When I started studying the accordion a few years ago, I thought it would be nice to perform for my mother. The instrument I was learning on, however, was too heavy to schlep out to Brooklyn, where she lives, every week by train and subway. Fortunately, I found a Casio mini keyboard at a flea market and keep that at my mother’s apartment instead.
When it comes to music, I’m a rank beginner. My prior training consisted of studying the guitar as a young teenager (Old MacDonald Had a Farm was as far as I progressed), and taking piano lessons from my wife in my late 30s. As a piano student though, I never got past Lila Fletcher, Book One. My problem was that I wanted to skip immediately from novice to Bob Dylan and got frustrated that that’s not the way it works.
Seeing Martin Scorsese’s Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, re-inspired me to make a third attempt at music study. I had also heard that keeping the mind active and challenged is recommended as a way of avoiding dementia-related illnesses like my mother’s.
I mention all this just to give you some idea of the level of musical performance my mother, Lillian, is subjected to. The first piece I learned and was able to play for her was called, Skating.
Other melodies that were part of my early repertoire (thanks to Messrs Palmer and Hughes and their proxies, Pam and Hap) included: Go ‘Way, Merrily We Play Along, The Donkey, All Through the Night, Join the Fun, Dreaming, My Bonnie, There’s No Place like Home, and of course!, Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
Although it was beyond my level, I also learned how to play Dayeinu, a rollicking song that is one of the high points of every Passover seder observance. Its chorus consists of the title word, broken into two parts that are repeated again and again at an increasingly frenzied tempo. Surely my mother, having made enough gefilte fish and matzoh balls in her lifetime to feed the Israel Defense Forces as well as Hamas, would enjoy it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make the connection. Instead, she’s happy to sing and clap along with Jingle Bells.
Although my mother’s musical training is less than mine, she always knows when I miss a note. Despite that frequent occurrence, she’s always very complimentary. “You play so well,” she says in all sincerity once I’ve finished stumbling through a piece. It’s embarrassing to admit but even as a 67-year-old, I feel warm and fuzzy whenever I hear those words. That also happens when I sing You Are My Sunshine to my audience of one.
On occasions, I am brave enough not to mind other listeners. Once, while Lillian and I were sitting in the lobby of her assisted living facility, another elderly female resident walked in and joined me for an impromptu concert. I only wish I was able to do as well with the notes as she did with the lyrics.
Porcelain figurine in my mother’s apartment that predates my accordion lessons by decades.