On Easter morning 1978, the Easter Bunny left a songbook in my basket.
It may have been 1977.
There’s a slight possibility it was 1979.
Chances are, if you remember those years, they’re blurry for you too.
This much is certain, the book was called, “100 Popular Songs.” To give a sense of the sap level, “Feelings,” was song no. 1, followed by “Piano Man,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Kodachrome” and “My Eyes Adored You.” I played them all with varying levels of fervor. But my favorite, my fallback, my standby, was Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You.”
I probably sang that song more times than she did.
That Easter changed the course of my music education.
I took piano every week from — Mrs. Willie Mae Mitchell in elementary, Mrs. Myra Frances Hayes in middle school and Mrs. Edna Earle Gibson in high school. I list their names because they’re legends and also to prove that to be a respectable piano teacher in Mississippi, you had to have a double first name.
Much to my childhood chagrin, I was forced to practice at least 30 minutes. Every. Single. Day.
To some degree, I appreciated Beethoven and Bach’s beauty back then, but it wasn’t until the music I was playing had words I could sing (when no one else was actively listening) that I could really lose myself at a piano.
“100 Popular Songs” was all I needed.
It was cheesy, cheap therapy. And, it worked.
My mother always said, “Piano is something you can do your whole life.”
The truth is, I rarely play piano these days. Among other surprises, adulthood has offered much less time for piano than I prepared for.
Even still, in the middle of one day last week, I had a serious hankering to play a piano. During my planning period at school, I remembered a room full of pianos. A piano might be momentarily available.
When I sat on the stool and put my hands on the keyboard, I instantly thought of
Mrs. Mitchell. She was adamant about students sitting at pianos with proper posture – down to fingers and wrists. If I were lazy and let my wrists sag, Mrs. Mitchell straightened my limbs and said in her slightly squeaky singsong voice, “Don’t squish my little chickens.”
I never really understood. Why would little chickens be on the edge of a piano? However, to this day when I sit at a piano, I instantaneously remember the posture.
Part of it is muscle memory.
Part of it is Mrs. Mitchell.
I don’t want to squish her little chickens of mythical proportions.
With last week’s unsquished chickens at hand, I mangled my way through a little Beethoven, some Brahms and Chopin. Then I looked deeper in the stack of music.
And there was Nora Jones.
The contemporary songstress offered the same liberation of that Easter morning long ago. I love the classics, but music with words to sing in my heart and soul transferred me to another time and place.
Thanks, Easter Bunny.