Friday, January 15, 2010

Mrs. Kelly

I started piano lessons in the second grade. My piano teacher was named Mrs. Kelly, and she came once a week. She listened to me play my songs, and then gave me exercises, scales, and songs to practice for the next week. We didn't have a piano at our house, but my grandparents lived right next door and they had a baby grand. This is where I practiced the piano daily, and where I'd meet Mrs. Kelly each week for my lesson, and there was a well-worn path between the two houses.

I can barely recall Mrs. Kelly's face. I do think she was fairly old, had grey hair and still lived with her mother, who must have been ancient. But Mrs. Kelly was devoted to her occupation and her students, and I looked forward to our weekly lessons, which I kept up with for many, many years.

I still remember many of Mrs. Kelly's instructions on how to hold my hands (curved over the keys) and the best way to do the fingering as I moved up and down the keyboard practicing scales. I progressed through all the John Thompson song books, some of which I still own and cherish. But the piece of advice I remember the most is one I have taken to heart - and used as a mantra throughout my life. "Make the Melody Sing," she would say, as I hashed out my rendition of some well-known classical standard I had practiced that week.

Make the Melody Sing. Those words have come back to me, again and again, throughout my life. What is the most important thing? What route to I want to follow? What is it I'm trying to do here?

And now, as I hash through words and different renditions of a novel manuscript I'm working on, as I practice and fumble and try to find the best fingering, the correct format, and the right words to make up a story out of thin air, Mrs. Kelly's words spring to mind once again. Make the Melody Sing.

What is it I'm really trying to say? What is the most important thing here? What is the meaning of this story? Because at some point in a novel, maybe half-way through, maybe 3/4 of the way, maybe towards the end, those questions hit you smack in the face and demand to be answered. And when that happens, when I'm searching for the theme of a story, for the thread of an idea that flows from the beginning to the end, and cannot seem to grasp it, I sometimes remember my old piano teacher's word and it really, really helps me.

Make the Melody Sing.

Thank you, Mrs. Kelly, for your sound advice.


Katrina Stonoff said...

I didn't know you played the piano!

I did John Thompson too, but I didn't make it to Fifth Grade. I got to Third Grade, which is the book where they no longer show the picture of where your hands are to be placed, no longer number every note with which finger plays it, and expect you to move your hands. I couldn't play at all. I'd thought I was learning to play the piano, but all I'd learned were the numbers for each finger.

My mom tried to go back and catch me up, but it didn't take, and I gave up. When I was a freshman in high school, I tried again. I remembered the "every good boy does fine" mantras and the counting, so I sat down with a piece of music ("Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin -- weird choice, huh?) and figured out what to play, note by note. When I finished the song, I started again. On the third time through, I was no longer doing "every good boy does fine" on the Bb, and I realized, suddenly, that THAT was what playing the piano meant.

Now I play fairly well, and I agree that it's a great gift.

Linda Benson said...

Ha! Yes, I have to admit I relearned the piano myself when I initally attempted to jam with my first husband (a rock-and-roll guitarist) and his friends. Classical music did me no good at all at that point, until I learned chords, picked out the melody, and bingo, there I was!!

I still play, mostly for myself anymore, but yeah, it definitely "soothes the soul."

Farmgirl_dk: said...

I bet this would tickle Mrs. Kelly to no end to hear you finding such meaning in her words after all these years!

Susan said...

I'm going to remember that one.