April A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015: A is for Alouette

#DailyWings: “Music is the strongest form of magic.” -Marilyn Manson

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

Alouette, gentille alouette, Alouette, je te plumerai.

On the first page of Alfred’s Basic Piano Library, a colorful illustration of a bird with large, cartoonish eyes wearing a black beret and striped shirt smiles dreamily, its mouth open as if to sing.

“Alouette” was one of the first songs I learned how to play on the piano. I started piano lessons at seven years old per the will of my mother, who had my sister Hope playing the violin at an even younger age. My parents bought me a piano and we set it up in the living room, between our squishy green couch and a floor lamp. I want to say it was a Yamaha – the piano, I mean – but my memories aren’t perfect.

Every day after school, I would come home to my family’s tiny apartment in Boston, and play piano for an hour. Once a week, my piano teacher — a splinding Chinese woman in her mid-30s — would come over in her signature green sweater, sit on my left side and work through basic scales, chords and songs with me. Sometimes my mother sat with us.

As a beginner, I started by learning simple songs like “Alouette,” “Clair de Lune,” “Kumbaya” and “Swan Lake.” My piano skills grew along with my height, and sooner or later my tiny feet reached the gold pedals. Eventually, I moved on to more difficult pieces and my portfolio expanded to include sonatas, preludes and whimsical nocturnes. But my favorite song to play will always be “Für Elise.”

With its three wildly different movements, “Für Elise” is passionate and emotional – just like me, I felt. One of my piano teachers used to compare the song to a tea party, but to me, the song symbolized a person’s entire lifetime. The first and most recognizable movement starts out being naiveté and romantic, a birth. Not long after, the song bursts with jubilation like a child skipping in the rain, as if to celebrate freedom and the prospect of seemingly endless possibilities. Suddenly, a storm rolls in and the fiery notes of bass clef take over. You feel rebellious, wild. Finally, the song ends with the first, most recognizable movement once again, representing the beautiful, onerous process of self-acceptance. Every movement is like a jolt of shock to your spine, surprising you when you least expect it.

To this day, “Für Elise” is probably the only piano song that I can play from memory. I haven’t tested that theory in at least two years, though.

When my family moved to North Carolina in late 2000, we gave my little piano away to a young girl in a different neighborhood who couldn’t afford her own. I still have Alfred’s Basic Piano Library, the piano book for beginners from which I played “Alouette,” but the front and back covers have fallen off. It’s buried in a white cabinet along with all the other piano books from my childhood. I think about the condition of my piano when we gave it away: Unlike the sleekness of the brand-new Wurlitzer my parents bought for me soon after, there were scratches all over the surface and the keys had cracks in them.

I hope the young girl didn’t mind the cracks and scratches. I like to think that she loved them, and all the notes emitted from the keys. My dad told me that playing piano was one of her dreams. I like to think her dream came true, because we gave her the piano. I wonder where it is now.

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Did you ever play instruments when you were younger? Do you still play today?

12 responses to “April A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015: A is for Alouette”

  1. marie says:

    “Alouette”… i remember singing this song in my french-class… more than a lifetime ago…it still makes me smile :) I love your post and the way you feel about “Für Elise”. I should listen to it again. Thank you for sharing these memories and thoughts! :)

  2. I briefly played the flute, but quit due to a creepy music teacher. How sad! My husband is a musician–self-taught mostly. He’s been in bands since he was 15, and is best at composing and sound producing. He’s super talented.

    Here’s my post: Stephanie Scott IWSG April post

  3. Deb Atwood says:

    What memories! Fur Elise was one of my favorite pieces, too. I still have my old piano books though no one plays in my house…and we no longer have a piano. But I can’t seem to give the old books away.

  4. Heather says:

    I too played the piano growing up, thanks to my great-grandmother who noticed how much my toddler self like to play around on her piano. So, she gave it to me. It had been through a couple fires and required a lot restoration work, but I got a piano! I started lessons at age 5 and played in competitions well into my teens. A few years ago I bought an electric piano, a good one, that I could fit in my apartment, but I need to be better at practicing. :-/ I can still pull off the first and second movement and of Fur Elise. But the third, which is my all-time favourite, is much harder. Like I said, I should practice. I think your post has inspired me to do so!

  5. Robin Rivera says:

    That is a sweet story. My eldest child has perfect pitch and plays piano by ear, but refuses to take any lessons. I hate to push him too much, but I think he could be very good. I played flute as a kid (my mother’s idea) and there are still songs that bring the experience back to me so vividly. Music is a great trigger for memories.

  6. Sweet story. Lovely description of Fur Elise. It is a beloved song of many, many piano students. I am a pianist and piano teacher. I hope my students learn to be as emotionally connected to their songs, not every song, of course. But, I hope they find some that really play their story.
    Play off the Page

  7. Chuck Allen says:

    What a great memory. I remember learning some of those same songs as a child. I only took piano for a few years until I convinced my parents to let me take guitar lessons. I still play today; it is my favorite stress reliever. Good luck with the AtoZ challenge!

  8. Mary says:

    I played the trumpet for a few years in school. My mother played before me and her father before her, so it was kind of a tradition. One of my kids played it after me–but like me only a few years. I always wanted to play piano, so I made my kids take piano lessons. Then I would also practice their songs. That didn’t last longer than a couple years either.
    Great start to the A-to- Z challenge !

    Mary
    The View from my World

  9. Sara L. says:

    What a beautiful first memory to share, Wendy. I never learned to play instruments, but I always wanted to because I love music. Your memory also reminded me of a piano one of my aunts used to own when she still lived in Massachusetts. (She’s now in Tennessee and had to give away the piano before she moved.) Whenever I visited her, I’d always ask if she could play something for me; and when she was done, she’d let me “play” on it. I’m sure my playing sounded horrible, but it put a smile on my face. :)

  10. How sweet is this post?
    I love it!
    Thank you for sharing.
    I hope that little girl still plays!

    Heather M. Gardner
    Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [https://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]

  11. Xiao Fu LIu says:

    Your story was so sweet Wendy. I played flute growing up in the school band and the community band ran by my best friend’s mom. Those were some of my best memories from back in tiny Pamlico County. I’m sad that I’ve let myself fall out of practice. I would really love to take up the piano because like you said it can express such a huge range of emotions. I don’t know if you watch anime, but I just finished watching Your Lie in April. It’s about a piano prodigy who meets a violinist. It is such a beautiful story and the whole show is filled with beautiful music that corresponds perfectly with the storyline. Because of the show for the past week, I’ve only been listening to Chopin on Spotify. I highly recommend it to you if you have the time! Good luck with this challenge!

  12. Anne says:

    Wendy,
    I love the fur elise! I never understood quite why, but I think that may be why. It’s so seemingly simple and then it blooms into something so engaging. I used to play the clarinet but not anymore. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to take it up again.
    Anne

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