Friday, August 28, 2009

Message from a Cornet Case



In some of my favorite types of fantasy stories, a person is able to bend the constraints of time and space and communicate to their future or past self. I find this notion endlessly fascinating—what would I say to the Kirie of 20 years ago? What would she have to tell me? Would she look at the 40-year-old Kirie with skepticism, or admiration, or worse—shame? Just imagining the possibility to encounter my future or past self sets me aflutter with excitement. I hope that’s something I have in common with the Kirie of 1989. Enthusiasm seems to be a common thread in all the times of my life, and it’s my aim to buoy that feeling forever.


Over the past few months, I’ve revisited an old enthusiasm of mine—a love of music. As things happen, we recently got a piano, and both Ada and I immediately started lessons. Ah, wonderful thing, that piano! Ada and I literally debate about who will get the next turn to play, and by my best guess, is that at minimum, we are playing an hour a day, every day. Ada is playing with equal parts precision and passion, and it is a pleasure to listen to her play. Esme has given the music a try, too, but she is still a little small to play the keys. Her contribution is mostly singing with gusto, and dancing with abandon to our songs.

I have never formally played piano before, but I have been an avid admirer of those who can. When I was a teenager, I loved to sing and to act and (try) to dance, and I was often around amazingly talented peers who could do all three with skills beyond their years. One girl in particular was especially gifted not only with a hauntingly lovely voice, but an innate sense of music that allowed her to play and compose rich, beautiful songs that seemed to come from some special place that only she could access. Vickie was so talented that when she would perform or practice, I literally felt chills run down my back. I was in awe of her then, and it pleases me no end to think that she still is composing and singing today.

When I started lessons on the piano, some element of myself felt as though I had stepped back in time, to that space when self-made music was such a part of me. How much I had wished I could play piano so that a real song would come forth, something I could sing to, and carry in my head all day. As soon as I started working with our piano teacher, Ellen, I had the sense that that long-closed door had opened wide for me again.

Ellen understood immediately why I was looking to learn piano. Certainly, my interest has nothing to do with performing recitals or padding a resume or impressing anyone. Rather, it’s that I want to find another way to let some beauty into my life. Music is its own language, and while it’s been awhile since I’ve used it, I’ve been longing to return to it for years.

Ellen’s teaching approach has been to work with me to learn the basics of piano, but also to let me push ahead, to play with composing and improvisation and things a beginning student normally wouldn’t do. It is thrilling! At night I am dreaming of music, and in the day, my fingers are playing the notes on imaginary keyboards, somewhat obsessively. And it is such a pleasure. I’ve been working out very simplified versions of songs I love to sing, and I found out that I can play a few songs from basic beginning songbooks. It is so fun to sing and play with the girls—and this after only a month of lessons!

Ada, too, is learning the basics, as I said, with precision. But Ellen also has her feeling the passion that goes with writing music on her own. With Ellen’s help, Ada has written—with notes and time signatures!—small songs about flowers, and butterflies, and our cat. And in the process, Ada’s learning is progressing exponentially. She’s not only reading the words, playing the song, the rhythm, and singing—she is able to read the notes as well. I was bursting with pride when, after her third lesson, she was able to effortlessly identify each note on the treble clef scale by name. She is a quick study, and she is falling in love with the music, too. I couldn’t be more pleased.

And, as things so often do, the music has multiplied. We’ve been playing rhythm instruments like wood blocks, maracas, the triangle. And I’ve pulled out my old cornet, a two-toned beauty that I played for six years when I was a young girl. I surprised myself, when I could immediately play songs for the girls, and I was able to teach them how to “buzz” on the mouthpiece and get some nice blares out of the instrument. Imagine the sound of an elephant’s cry, and you’ve heard Esme’s playing. Not bad for a two year old.


It was with the cornet that the message arrived. On Sunday, as I opened my battered cornet case, I found the most amazing communiqué from my past self. On a 4 x 6 note card, scrawled in green ink, was a to-do-list that was so typical of me that it might have been written last week. But the date on the top of the card was Thursday, August 7, 1992.

In August 1992, I was on the very brink of a life change, but I didn’t know it. Those days full of routines marched me closer to a series of important days arriving only months later: The day when I would leave an abusive relationship, the day I would meet the man I would marry, the day I would graduate from college. And all those days flowed toward lovely today…but what was I to know of that future as I contemplated what needed doing on Thursday, the 7th of August, 1992?

On Sunday, August 23, 2009, I sat on the floor of my studio with my open cornet case and I mused about the oddities on the old list: 5 loads of laundry? And this before being married with children. And tanning? What was I trying to do to myself? Nylons?

Mostly I wondered why this list was there, nestled carefully in with the mouthpiece. I flipped the card over, and some childlike attempts at musical notation answered my question. It was a song—I had been writing down the notes of a song, clearly something I could play on my b-flat cornet.



