Some years ago, I saw a program about artisans in Florence, Italy. As my mother is from there, I really wanted to watch it. In the show, they said that to be a true artist you had to have, “The hand that obeyed the mind.” This was a rough translation of the Italian phrase. Over the years, I’ve come to realize this phrase applies to other artists than merely those that paint or sculpt; it can also apply to musicians.
Now, me, sure, I can play the piano. I can play the notes; I can even bang out a tune and have it sound halfway decent. I don’t have those hands that obey the mind. I can play the notes, but I cannot create the music. I say create because making true music really is an act of creation. When you do that, when you truly create music, you can make women swoon, grown men cry and children laugh.
I know such a person.
He got his start as a child prodigy. He and his sister played the piano from a young age, and they came to the attention of Rudy Vallee – quite the popular singer of his day. In fact, he was the first of the “Crooners.” Before Bing Crosby, Perry Como and even Frank Sinatra, Rudy set the standard.
That piano player I know used to open for Rudy; his dad was Rudy’s chauffer.
As time rolled by, things changed. The piano player had to move on with his life. During World War II, he was too young to enlist. Instead, he was a Western Union telegram delivery boy. During that time, he was a virtual pariah, on a par with the Angel of Death! The military notified next of kin about the death of a soldier, flyer or navy fighter by a telegram. He would ride his bike into a neighbourhood and all eyes would be upon him, wondering which house his “Touch of Death” was going to strike down.
Fortunately, this portion of his life was short. Upon reaching adulthood, he moved on to marriage, family and work. Yet, there was also the piano. He didn’t play it nearly as much as an adult – time was short. Still, as time slipped by, he found the time and saw his first granddaughter follow his example; she became a concert level pianist.
Years later, he saw how his second granddaughter, my daughter, also shared his talent for creating music. Yes, that’s right: it’s my father-in-law.
Unfortunately, as with so many other talents people possess, the ability to create music dims with time and age. There finally came a time when he no longer played the piano that had sat for so many years in his living room. Yet, he could not bring himself to get rid of it; it remained a powerful memory of times gone by. He gave the piano to my daughter. We brought it home, had it tuned and she began to play it. As my wife said, playing the piano became her “mental health.” She would come home from school and immediately sit down at the piano, and play for a good half hour at least.
At first, she played tunes from movies, musicals, and various artists she liked. Then, over time, her urge to create took hold, and she began to compose her own works. Her grandfather would come to visit. It nourished his heart and soul to see his piano put to good use.
The desire to create beauty successfully been passed to the next generation, and he knows that his piano is safe. One day, when she has a place of her own, I’m sure his piano will have a place of honor there.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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