playing by ear


I’m afraid my words will not be enough. 

Or they may be too much. 

Perhaps life’s great mysteries should only be allowed to exist in their authentic forms.  To be observed or experienced, or in this case, heard first hand.  To be free to imprint the heart and soul exactly as they are, unenhanced or undiminished by the story teller.

Certainly when it comes to Grandma Trudi there is enough to write about without touching this topic.  And yet.

None of us who hear her play will ever think of music or where it comes from in the same way. 

She plays by ear.

I’ve heard she learned to play at her mother’s side in silent movie houses in the 1920s and later evolved her unique style of “chording” from playing with different people along the way.  I’ve seen pictures of her playing in the 50s that included people in party attire dancing to her boogie woogie.  I’ve watched catatonics rise to the Minnesota Rouser when she’s wheeled to the nursing home piano.  And though we must prompt her now by humming the tune rather than calling out the songs by name, she delivers her repertoire with a flair that is hers alone, bringing a smile to every face in the room  —  including her own.

At a recent holiday gathering, Grandma Trudi announced she had to go potty just as dinner was winding down.  To buy some time for the three of us it would take to execute this manuever, it was suggested that Grandma Trudi play the piano.  Understandably not utterly thrilled about this opportunity, she complied graciously — like an angel in distress — distress the likes of which we would only fully realize when the bathroom scene played out 30 minutes later.

Grandma Trudi can’t see the piano keys or the faces of people gathered around her and she can’t lift her own feet to the pedals.  Her memory is faded and one of her fingers is oddly shrunken.  But she’s got the music in her.

God put the music in her and put her with us and I am thankful for this in a profound way beyond any words God has put in me.

Author: Julie Ann Stevens

My art flows from the patterns & paths of my lived experience which ⏤ like yours ⏤ are at once deeply personal and entirely universal.

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