LSS: Thanks, Easter Bunny

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.

It was.

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.

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One thought on “LSS: Thanks, Easter Bunny”

  1. Another great essay, Jan. For a moment I was transported back to Mrs. North’s fourth grade string class. We were being lectured on proper posture, in particular how to hold the violin: “Don’t shoot the birds, don’t shoot the squirrels, shoot the teacher!” Now, at any future piano performances, I’ll always think about squishing the chickens. What a great image!

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