Chapter 7 tells of tuning for Gladys Troupin, a fixture of the Boston music scene, and of her story of being engaged to George Gershwin at the time of his death. There is a new announcement put out by the Lenox Hotel about a tribute that was held for Gladys. Both the announcement and the video link it contains continue the story about the George Gershwin engagement:
That image in the announcement is of a later pianist. That is not how Gladys looked. I have not yet been able to find a picture of her with her white curly hair and beautiful dresses with matching hats.
Chapter 28 tells of the extraordinary achievements of Maury, a friend of mine, who was in my class at piano tuning school. Maury is not his real name. In Piano Dance, for most of the people who are not famous, I changed the names to respect their privacy. The one exception is Kelly, the piano teacher in Chapter 32. He gave me permission to use his actual name.
I had lost track of Maury over the years, so I searched the internet to find a way to contact him, in order to ask if he wanted me to use his real name in the book. I read through numerous postings on the internet and found an old phone number. I called it to see if he still had the same number and he answered the phone, as he was standing on a street in Mexico. We had a great time catching up on the last 40 years, and he agreed to read this chapter about him. I gave him the opportunity to refuse to have his story published, as well.
After he had read the chapter, we talked on the phone. His reaction was, “I can’t believe you recalled so many details about my life.” I said I found it pretty easy, because it was so interesting. I asked him if I got anything wrong, and he said I got some of the things out of order, but the only thing that was inaccurate was the color of the shoes he wore when he conducted the jazz band in Sanders Hall at Harvard. He recalled that although the group was called, “Composers in Red Sneakers,” he wore purple Converse Allstars when he conducted. Then he said an interesting thing. He said, “It’s not important that every detail is actually accurate. The important thing is that all this is your memories. That is what is important.” I appreciated that advice. As a result, you will find that the story in Piano Dance still has him dressed in red sneakers, not purple.
I asked if he wanted me to use his real name in the story, and he declined. I accepted that and didn’t ask why. I didn’t want him to feel like he needed to defend his choice. For one thing, he hadn’t read any of the other stories in the book, so he couldn’t know whether he wanted to be part of something of unknown quality. Also, we all know now, that privacy is a big issue on the internet. So I don’t know the answer, and I’m willing to live with the mystery.
Chapter 30 described an older pianist who gave challenging annual concerts on her birthdays for her friends. She was a wonderful role model for living life to the full as long as one can.
Here is a link to a performance of one of the pieces she played, Chopin’s Nocturne #7 in C# minor, Op. 27 No.1: LINK
As I age, I have found that learning new music is especially renewing to my cognitive ability. I am fortunate that I can also sing, so memorizing the words and performing both the piano and song together make even more demands on my brain. It’s amazing how it clears the fog. I find it very encouraging that I can keep learning even at an advanced age.
My piano tuning career continued after the publication of Piano Dance, so I continued to meet interesting and extraordinary people. This story is about a client for whom I had tuned for several years. He was a genius at playing piano by ear. After I would tune his piano, he would play tunes that I knew and we would sing the songs together. Gradually over several years, he related details about his life. Here is some of his story:
Richard was a retired nurse, who had had a long career with a large hospital in the Los Angeles area. While he worked as a nurse, he had a side job on a television set helping actors pronounce medical terms. One day during the filming of Guiding Light, an actor was not able to reliably pronounce “glomerular nephritis,” an inflammation of the kidney. The director got so exasperated with the actor that he fired him on the spot. The director then turned to Richard and asked him if he wanted the part. Richard said, “sure,” so he became Dr. Michael Ferguson on daytime TV. Richard was not inexperienced. When he was a young man living on Cape Cod near Hyannisport, he acted in a small theater near the residence of Judy Garland. As a result he rubbed shoulders with both Ms. Garland and her daughter, Liza Minelli. He looked very much the part of a dashing doctor. I saw a picture of him when he was a young man, and he was tall and very handsome with wavy dark hair.
Richard had begun playing piano as a small child. He would listen to his older brother struggling through his piano lesson, then he would sit down and play the whole lesson by ear perfectly. He said it drove his brother crazy. He played throughout his life, but never professionally. He gradually added songs until he could play about 1500 songs by ear or by memory. By contrast, well-known professionals might have 300 songs memorized. It was so easy for him to play by ear that he never learned to read music.
As an adult, he decided to buckle down and learn to read music, so he took lessons with a well-known teacher. It was a struggle for him, but he applied himself and worked diligently at it. At one lesson, after he completed playing a piece for his teacher, the teacher commented on his playing, saying, “That was excellent, except you forgot to turn the page two minutes ago.” Richard had been playing from memory and by ear so automatically that he didn’t even realize it. The teacher continued, “I think it’s time we just acknowledge that your talent is so great that there is no point in you torturing yourself any further trying to learn to read music.”
After Richard retired, he went to various hospital and nursing homes around LA on several days per week and played old songs for a few hours as a contribution. He told me of one day when he was playing in a hospital and noticed a woman who had come in and out of the room a few times during the day, and who finally just sat and listened for a couple hours. At the end of the day, she came up to Richard and told him how much she appreciated his playing. She said her husband had died there that day, and Richard had played all the old songs they had loved when they were young. She said it was like her husband was saying,”good-bye” to her through Richard’s music.
Richard said that he was more moved by that than by anything that had happened during his decades as a nurse.