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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Everybody needs a mentor. Or, how it all began.

A long time ago.
Okay, let's start again.
Exactly eleven years ago, I decided it was high time to pursue my dream of being a writer. I didn't have a clue what that might mean. But I did know somebody who wrote funny essays in the newspaper, maintained a great website about the South LONG before anybody coined the word Blog--at least in my existence. And she'd written books!

Besides, I was a librarian. I read books. How hard could it be to write one?

Oh, boy. I had a lot to learn.

But my friend Beth Jacks decided I could take baby steps.
She invited me to become her website USADEEPSOUTH's book reviewer. Now that was a whole lot of fun! I began reviewing for a couple of others places and sites. I got free books, and occasionally a small check in the mail.

Beth never stopped encouraging me. All the way to the publication of my first book and the fabulous GLORY BE party last spring in my hometown of Cleveland, MS.

So I guess I can forgive her for remembering the piano recital. And even for writing about that recital.
The one that I fainted dead away off the piano bench and had to be helped from the stage of the Women's Club's gathering room. Hey. It was summer. It was the South. It was hot.

I've been thinking a lot about piano playing. It figures in something I've worked on perfecting for a while now. But I'd totally forgotten about that recital until Beth's essay appeared in her Snippets column in newspapers all over the South.  I can't send you to the link but I can quote from the funny piece. Here's a bit of the ending.

By Beth Boswell Jacks

Piano recitals test fathers and fortitude

“Historians may argue that Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ but personally, I think it was first uttered by a daddy sneaking out of a piano recital.” ~ Anon.

(here's where I entered the essay...)

But the comedy at my beloved piano teacher Gladys Woodward’s 1957 recital was not funny at the time, at least not to my sister Kathy, then 11 years old.

Our dear friend Augusta Russel Scattergood preceded Kathy on the program. Gusty exited the cramped, hot “waiting room” behind the stage and walked to the piano to play (probably) “To A Wild Rose” or some other piano recital classic. As Gusty’s fingers hit the keys, so did her head. Kerplop. She fainted. Dead away.

Two of the daddies jumped up to haul the faintee back out the stage door into the cubicle where the other terrified pianists hovered in their dotted swiss. The men lifted Gusty gently, one daddy holding her shoulders, the other her white stockinged legs. The girl had nary a foot on the floor.

As the comatose body passed through the door, undaunted teacher Gladys pushed sister Kathy onstage to play (what else?) “Fur Elise.” Kathy recalls her fright, saying, “I stared at Gusty’s body and thought, Wow, if the folks in the audience did that to her, what are they going to do to me?”

Feeling there was no escape and ever the trouper (but not the pianist), Kathy positioned herself prettily on the piano bench and began.

Da dee da dee da dee da da da . . .

In the following minutes, the audience would hear these notes again and again and again. There was no getting past those first nine notes of “Fur Elise.”

Where did the music go next? Kathy didn’t know. What’s more, she didn’t care. She played the equivalent of three pages of those same nine notes, got up, bounced her saucy self back out the door, and told Mama later she’d jump in the Mississippi River before she set foot at another piano recital.

For a long time Kathy blamed her catastrophic performance on Gusty’s fainting spell, but personally I think the fault lies entirely with Beethoven.

Nobody should have to play “Fur Elise” or listen to it. Ask a daddy.

Oh, and while I have the floor. It wasn't quite as bad as Beth described it.
As a child, I fainted frequently. Usually in church. Always in the heat. I think my grandmother's generation called it The Vapors. My head did not kerplop onto the piano keys. I'm sure I was much more graceful than that.

This is NOT me playing. But it is the piece I can now play without a mistake.


Beth said...

Ha haaa, Gusty. According to all reports, you DID kerplop, dead away. I remember the daddies hauling you through that door to this day! But it wasn't at the Women's Club, as I recall. There was a little music building behind the Hill Demonstration School with a tiny stage. I believe THAT was the scene of the famous fainting.

Barbara O'Connor said...

This is great. Glad you shared.

Leslie Davis Guccione said...

The dreaded the piano recital is universal enough. Fainting on the keyboard is frosting. Vapors!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I think you're supposed to say, this is the piece I can play with nary a mistake!

Piano recitals! I never had to do one (I don't play) but I remember how my daughter agonized over hers.

Augusta Scattergood said...

Ah yes, Joyce. Nary a mistake.
This is a part of my history I think I'll forget though!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

No wonder you're writing about piano playing kids and recitals. I could, too, I guess, but I'm still traumatized!!!

Course, then I ended up a Piano major in college . . . had my own home studio with 20 students for years. And I was writing during all this time, too. When my students found out I was a writer (these are in my VERY early days of writing) they would read my newest story or chapter while waiting for their lesson.


Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

By the way, this post is FANTASTIC!!!

PragmaticMom said...

I love hearing about how writers got started. Thank you for sharing! I am trying to write my first book so this is very inspirational.

Lee Stokes Hilton said...

OMG -- I, too played "To a Wild Rose." What memories. And, lord, how I hated playing the piano. I took lessons because my grandmother said she'd buy us a piano if I wanted to take lessons. So my mother said, "Of course she wants to take lessons!"
Great post.

Augusta Scattergood said...

The mere mention of piano recitals seems to put fear in our hearts. I will refrain from blogging about them again. It is not one of my better moments, To a Wild Rose...