Music History

Photo by Valeria Rodrigues.Licensed CC0/Public Domain.
Photo by Valeria Rodrigues.
Licensed CC0/Public Domain.

I played arpeggios for Mrs. Aranda,
who smelled so good
and came to our house
every week. Her own house had
a giant blue vase
on the stone front porch.
I’d pass it on long walks.
One time I saw
her tall dark son,
who had a different last name
and wore black
leather jackets
to our school.

I learned “Stardust” by heart,
and for some mysterious reason
it remains in my fingers today.
Everything else I played —
Chopin’s Nocturne, Tschaikovsky’s
Concerto in E Flat Minor, “The Poor
People of Paris” — has turned
to memory dust.

I hated practicing.
Once, when she came
for my lesson, I hid.
When caught, I refused
to play scales. We fought
to a draw. She left;
and I pined for her perfume
and pretty face.

Not long after, Dad would drive
my brother and me to doughty,
rouge-faced Miss Gilbert’s
in a drab duplex in the city.
We took turns at the upright,
half an hour each, while someone
we never got to see
shuffled in the next room,
hidden by a green curtain.

I requested popular songs:
when given “Theme from My Three Sons,”
I played it, shameless but bored.

By the time I was twelve
my folks gave up. I was free
to roam baseball fields
until the sun went down.

Today I tell parents
of children I teach
how happy I am that I learned
music fundamentals as a child.
And the funny thing is,
it’s true.

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