Musical Memories: My Grandpa

talltabI don’t know if playing music by ear is a gift that can be inherited, but if it is, I can’t take full credit for what I have learned.  I have a long ancestral line of musicians, including trumpeters, harmonica players, singers, band leaders, songwriters, whistlers, and of course, piano players.
talltabMy Grandpa Hathaway played the piano by ear.  I never asked him what kind of technique he used to learn what he played, but I have vivid memories of watching his fingers dance across the keys as the sounds of Beautiful Dreamer and Memories filled my grandparents’ living room.  Their house always had a classic, well-cared for style, with curio-cabinets and intricate mementos of their lives and era.  The piano was situated in the tightest corner of their beautiful living room, with only enough room for the piano and a player, but the music carried throughout the whole house.
talltabNot only did Grandpa teach himself to play that piano, he essentially put the thing together himself – at least after taking it completely apart.  When he and Grandma bought it, they wanted to put it in the downstairs living room, but their stairway was too narrow for a full-size piano.  So Grandpa disassembled the whole thing – with every key removed, and took it down into the living room in pieces.
talltabGrandma hassled him that he would never be able to get the thing back together, but he did, and it is still there today.  I suppose that piano will stay with the house forever.
talltabWe had a piano in our living room, too, though we didn’t have to take it apart to get it there.  I was fourteen when I decided I was going to really learn to play the piano, and that year Grandma and Grandpa Hathaway came for Thanksgiving Dinner.
talltabDuring those contented hours between the feast and the serving of pie, I found myself at the piano, tinkering around with the few meager tunes I knew how to play.  Grandpa listened, and just before I would have put it away to find something else to do, he asked if I knew how to play Chopsticks.  I said I didn’t, so he sat down next to me on the bench.
talltabAfter demonstrating to me the basic tune a couple of times, he helped me position my fingers and walked me through the right-hand part.  I played it through a few times to get it down.  It wasn’t terribly easy, but it was manageable.
talltabWhen we felt confident that I could play the melody, Grandpa played the left hand part.  When it was my turn, he gave me a signal and I started to play.  With an experienced left hand and a terribly inexperienced right, delightful music rose from the piano.  Hearing the two parts together made me smile, though every time I tried to really listen, I lost my rhythm.  I had to fight to keep from laughing, it was so much fun.
talltabAfter a few times playing through the piece, we switched sides, and Grandpa walked me through the left hand part.  Again it took a few minutes for me to get it, but once I was ready, we played together again.  This time with an experienced right hand, and an inexperienced left, music again filled the house.  It took a few minutes for me to learn to keep the rhythm, but once I did, it worked together well.
talltabThen it really started getting fun.  Grandpa had taught me the basic melody, and he had only been playing just while I got used to my role.  But once I had my part down, he was able to play freely.  He went all up and down the keyboard, with all kinds of variations on the theme.  Again I had to concentrate hard on my part, as the temptation to listen and watch his hands was almost overwhelming.
talltabAfterward, he taught me how to play Heart and Soul, another favorite duet.  Again I had the time of my life making fun and beautiful music with my Grandpa.
talltabGrandpa’s love for music spilled into his family.  Like Grandpa, my Dad and his siblings have beautiful voices and love singing.  One of his daughters is in the Tabernacle choir, and even a number of his grandkids sing and/or play the piano and other instruments.  Some even teach music lessons.
Grandpa introduced a musical legacy that will carry on through generations, and I will ever be grateful for the kind, loving time he spent with me, teaching me how to make something beautiful.

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