sharp a few times, but I kept going, playing it over and over until my fingers got to know the keyboard path once again.
At the beginning of this blog post, I talked about how each story in a life is like a musical note and all those notes make a beautiful song. Some moments are the difficult times in life, some plagued with regret, or remembered in sadness. BUT when you bring all the stories together, the good and the bad, you see the big picture - the melody of your life.
Sometimes everything in life seems to be out of tune and adjustments need to be made. Other times you just keep hitting that wrong note over and over again, until you find the right one or pick a new song and all of a sudden your fingers fly over the keys.
You might look at your life as if you have been playing an out of tune piano for years of your life, similar to the piano we inherited with our new home, but even an old beat up piano can play something beautiful. There is always time for a new song.
I will leave you with an excerpt from one of my all time favorite melodies, “Stardust”, written by Hoagy Carmichael, and, in my favorite version, performed by Nat King Cole.
“You wandered down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by…
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
The stardust melody
A memory of love’s refrain”
Wishing you all little moments of happiness that warm your heart in the coming weeks, as we finish up this long winter season and look forward to spring,