Lana Vaughan

The Queen of Questions

Revisiting the Classics

Working this week has taken me through some familiar ground. Going back over my notes, my plans and my research has been an exercise in values, beliefs and priorities. Some hold up well and others are embarrassingly outdated or just plan wrong.

There are 40 boxes of books in my basement that I haven’t opened since we moved last July. Searching for a couple of specific books the other day, I found two boxes of piano music. I pulled out a couple of old friends and brought them up to the piano. Flipping one open it fell to a well creased page and looking at the crazy notes before me I was transported back to another snowy day looking at that same music and wondering if I could really master it.

When I was 20 years old, I was a married new mother and a college freshman taking 19 units of GE classes. I had the youthful idea that I could do it all and the determination to do as much as I could. I never thought I would go to college. I barely made it out of high school. By the time I graduated high school I had attended 15 schools including 5 high schools. My education and transcripts were such a mess they gave me a diploma just for putting in the time. College wasn’t something anyone ever talked to me about or something I thought possible. Getting a Pell Grant and enrolling in Jefferson Community College in Louisville, Kentucky I was determined to learn as much as I could before they figured out I didn’t belong there.

One of the classes I took was Intro to Music. The professor gave our class the choice of a written exam for the final or doing a project. We all voted for doing a project. As a very minimally trained pianist, my attention was drawn to a recording of a piece of music used as an example of early Americana. It was strictly piano and in my mind it couldn’t really be played as fast as the recording. So I took that piece of music as a personal challenge and my final project.

Turns out Maple Leaf Rag naturally does move that fast and, shock of all shocks….I could play it up to speed! I got an A and a standing ovation in Intro to Music!

So there it was. An old familiar challenge. One I knew I had mastered before but skills I neglected and ignored for months and years at a time. I sat down and shook out my hands, like that was going to help. Slowly I played the opening notes and the dramatic run. At the end of the page is the repeat. So I did. A little faster and a little more accurately. Muscle memory from all the hours I had spent decades ago kicked in and by the end of the piece my forearms were cramping from the octives and the silence was a different kind of ovation.

Something I had learned when I was young and optimistic was still there. Not for a grade in a class or to prove a point or disprove one but just for me. Just to see if I’ve still got it. Well, it’s rusty and needs work but, yes, I’ve still got it.

Books I read are coming back to my attention. The stack for rereads is growing by the day. Music I haven’t listened to or played in years is running through my head like a jukebox on a time warp loop. (Let’s do the Timewarp Dance….) Movies I haven’t watched since I bought them on DVD are so out of date they aren’t even available on streaming sites.

Some have held the test of time. They were classics the first time I was exposed to them and they still are. Some helped form who I am. Some helped me see the world in a whole new way. Some showed me a world I would never see. Most made me think. Many made me feel. But all offered inspiration to try for myself…to see if you really can play it that fast.

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