The Seduction and Romance of Faulty Memory, Part One: My Sister at the Family Piano
Like great pieces of music, sounds from nature and the outdoors act as time machines. Listen! Gently rustling leaves at sunset. Among the leaves there is the loud insistent whirr of locusts. The sounds combine to dizzy you. You are enveloped in the sense and transported to a young summer evening.
Close your eyes and listen: The “chick-chick-chick” of a rotating sprinkler. Disembodied outdoor voices just after dusk on a sultry night. Night sounds, dusky sounds, make you feel alive and young. Laughter. Crickets. A late and scratchy squawk from a bluejay.
You are a boy again. You are a little girl.
Still, songs have a stronger time travel hold on me than even most sounds from nature. Music causes more chilling, and oddly, more deeply primal reactions than nature.
My earliest memories of music are from home when I was four and five years old (1969-70). My sister Andrea, seven years older, played the piano and sometimes I liked to listen. In my memory of her at age eleven or twelve, (faulty, for sure,) she is masterful — tackling complicated works with a combination of great discipline and natural talent. At that very young age it was probably already clear that playing the piano was going to be beyond my abilities. So, once in a while she took from inside of the hinged maple piano bench a narrow velvet pouch held closed by a thin braided drawstring. She had mostly outgrown playing the instrument, but she would slip from the pouch a bone white recorder and she’d play a short, quiet, simple song. Perhaps it was her sweet attempt to show her clumsy little brother how easy it can be to make music.
Below are three French masterpieces for solo piano, all written between the late 1880s and very early in the twentieth century – within less than two decades of one another. Hearing these remarkable songs makes me a little boy again. I am positive that my sister Andrea, determined and accomplished in her own right at age eleven, never played anything like them. But when I hear them, I am a little boy, back in our pretty humble one story house in the middle of Nebraska in 1970. My sister’s hair, bright and blond, catching the late afternoon sunlight through the west window. Her fingers falling and rising.
Contemplative and insanely beautiful, this short piece still surely influences composers, as it did the ambient geniuses John Cage and Brian Eno.
Erik Satie – Gymnopédie No.1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-Xm7s9eGxU
Or try these lovely pieces:
Maurice Ravel – Jeux d’eau http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cumoVX7x3Zo
Claude Debussy – Suite bergamasque http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGcEYALnk8s