It was the summer of 1974 and I had just completed the first grade. My mother, brother, sister and I had recently moved into an apartment sans my father. My parents had recently separated, and all had changed in my world. One afternoon while my younger brother and sister were off playing in other areas of our apartment, I was curled up reading a book in the living room. My mom invited me to join her beside the large, console stereo that sat behind our sofa. She was sitting in front of the open cabinet doors, flipping through a stack of albums. My mom loved music, and had a wide variety of albums by artists that reflected her varied taste. She invited me me to sit beside her and told me she had something special she wanted me to hear. Holding up the album cover so I could see it, she said, “This is one of my favorites, and I want to play you something on it.” I hadn’t remembered seeing this cover before. She carefully took the album from its white paper sleeve, secured it on the turntable, and flipped on the power switch. She placed the needle carefully on the correct track, then looked at me and said, “This is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. Listen. Music like this always tells a story. Close your eyes and see what story comes to your mind with each part. Just listen.”
As the music wafted through the air, I watched my mom lean her body back against the stereo cabinet, close her eyes and smile a soft smile. I sat still, listened to the music and reflected on her words from a six-year-old’s perspective. As I watched, it seemed as though the music had taken her away to a special, happy place where all was right and good. I liked that.
It was around that same time that I started taking piano lessons. A friend had given my mom some old piano music. Among the collection was a book of classical music for earlier/intermediate piano students. She opened that book to page 51 — Theme from Piano Concerto No 1 by Tchaikovsky, and told me that she would love it if I would learn how to play it.
That initial moment and the one that followed held great significance for me, although I wouldn’t recognize the significance until many years later. I grew up secretly loving classical music since it wasn’t “cool” for an adolescent or teenager to admit such a thing. After several years of taking piano lessons, I was finally ready to learn this special piece of music and honor my mom’s request. Unfortunately, not long after I really started learning it, I had to stop taking lessons due to unforeseen circumstances. I eventually learned this piece on my own, but it was never as polished as I would have liked or it should have been. Despite this being the case, each time I played it, my mom would look into the living room and smile that same soft smile at me. She never said anything, just smiled. I smiled back, knowing that we understood each other and the memories that understanding held.
Many years later, my daughter started taking piano lessons. This prompted me to think about taking lessons again. For my initial assessment, I played for my ever-patient and wonderful teacher, a rather crude rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. I remember telling my mom this, and she seemed proud and happy that I had started taking lessons again, and would be playing this piece.
Fast forward to an afternoon in the early fall of this year. I looked through the mail and saw that our season tickets for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Concerts had arrived. I read through the season program, and noticed that the program for the November concert would feature Igor Kamenz, a brilliant and very accomplished pianist, performing, yes, you guessed it, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. I could hardly wait for the concert date. The anticipation of hearing this piece performed live was equivalent to Christmas morning to me as a child.
As Mr. Kamenz approached the piano at center stage, I felt the emotion build within me. I sat mesmerized as his fingers danced across the piano keys and the orchestra joined him to beautifully perform this piece in full splendor. Tears formed in my eyes and my heart swelled with the memory of the many times my mom looked in on me as I played the much simpler version of this piece, but especially with the memory of that initial moment when she invited me to listen to this piece for the first time. Just the two of us, sitting on the floor by the console stereo when I watched her take in the music, and she invited me to do the same. It was a powerful memory. A powerful moment.
You never know when something as small as inviting someone to listen to music will make an impact. I invite you to remain open to all the seemingly insignificant moments in our life, especially with our children. You never know when a moment will really matter and make a true difference that will last a lifetime.
I don’t think my mom ever realized the power of that moment we shared, but I know I do and always will.