Music has always played a big part of my life. Some very early memories include singing “Naranja Dulce” “Los Pollitos” and other Spanish tunes. I wore out our cassette tape and book of Let’s Sing Together.
I loved looking at the illustrations as I sang along to the tape. My own children have worn out the two copies we have.
My dad would play the guitar and serenade us to sleep at night (when he wasn’t on call at the hospital). He’d gather us on his bed and try to teach us parts to old Beatles songs or Peter, Paul and Mary ballads. One year in elementary school Vanessa and I along with the neighbor girls, Karina and Cindy, sang “Nowhere Man” which was aired on the classroom TVs. We practiced for hours!
In second grade I remember how excited I was when Mrs. Rinaldi said we could sing a song for show and tell. I thought I had done something terribly wrong when she started crying during my presentation. I chose to sing one of my favorite Primary songs, “I’m Trying to be Like Jesus.” She assured me afterwards that I had done nothing wrong. She was just touched by the words.
The piano has always held a draw for me. Shortly after moving to Miami I was excited to start piano lessons! I adored my piano teacher, Jennifer Bassett. She was newly married and helping to put her husband through school (if memory serves me right). She made learning the piano fun! There were games to play and finger exercises to practice over and over. She encouraged me to sing as I played so I would feel comfortable if I ever played in church.
One day, on the way to piano lessons my mom informed me that it would be my last lesson as my parents just couldn’t afford to pay for them anymore. How I cried! When Jennifer opened the door to let me in she saw the state I was in and asked, “Montse, why are you crying?” I hugged her tight and told her this would be my last lesson. We didn’t have the money to pay for more. You know what she said? “That’s no reason why you have to stop taking lessons!” Bless her! She told me that when she was little she faced a similar situation. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay for her lessons. Her piano teacher told her she could take them for free if she promised to pass it on and do the same for her piano students when she was grown. He had faced the same situation when he was little and had made the same promise. She held me out at arms length, looked me straight in the eyes, and made me promise that I would do the same. That promise has been repaid several times over. And every time, I think of Jennifer and the chain of piano teachers who have made similar commitments.
While rifling through my box of childhood momentos the other day I found the program for my sixth grade graduation. I’d forgotten that there had been a talent show! I played and sang “On Broadway.” Why I did that song and not another one I have no idea.
About a year after we moved to Georgia my dad was called as branch president for a newly organized branch. Guess who was called as the pianist for Sacrament meeting? I was scared to death! My parents found a piano teacher who worked with me to learn the hymns in the hymnal. I swear that’s all I played on the piano for about a year until I was comfortable enough to play whichever hymn was chosen for Sunday meetings without having to practice. This same piano teacher was very strict about learning proper techniques. At the time I thought she was being so picky (especially with classical pieces such as Ecossaise, Mazurka in A Minor, and others) but realize now that I had become sloppy and she was making me a better piano player.
Ms. Emily was my last piano teacher. She allowed us to play and study a variety of songs. Her recitals were always big affairs, especially the Christmas one. Ms. Emily was also big on piano competitions. The only one I ever competed in (at age 13) I had to memorize and perform Chopin’s Polonaise in G Minor (scroll down on that link to find a recording you can listen to) and The Easy Winners by Scott Joplin. It was fun and nerve wracking at the same time. Easy Winners has been my back up piece ever since when asked to play a piano piece on the spur of the moment. And I still enjoy playing Chopin. I hold the same sentiments as Gilbert in Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist: “After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.”
My parents have said they could tell what moods my siblings and I were in just by the music we chose to practice on the piano. It was a gauge for them to see how we were doing and they took cues from it. For instance when Mr. Ferrero Rocher and I were engaged, he lived in Nevada and I lived in Georgia. I played Jessica’s Theme (from The Man From Snowy River) on the piano whenever I started missing him. Needless to say I drove my family plumb crazy as I played it ALL. THE. TIME.