So I picked up the cornet, and played with some surprising ease the song I’d tried to capture in late 1992. And as I did so, a bouncy, 22-year-old Kirie materialized along with the ending verse of Chet Baker’s “How Deep Is the Ocean.” --The verse? "And if I ever lost you/how much would I cry? How deep is the ocean/How high is the sky?"

Yes, that fits. Message received. I think about that Kirie who comes back to me with those ringing notes, and I smile to think about how intense I was! How dreamy! I loved that song then, and hearing it fresh from the bell of my horn, I love it still. And that younger Kirie, as clear as the ringing notes, tells me to play the music, to hold onto that childish dreaminess. If I could send a message back to her, it would be: Thank you for visiting me! Please know that I hear you, and thank goodness I remain as enthusiastic, dreamy, and intense as ever. Thanks for the memo, sweet girl. Hang in there—your dreams are going to come true, and some wonderful amazing things await you.

As for how to deliver that message—I leave that to playing the music and seeing where it takes me.



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10 comments:

Lydia said...

Such a special post, Kirie. Really, one of the best.

I never played any instruments but two years ago took an adult fiddle workshop for a week that was designed to build interest. It did, and I bought a violin. But the teacher became ill and months went by as we deferred lessons. Now it's two years later and you have made me realize that my beautiful violin and I deserve to find a teacher. Thank you!

La Belette Rouge said...

This is such a gorgeous post for so many reasons. It is so lovely to be there at the moment when the 20 year old you meets the you of today.

I feel sure that the 20 year old you would be very proud and delighted to see the artist, woman, mother and musician you are.

The only way this could be better is if we could hear you play. I hope that soon you will post a recital of your all girl trio.

Hilary said...

Oh gosh. Kir, what a beautiful blog my evening clicking brings me to. Of all the blogs to come to after having been away for so long (the omnipresent "so busy" excuse just doesn't seem to cut it), this one really did it for me. I so miss this blog, and I'm glad to have read it today.

I didn't know you played coronet. Why were you not in band? Were you in Orchestra? My instrument was the clarinet, another B-flat instrument, and I dabbled with trumpet and flute. I've been missing music lately and have been sitting at my piano taking out sheet music from exactly the era your 20 years past Kirie visited you from. Boy to see my musical taste back then! Maybe I'll send you some.

Enjoy your lessons and watching Ada and Esme further blossom with the music you're giving them!

Love, Hils

Kirie said...

Lydia, I am thrilled to think this inspired you a little--I think if you had the interest in playing violin initially, it's still there. I hope you find your way back to it, and find a teacher who wants to play with you just for the joy of it!

Thanks for your sweet comments, Lydia.

xoxo
Kirie

Kirie said...

Belette Rouge:

I love that you like this post. The music coming back to me is a daily thrill, and writing about it only intensifies it.

Our all-girl band is soon to expand to include a guitarist, I think. With Esme on the triangle, Ada on piano, and me on guitar, I know we'll make some lovely sounds together. And you are always welcome to our recital!

love,
Kirie

Kirie said...

Hils, I'm glad to be back writing again, too, and I'm glad to hear you like this one.

I played cornet through freshman year in the orchestra, and I have vague memories of playing in some capacity for church a few times in high school. But sadly, I abandoned it for other things until I was in my early twenties and I found I wanted to play again.

It's coming back to me faster than I thought, and I have picked up a new cornet book with the intention of working on a few songs to play. We could play a duet--as I recall, clarinet and cornet have a great contrasting sound when played together. Do you still have your instruments? And how great you are back at the piano! My playing is a little clunky, but great fun nonetheless. Hope you are enjoying your own music this weekend.

xoxo
Kirie

angela said...

Hi Kirie

I am so very happy you love the piano and your old coronet (which looks really nice) - I can hardly wait to hear you play when I visit next week-end.

And I am thrilled that Ada likes playing as well!

Love, Mom

Irene Latham said...

Kirie - you can email your future self at http://www.futureme.org/ And about music: it IS a beautiful thing to add to your life. I play piano - sometimes I won't play for months, then days on end when I play for hours at a time. Since my son abandoned the cello, I have one of those sitting in my basement, and someday SOMEDAY I will play. Keep going with your enthusiasm! xxoo

The Seeker said...

I have something in my blog for you, please check it.
Thank you
xoxo

Angie Muresan said...

I wanted to comment on this the other day, but we were at the beach and the internet connection there wasn't all that great, as I got cut off right in the middle of the comment.
I wanted to say that I am so very happy for you that you escaped your abusive relationship and found a loving and kind partner. I am amazed at how many women get caught up in abusive relationships and stay because they are somehow brainwashed into believing that they don't deserve better. Words have so much power, and it is absolutely heartbreaking at the damage they do.

Angie M
(www.angiemuresan.com)

 
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