My Daddy was a long-haul truck driver. He traveled the entire country in the course of moving his loads and getting them to their delivery ports. He wasn’t home every day. But when he was home, we watched the Lawrence Welk Show on T.V. together. Joanne Castle was the pianist – ragtime was her style. Daddy loved to watch her play. So did I. I don’t remember him asking me if I wanted a piano, but I do remember the results.
On his next trip out, Daddy searched everywhere for a used piano that we could afford. He found one in a barn in Kentucky. It was old and worn but still had a good tone. Daddy bought it for $75 and put it in the trailer of his truck. He tied it down so it would travel safely. He and Momma kept it a surprise.
When Daddy got home, he unloaded the piano and put it in the family room. It needed quite a bit of work, but he was confident he could do it. In fact, he ordered a correspondence course called Rebuilding and Tuning the Upright Grand Piano (or something very close to it). He bought strings and felts, hammers and keys. He spent every spare moment working on it.
I watched him work. He was very careful as he removed the strings, hammers and felts. It took months to restring and replace the hammers and felts. Of course, I was only five at the time, so my attention span was short. I checked in with him countless times, asking, “Is it ready?” He always said, “Not yet; soon,” and returned to his task as I returned to mine.
Finally, the day came that the piano was ready to play. Daddy sat down and played a few chords. His mother, my grandmother, was a pianist. He must have learned what little he knew by listening to her play. He only sat there for a moment before he sat me on the piano bench he had made. I touched the new ivories with awe. I wanted to play the piano more than anything else in the world.
Daddy and Momma knew a lady who taught piano lessons. Her name was Maureen Ricks Moore. I started lessons when I started first grade, at age six. Momma cleaned Mrs. Moore’s home to pay for my lessons. I loved playing from the start. I had lessons twice a week. Mrs. Moore placed a gold star on the page of each song I played correctly from memory. When I finished with Teaching Little Fingers to Play, she moved me into the John Thompson series of books. The piano became my best friend.
Mrs. Moore entered her students into the National Fraternity of Student Musicians. We played in annual Piano Auditions, where we received grades for our piano performance as well as testing on an understanding of music theory. I advanced along a trajectory designed to prepare me for a piano major in college.
My fondest memories are twofold. First, my Daddy worked shift work at a copper mine outside Tucson. He would come home from graveyard shift at about 8:00 in the morning. He always asked me to play the piano for him so he could go to sleep. I played Shubert’s Serenade, Indian Love Call, Stardust, Deep Purple, and a host of classical pieces I had learned for the Auditions. He always slept best after I played.
Second, Daddy formed a country-western band when I was in grammar school. I played the piano to the guitar, bass, and accordion he recruited. Friends, we played every weekend at our home. The chords and riffs I learned there would form the basis of my playing for years to come.
I still remember playing Daddy to sleep. The memories are solace now that he’s gone home to be with his Maker. I play today with other musicians who enjoy playing music that brings comfort to our listeners. My early training developed an instinctual sensitivity to the emotions that music impacts. I love it when listeners tell me my music calms them.
Thanks, Daddy. For the piano, for the lessons, for your love.