Friday, February 11, 2011


this afternoon, i wanted something beautiful.

i wanted to sit down with my blog and have something beautiful to write, some beautiful photograph to edit. but i had nothing to write except emails and childcare schedules, no photos to upload except some of luke's new dresser that i've needed to send to my parents since christmas--nothing beautiful whatsoever. i read some other people's beautiful words--an article, some blogs--but i had nothing of my own to say.

i'm no artist, but in those few spare moments while luke played outside with the neighbors, i wanted something of beauty.

something made me sit down at the piano keyboard, luke's birthday gift from last fall. once upon a time, i used to spend hours at the piano in my own house, preferring above all to play "fur elise" from memory. i realize now that i was a piano teacher's nightmare, always memorizing my music rather than reading it each time i played. thus my playing chugged along at a decent pace, but my sightreading was never more than marginal. (honestly, i didn't have much patience for the whole endeavor at all, preferring to participate in some sport that included the risk of death rather than learn to play an instrument whose biggest risk seemed to me to be a sprained finger.) i've been reminded of my laziness at sightreading as i have sung with our church choir these past few years--i can't even try to sing a piece of music until i've heard it at least once. music prodigy i was not, nor will i ever be.

anyhow, since luke got his keyboard, i have pecked away at "fur elise" and the few other songs still alive in my memory and my fingers. but huge parts of the song have been missing, and neither do i own the music nor would i likely be able to read one bit of it if i did. so i've never spent much time trying to get it back, for lack of patience most of all. but today, it struck me that if i could remember some more of it, surely "fur elise" would satisfy my craving for something of beauty.

it occurs to me that i might have been better off listing to it online or on cd...but i digress.

so i took advantage of luke's time outside with his buddies, and instead of putting away the laundry or cleaning up the kitchen or starting work on dinner, i pecked away at "fur elise." luke came inside once as i played, for a quick snack and a what are you playing, mom?, hoping that i was trying out some of his selections for the week. ms. kristin [his piano teacher] would be proud of you, he declared as he and his string cheese disappeared out the door again. my hunting and pecking for long-lost chords was hardly something to be proud of, i knew. but although the music was sorely lacking, even once i had re-found all the notes and strung them together relatively smoothly, i was discovering something of beauty.

because as i fought to find a chord, i could try all i wanted to match what my right and left hands were doing by ear, but i failed most every time. i could look at the keys and try to remember where my hands were supposed to go next, but that didn't work very often. what worked best was to start at the beginning over and over again and just play. each time i did that, i got a little farther in the song, sometimes without even realizing it. my thinking brain, no matter how hard it thought about what notes would sound right together or where it made sense for the next chord to land, had nothing on the physical memory in my fingers. if i could stop looking at my hands, stop thinking about the notes and just let my fingers move, they often knew where to go.

so i figured it out, note by note, thankful that luke and his buddies were so occupied by the trampoline. i can't say it was all that beautiful when i at last played it through, but it was satisfying if nothing else. it's a beautiful song, for certain, so even if my version sounded choppy and hacked, in my head i could hear it pretty well. but the beauty wasn't in the music.

the beauty was in the mystery of what my hands were up to. maybe it's because i've recently been reading a book about liturgy in the church, about the beauty in the mystery of it all, but i found the mystery of how my hands could know what to do when my head seemed to have no idea beautiful. (by the way, if you're at all of the liturgical persuasion--anglican, catholic, episcopal, or otherwise--or have maybe visited such a church and are curious what their liturgies are all about, i highly recommend mark galli's beyond smells and bells, which is the book i've been reading recently. it's highly accessible and enlightening, even to a nearly-lifetime liturgical worshiper like me.) it seems to me a beautiful thing our Creator did when he made our minds to work this way--that our hands (controlled by our minds, of course) can "know" something that our thinking, rational minds don't realize they know. muscle memory, it's called, or something like that. i call it nothing short of miraculous, mysterious, and beautiful.

it satisfied my craving for today, at least. maybe tomorrow i'll get my camera out.

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