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My love-filled, bean-free debut

By Sue Heard / May 27, 1999



My mom's favorite saying, annoyingly repeated on almost a daily basis, was "Someday you'll thank me." A close second was, "You'll miss me when I'm gone." Well, she's been gone for years now, and I do miss her. Now, "someday" has finally arrived, and - darn it - she's not around to thank. Especially for the piano lessons, which, like lima beans, I could not stand as a kid.

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My distaste for lima beans has stood the test of time, but the piano lessons - well, that's a different story.

I've gravitated back to piano, willingly. I began reteaching myself to play and even started practicing regularly. I'm enjoying my ever-increasing ability to read music, and I plunk out show tunes and hymns with gradual improvement. I revel in it.

But it's gotten even better. A few years ago, I felt my piano playing had reached a plateau. I didn't want to take lessons, though. That would be too much un-fun, too reminiscent of lima beans and all that kid stuff I didn't have to do anymore if I didn't want to.

One day I was helping the clerk of our church, and the organist was rehearsing. How wonderful it would be to play the organ, I thought. The big, powerful sound intrigued me. The organist said that playing was like conducting an orchestra. Wow!

I played trombone in high school and college for the marching and concert bands. Big, loud sounds have been a special love of mine. To this day, I get a thrill when I hear a drum major's whistle at the beginning of a half-time marching-band show at a football game.

A grand musical sound means more than just football games to me. It can lift me off my feet at the end of a tough day when I need some inspiration. It makes me want to dance, or at least rejoice, about the grandeur of life.

Which brings me back to the organ.

I began gingerly practicing the organ at church. But I grew in confidence after being given some pointers by our organist and after I'd learned how to crank up the volume. It was just such fun!

The first time I sat at the console I felt as though I was graduating from driving a compact car to handling a Mack truck. The instrument I play is a rare Kimball organ with two floors of fixings, pipes, and contraptions. The organ-repair technician gave me a tour of the organ loft one afternoon, which included slipping through tight spaces and practically crawling at times to view the immense and complicated workings. So this is what I had been playing! What a thought. It was awesome.

I have been our church's secretary now for about six months. Not only do I have the entire church to myself most weekdays, but the run of the organ, too. Sometimes at night, after a long day, I'll play it in the silence and darkness of the cavernous church auditorium with only the small music-stand light on. I'll pull out all the stops (chimes included), bring the organ up to full volume, and blast some favorite tune to ring out the day.

The sound fills the church and reverberates through the rafters. It feels like the beginning of a small earthquake minus the necessity to duck under a desk or stand in a doorway. The only time I've wanted to duck under anything was when a church member once commented, "Oh, thank goodness! I didn't think that was our organist ... it didn't sound like music!"

It's a good thing that I play for the glory of God and not for an audience. I've had my first and (based on that previous comment) probably last organ concert. At least for a while.

For a long time, though, I've been wanting to record some hymns for my dad. He loves the organ but has never heard me play. One evening, while contemplating what to record, and how to record it, I had a flash: The organ practically hugs the door to the church's boardroom. There's a speakerphone in the boardroom, plus speakers that can pipe in the service (and music) from the auditorium. Why not call my dad and give him a live mini-concert over the phone?

I used my telephone credit card to call on the speakerphone and got my stepmom on the line. She and my father would love to hear me play. But Dad was in the bathtub at the moment.

"But that's OK," my stepmother said, obviously pleased with her technological solution. "I'll just give him the cordless phone."

And so it was. I played for about 15 minutes, and the folks loved it. They heard it loud and clear. I played Dad's favorite hymn; my first organ concert for an intentional audience ... in a very odd venue.

It wasn't the Carnegie Hall, but it was my Carnegie Hall. My mom would have loved it, I know, especially the way it was done. I certainly played loud enough (some would say) for her to hear it.

So thanks, Mom! No, not for the the lima beans - for the piano lessons!