Monday, May 11, 2009

Piano Playing - IV

I wrote about my mother's influence in my piano history but my father was thoroughly supportive. The dollar a week for my lessons meant the same to both. How inexpensive that sounds. But it wasn't. It was not a sacrifice, but I had to become an adult before I understood how poor my family -- and indeed most people in the area -- were. We did not want for basic things but we did not have a lot either. Beyond the lessons and the piano itself they gave me an extremely valuable gift.

One day a salesman appeared at our door. He had surely been given their name and address by Janette, the teacher. He was selling the Shirmer Music Library, a set of nine bound books of music for the piano. $50 remains in my mind but if it was only that, it was an amazing bargain. It must have been about 1950. $50 would have been a big gift to me, a serious dent in the month's finances. I don't remember a discussion although I'm sure there was one and I think my father made the final decision. The set of books was purchased. It has been a treasure trove; it has given me more hours of pleasure than any other gift I've ever had, I still have it and still use it. From it's pages, I learned both the music [which was not simplified although the opera transcriptions are not difficult] and I became acquainted with a variety of musicians I would not have became learned about otherwise. One of the books was full of the kind of moderately difficult, but musically light "concert" pieces young women played at home to impressed family and potential beaux.

Books 1 and 2 contain "classical" music up to the 20th century but stopping with Rachmaninoff and a few others who were born in the 19th century. The third book has lighter "classics", one book is all waltzes and other dances, one is all opera transcription, another is largely vocal music, including some sacred music. Book 9 is an afterthought with pieces that probably should have been in the other books.

At the time it was a bargain considering the prices of sheet music; today it is priceless. I still cannot play everything in these books -- some I'm not interested in playing but only a little. As I write I look across the room at those books that I've had 60 or more years and I cannot begin to calculate all that the music in them has meant to me, not just to play but to hear in concerts, on records, on the radio. These were better than any encyclopedia would have been. They were surly the best gift anyone ever bought for me.

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