Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, May 10, 2004


I forgot to mention my grandma when discussing the personal roots of my eclecticism in my post last night. She studied piano at Northwestern University in the ‘20s and used to trade her orchestra tickets to see touring Broadway shows in downtown Chicago, though she loved classical music too and gave me beautiful records -- Debussy, Chopin, Rossini. Till the end of her life, even though she had Parkinson’s, she could play just about anything by ear. Her favorite TV show -- at least by the time I was hanging around and paying attention -- was Lawrence Welk, a taste I have tried but failed to cultivate for myself. She taught music in elementary schools when she was younger; I don’t know when she stopped doing that.

My mom -- her daughter -- took piano lessons as a kid. I think she told me that she only took lessons for a couple years and gave them up for cheerleading, which astonishes me. Not the cheerleading, but the brevity of her study, because she can sightread almost anything. She knows no theory though, can’t transpose at all, can’t play chords if they’re written by name above a melody line.

My mom has made money on and off accompanying ballet classes and high school choirs, which makes me a second generation semi-pro musician, because I make a little money every once in a while playing my folk-rock songs in smokey clubs. Whenever we get together we get out songbooks and she plays and I sing. I didn’t get into doing this until 10 or 12 years ago or so. Embarrassingly late, but glad to have gotten there.

Mom came out and visited a few weeks ago. I took her to band practice at the bass player’s house. The bass player’s partner is in night school when we practice, and they have a 16-month-old girl who’s 12 days older than my boy. Practice is usually interrupted by some bedtime ritual -- putting her to bed, giving her a bath. The bass player, Robert, took voice lessons some years ago and his piano is covered with songbooks, including one of Copland and one of Samuel Barber, a less famous 20th century American composer. When Mom and I first got there, Robert was giving his daughter a bath, and so I sang a song while Mom played Robert’s piano. Can’t remember what song -- some old pop or other.

What I do remember is that we got the drummer, Bob, to sing one. Bob had studied voice in college but hadn’t sung in years and can’t sing and play drums at the same time. He had heard one of the Barber songs in Robert’s book and asked my mom to play it. They stumbled through it together once and then did it for real, a dissonant and rhythmically difficult and ultimately lovely song with words by James Agee. Bob has a beautiful baritone. He and Robert have played together for years, and Robert had never heard him sing.

All of us were delighted.

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