Black velvet

In the darkness of the parked car, I quietly loaded the CD into the stereo. It took a few moments to load, and then the song came up. I closed my eyes and when the first verse started, I breathed the lyrics into the music. Everything around me ceased to exist. My voice was unwilling; I hadn’t sung in a long time. I enjoyed it by myself in the privacy of my car. Fade to black.

The song was Black Velvet, sung by Alannah Myles, and for the last few days it had been stuck in my head. It was all the fault of Goodwill. While I was there shopping one day last week, the song came on, and suddenly I stopped moving, listening, remembering it, pulling the lyrics from the deep weeds of the pond that holds all the song lyrics I know. It was an effort, but I remembered most of them. The song is old, from the late 1980s, but it is no less seductive now than it was then.

It is a pulsating song, and I felt the heartbeat, the life of it. The heat, both physical and virtual pressed into my skin. In my mind I watched the colors shift from the brown mire of mud, the orange of the setting sun, to the blueness of “the blues,” to the black of the title. It’s a magical song, and one that pulls me into it every time I hear it. It tells the story of Elvis and the musical revolution he caused, then ends with regret that he was gone so quickly.

Little did anyone know back then how far-reaching his influence would be, nor could they predict the depth of his legacy.

In the dark of my car, I was one small person who had become part of the music as I wove myself into a night made of black velvet.

Musical terms “explained”

Thoughts and imagination run wild sometimes while I am sitting at the keyboard taking a break for a few minutes. Here is how I interpreted these notes and instructions:

Run! (haltingly, though):

Run faster (right hand):

Pause, have a sip of coffee, continue (first time through); you’re done! (second time through):

Express yourself! (really, express what the composer wants you to):

P.S. I love being able to play the piano!

A bittersweet day

I went into the music room this evening and closed the door behind me. It was a no-brainer which instrument I would choose: the piano. Lately, that’s all I want, the piano. I sat down on the bench and laid my hands on the keyboard, my way of saying, “hello,” and finding out what kind of mood the piano is in. Once the piano starts talking to me I have to answer back, and that usually takes half the evening. I pulled out a melancholy tune in a minor key that seemed to fit the conversation that my fingers were having with the keyboard.

I was emotionally drained from the last day of school with my school kids. They left me today. It was like releasing a group of butterflies, unleashing them into the world in a burst of color and energy, the present and future absorbing them. It scared me, watching them go, hoping that they would all have good lives and happy futures, knowing that some of them would, and some might not.

Most of them cried. I don’t think I have had such an intense bunch. One boy started crying at 9 a.m., and later I thought he was going to hyperventilate. They all hugged me goodbye, something I’ve never been brave enough to do, fearing I would dissolve into a million tears, but today it seemed right. It started with the group hug initiated by the kids, and went from there. Not everyone participated, but the ones that I wanted to hold close forever seemed to be right there. They were full of nervous energy, again like butterflies, their bodies hot and overwrought, their wings vibrating as they poised to fly into the next stage of their lives.

We, students and their teachers, took that last bittersweet walk around the school, a tradition, and all the lower grades held out their hands to “high-five” all the graduating sixth graders. They knew they were walking those hallways for the last time as students, sad to go, happy, but apprehensive, of what lies ahead. Finally, we walked out the front door and into the sun. It was a holy moment, watching them being drawn inexorably toward their destinies.

The glare blinded me, there were more tears, and hugs, and then the kids were gone into the crowd of surging parents and other students. I felt the weight of the moment as I walked slowly around the east side of the school to take a group of kids to the bus (I had bus duty today). As I headed up the line, one of the little girls, a regular, came running up. “Can I be first?” she asked breathlessly.

“Of course, dear,” I said. The little guys who were usually there weren’t competing with her today, probably picked up by parents. She slid her hand sweetly into mine, and we walked toward the bus. “Did you have a good day?” I asked her, as I usually do.

“Yeah!” she said in her small voice, and smiled, her little face glowing. Maybe in a few years she will be in my class, I thought. Soon all three buses were loaded, and they rolled forward then out of the driveway. The handful of teachers, including me, were left standing at the curb, waving. “Have a great summer!” we yelled.

Then we turned, closed and locked the gate behind us, and took that long slow walk back to the empty school, all of us emotionally drained. One gate closes, another opens, as they say. August, and the start of a new school year, will be here quickly enough, but for right now, all I want to do is sleep. For a long time.

Oh, and play the piano.

The flow of music

Inside a house in an anonymous suburb of the city, a woman sat down at the piano. It had been a long day at work, and as she sat there it was like sinking into a warm bath. She touched the keys lightly, they made a greeting sound as if the piano were happy that it was time to play.

She caressed the keyboard, and the keys under her right hand made a liquid sound as the music ran up the scale. Soon the flow of music closed over her head and she was engulfed by it.

She let it flow slowly at first, not playing up to tempo. She was exploring an unfamiliar sonata. The freshness of it was intriguing; there were new sounds to please her ears. Then, she picked up a favorite piece. Melodious now, the music became the quick flow preceding a waterfall, it ran, rose and fell.

The musician played until the stress and grief of the day left her mind and fingers. Eventually, she climbed out of the blue depths of music, returning when she finally felt hungry, realizing that several hours had passed since she’d sat down. She emerged, the music notes still clinging to her as they played in her head.

She was clean now, content. She struck the bass keys, let the sound sink, diminish into a distant final chord. The heavy stones of the day’s burdens dropped into the depths of the pool, forgotten.