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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