Enthralled, I sat on the couch next to the old black upright piano in my grandparents’ home and listened to the music as my youngest aunt gently picked out whatever tune she had been practicing in her latest lesson. I enjoyed hearing the music and I wished I could play too, but I did not have lessons, and did not know one note from another, even though she wrote the letters on the tops of the white keys and tried her best to teach me, and to this day I recall the words from the song she worked hard to get me to understand how to play.
But I could put a piano roll into the inside of a panel on the front of the instrument, and pull the big old pedals out from the second panel under the keyboard and then all I had to do was sit on the bench and push the pedals with all my might and with an equal amount of gusto the piano played itself. Such melodies as “Oh my pa-pa!” and the “Beer Barrel Polka” soon filled the house. It was a good thing there were several rolls to choose from because all of the grandchildren enjoyed pumping out the music whenever visiting our grandparents.
Perhaps it was with a sense of deja vous that I sat listening as the only daughter of that same aunt played a melody from a piece she had been rehearsing either for the lyric opera in Austin or church music at the parish where she was a cantor. This time the carefully keyed music floated from a grand piano but the well-worn player piano from my childhood memory still evokes the joy of music.