Kinderszcenen

23May10

I was anxious about assembling my new digital piano. The box was huge, and I could only imagine how many pieces of unlabeled wood might be lurking in there — not to mention the unidentified screws.

As it turns out, it was a breeze. It took me and Esteban only a half hour to unpack the piano, assemble it, and recycle the packing materials.

I was giddy as Esteban plugged it in. He poked the “demo” button, and once again our house was filled with Chopin and Beethoven and Liszt. How heavenly.

“Why don’t you play something?” Esteban asked. So I went to the basement to fish out some of my old sheet music. Looking through those books was like opening a window into my childhood.

I thumbed through the Ferdinand Beyer Método Elemental Para Piano, a tattered workbook of preparatory exercises. Almost every available surface was covered in my piano teacher’s scribbles. “Always bring your piano notebook,” reads one of the early notes. “H did not bring the notebook,” accuses another. Eventually Mrs. Butler apparently gave up and turned the textbook into a notebook.

I adored Mrs. Butler. She was a kind and patient teacher who loved her students almost as much as music.

She lived in a tiny apartment a few blocks from my parents’ house in Peru. Her living room looked like a rainforest: There were potted philodendrons everywhere, their growing tendrils supported by sticks and hooks. Some of the older plants had grown large, woody roots, like those of a banyan tree. It felt primordial.

Adding to the thick, moist air was an omnipresent bouquet of garlic and boiled cabbage. (The same could be said of her breath.) Maybe that’s why Mrs. Butler was single,* living in a tiny apartment with 2,800 plants and her ancient mother, who would sometimes shuffle through my peripheral vision like an arthritic ghost.

I was amazed by the vivid, detailed memories that Mrs. Butler’s handwriting inspired.

Unfortunately, that memory did not extend to my hands, which felt wooden and uncoordinated on the keys of my new piano. I was glad to still have the beginner’s book; it was clear that I’d be starting from scratch.

But before closing the lid on my first day with my new piano, I decided to attempt one of my favorite “easier” pieces: Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen—Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (scenes from childhood—from foreign lands and people).

How lucky I am that my childhood really was filled with so many happy scenes in foreign lands.

*Mrs. Butler was single, but we still called her “Mrs. Butler.” I think it’s because she was too old to be a “Miss” and not liberated enough to be a “Ms.” If ever there was a Mr. Butler, however, I’m convinced that he raised philodendrons.



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