Monday, March 03, 2008


At the daycare where I work, when the children lie down to nap, my co-teacher turns on classical music on National Public Radio. The other day, one of the featured works was "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens.

This is a creative epic featuring 14 little movements musically representing a number of animals in illustrative, eloquent, sensitive, and in some cases, even comic style. It's been a favorite of mine all my life.

"The Swan" movement brought me to tears, right there among the sleeping toddlers.

It's a cello-piano piece in which the cello solo portrays the swan gliding gracefully along the water surface, while the piano forms the rippling water of its wake.

Photo by Steve Rutherford -- thanks!

It brought me to tears because, when I was in high school, I used to play that piano accompaniment for my mother, whose cello sang the swan. We were beautiful together and, there in the room with the children, I imagined hearing that music after my mother is no longer here, and that is what brought the tears. I will never be able to hear that music again without tears.

I got to thinking..... I need to recall and re-learn that music, and she and I have got to play it together and record it. I haven't played it for 40 years. She only gets her cello out, nowadays, to play "O Holy Night" in church at Christmas.

My mother used to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And the Baltimore Symphony. And the Washington National Symphony.

My mother was major league. She stopped playing the cello professionally to have a baby. Me.

I called my mother and told her, that this summer, we have to make a recording of us playing that music together. She was thrilled.

I called my mother again. I want us to record all the stuff we used to play together, The Schubert Ave Maria. The Gunod Ave Maria (which is Bach's "Prelude in C Major" for piano, with an overmelody composed by Charles Gunod.) Sometimes I played these to accompany her cello. Sometimes she played the piano to accompany my singing.

There's Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," which was played at her wedding, and mine, and Valerie's, and Jonathan's, and Avery's (my children... my mother played it at all 3, to a tape of herself on the piano.) The Lullaby from Madame Butterfly. I'll have to learn that one. The list goes on.

She is extremely excited about getting out her cello, and digging out the music, and playing it all with me. I keep calling her with more compositions I want to include. She calls me with ideas of hers. Some I've never played. It is going to be a huge project for us both. She has to get her bow arm back into use. I have to get my piano fingers back on the keys and get my flowing and rippling back into smooth silk. In some cases, I'm going to have to get the sheet music and learn it, or re-learn it, note-by-note, since, as I said in my previous post, although I am an artistic and accomplished pianist, ironically, I never had real lessons (except voice lessons) and barely read music. Kind of like someone who's functionally illiterate memorizing Robert Frost and Shakespeare.

I am really looking forward to this. We're going to record ourselves playing together, for the first time in my 56 and her 87 years. And when she's gone, I will weep whenever I hear this music performed. Especially "The Swan."

And it occurs to me.....we will be recording the tape that will be played at her funeral.

And, eventually.....mine.


Jade Lady said...

I previewed the song on iTunes to determine if it was familiar. Nope, but it was a beautiful song, and as it was playing, I was imagining you and your mother playing it together.

What a wonderful idea to bring the two of you together. You mother was quite the musician!

I'm going to call my mom today. I need to plan a visit to go visit her in CA. It's been too long. As always, thank you for such an inspiring story! Keep 'em coming!

From Here to There said...

Your post moved me to tears too. How lovely that you will get together to play again!

Love all the pieces, and miss them! My daughter is quite an accomplished pianist and viola player and when in high school we would attend music nights where they played all these pieces. Brings back lovely memories. She's a very busy 21 year old now, but she did play the piano on the weekend for the first time in a couple of years. It was WONDERFUL. She intends to make the time to play again. I'm thrilled!

Enjoy your rediscovery!

ShirleyPerly said...

That is a wonderful project for both you and your mom! Having taken piano/keyboard lessons for about 9 years, I can't imagine how you're able to play barely knowing how to read music. I couldn't play much unless I read the music, LOL! When I was playing competitively (until age 16), we had to memorize the music and the only way I could remember was via muscle memory much like you. Interesting ...

I have an electric piano back in Orlando as well as nearly all of my old sheet music. One of these days when I have more time, I want to get back to playing too!

E-Speed said...

wow, what a lovely tribute to both of you that CD will be.

Downhillnut said...

How beautiful. Not only will this music hold good memories to cherish, it's a good project for the both of you for the here and now!

When I think of how I will look back on my life, it really helps me plan ahead.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful challenge and goal you've laid out for yourself and your mother! Precious.

Do you have access to a piano? To my ear a keyboard just doesn't do it with a cello.

Steve and Reena said...

Hi Ellie, I was surprised to find that you used my swan photo to illustrate your blog post. No problems, good luck with the challenge and I hope it works out well.

Take care,