I Carry It In My Heart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

E.E. Cummings

The Friday night recital has more people than usual, the perfect confluence of no other scheduled events and the novel introduction of clever advertising by an enterprising strings teacher. So we know who’s playing tonight, and the many of us too weary to consider other more ambitious plans are happy to sit quietly in the dark, listening to our friends and students play music for us. It’s delightful.

Having come mostly to hear one of the girls in our small group play her flute, I haven’t paid much attention to the other names on the program until the recital starts. To my pleasant surprise, I see that most of the performers are current or former students, students I’ve heard practicing for ages, their notes wafting across the hall from their practice rooms through the open door of my classroom.

I haven’t read carefully enough, however, to anticipate the familiarity of the music itself. A tiny girl plays a Suzuki etude, a taller one a minuet from later in the book. I hear a cello suite I played in college–albeit on viola. The quartet, though it plays unfamiliar music, reminds me unmistakably of the quartet in which I played for most of high school. With every note I’m transported to a younger self, from childhood to adolescence and back, each song a different era.

Toward the end of the concert, one of my current students sits down at the grand piano to play. Her piece is titled “Improvisation” and has no composer, the meaning of which I don’t quite comprehend until she starts playing. Her hands move slowly, gracefully over the keys, pulling themes and phrases from thin air. The music flows over us, a chorus of gentle rumination for a quiet Friday evening, this song she’s making up as she goes.

And tears fill my eyes, because I’ve heard this piece before. Not this one, of course–no one has ever heard this one, even the pianist herself. But even more than the other pieces, those fragments of twelve years of violin study, this music is home. Because this is how my father plays, the effortless improvisation of a music composition major turned pastor. I’m sitting in a series of living rooms, on the couch beside his baby grand piano, listening to music that was always and never the same. His music. Sometimes I would play along–picking up a viola or violin and hoping he wouldn’t stop before I was ready to join in–and more often I would just sit and listen to these notes, my father’s favorite voice.

My parents sold the piano earlier this week, something that my dad reflected on in eloquent detail here. In this busy week, I haven’t had many moments to think about it until now, listening to this student play. There’s a sense of loss, yes, knowing that whenever I make it back to Seattle, I won’t play with Holly and my dad in the living room again by candlelight. But then, the piano is only a product of larger change, not its catalyst. I live in Germany, after all. Times with Dad and his piano are in the past, anyway.

For a moment I see the world in tear-blurred double. On one side the distant past of the piano and the living room, the simplicity of the five of us living in that house by Greenlake. This past is Instagram-perfect, uncomplicated and warm. I know it isn’t completely true, but these are my piano-fueled memories, so I don’t bother them. The other layer, though, is the present, and when I return to it I see that it is just as lovely here. My students are playing and hearing music together on a Friday night, with snow in the forecast for tomorrow. I’m surrounded by friends, living in a quiet valley and doing what I love every day. When we’re done, I  congratulate my flute-playing small group girl and the quartet. I watch an older brother congratulate his sister not with flowers, but with a fresh pineapple. We disperse into the night, going separate ways and glad to have shared the music for a while.

And my family, the family I connect with all this music, remains nearby, always. They are everywhere, popping into the scene with lines of poetry, discussions about books, and of course phrases of music. I carry them with me, wherever I go.

And for these things, this past of blessing and this present of beauty, I’m very thankful.

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