Sunday, November 6, 2016

Playing by Ear

I'm surrounded by people who are musically gifted and somehow I feel cheated in that department. My singing is best used to calm crying infants who are unable to speak about my made-up lyrics sung in the wrong key.  My piano playing, up until now, has been atrocious at best.  I have one song memorized and after 30 years, nobody really wants to hear Fur Elise again.  When the kids are sitting around playing guitars and singing their latest original works, jumping in with an early classical Beethoven composition just doesn't work.  It's a mood killer of greatest proportion.

None of these children have taken a music lesson so I wondered how they could play so well when I, who sat for years in Mrs. McArthurs's den, counting out notes on her piano, can not. They all play by ear.  This concept has always baffled me as I can't understand how someone can just sit down at the keys and "hear" the right notes.  Things just don't work that way.  But, now after fifty years, I may have stumbled on to what my children already know.

In the Google Search Bar, I typed, How To Play Piano.  Dozens of websites popped up.  It didn't take long to discover that chords were the missing link in my non-piano playing world.  I quickly memorized the major chords, then the minors.  Patterns emerged and suddenly things started to make sense.  Chord progressions popped up in my next search and before long I played an actual song with four chords.  It felt wonderful. It felt natural and my fingers seemed to know which notes to play without much thought.  My hands flew up and down the keyboard and I realized I was playing by ear.

I called my children and serenaded them against their will as we talked on the phone. My son suggested I try YouTube for further tips and later that night I was playing cocktail piano alone in the den in my pajamas.  It was liberating!   I attempted singing with my playing but was unsuccessful finding the chords to Michael Row Your Boat Ashore or Hush Little Baby. Perhaps these are only popular with babies in need of a nap.

As my skills improve, I've employed the use of the pedals and the volume of my playing increases with each crescendo and fades off when a diminuendo nears.  I sound like I actually know what I'm doing until that last note arrives.  Every time, as if some piano curse has been placed upon me, I hit the wrong keys on the final note.  There is nothing quite like mesmerizing your audience, two cats and a sleeping dog, with a great piece of music and then destroying it on the final note.

I move like Liberace up and down those keys playing Moon River and Hallelujah, but when that final note arrives and my fingers pound down on the wrong keys, I'm back in Mrs. McArthur's den, sitting under her scolding eyes as she says, "Did you really practice?"  I can finally say, "I'm playing by ear, woman!" Even as the deafening sound of the wrong chord echoes through the room, I'm not defeated because I can now play dozens of songs without reading a single note. Move over Beethoven, there's a new kid in town and Fur Elise is on the shelf.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Moses Supposes

    It is almost November and even though it still very hot outside, fall is all around us.  It is a time of pumpkins, cooler nights and fairs. Some of my best memories with my children are at state fairs.  I hope they remember the time we got stuck on top of the ferris wheel as a light rain began to fall.  It was a warm night and the rain brought with it laughter and fun.  Joey would rock the seat and we would grab on for dear life. Allie stuck easily for her fingers were normally coated in a fine layer of cotton candy residue. She wasn't about to fall out of that bucket.  Then, there was the fun house, which turned out to be more of a house of horrors for waiting parents whose children did not come out.  I watched as my young son entered, but did not exit.  More and more people went in and came out, but my son was not among them.  My mind raced and about the time I was certain he had been kidnapped and sold into the circus, I headed for the entrance prepared to take on the craziest of clowns in search of my child.  As I went in, he came out, hand in hand with a little girl who had also been stuck in the belly of the fun house.  Apparently, there had been enough fun inside to keep them entertained for much too long a time.

    My children love fairs, but I'm certain they must cringe when they think about the pageants and talent shows that go with fairs.  I love both and my children have equally been subjected to the spotlight that beams from the fair stage.  My daughter has been a Timberfest queen, a Founder's Day beauty and much more. My little boy was singing gospel like a pro at a young age and gathering up trophies across the south. This talent led us to the Mid South Youth Talent show in Memphis, TN. We packed up the outfits, the stroller, the cameras and a tiny blue suitcase that said "Going To Grandmas" and headed to stand where Elvis had once stood. Highly talented youth from around the south gathered here to tap their toes, hit those high notes and wow the crowd.  I will never forget the toe-tapping duo who performed "Moses Supposes His Toeses Is Roses."  I was unaware that Moses supposes erroneously, but now that line is stuck in my brain and will never leave.

    As my son made it to the finals, so did a tap happy little girl who could not control her toe tapping feet.  A large sign behind the stage said, "DO NOT TAP."  Obviously, this had been an issue before. As the show producer handed out instructions, a constant tapping drowned out his voice.  I stood back stage with my stroller full of goods and one sleeping toddler, eyeballing the tapping princess, wondering if she understood the giant sign in front of her.  She did not. Her feet continued to tap and the Moses Supposes words raced through my head again.

    My little boy sang "Old Time Rock and Roll" and the crowd jumped to their feet.  He was amazing. When the show was over and the phantom tapping stopped ringing in my head, we headed outside for fair food and fun.  It was 100 degrees out and I was melting.  My son simply wanted to play the game where you deposit quarters into the machine in hopes of pushing other quarters off the ledge.  I feared his love of this game may be indicative of a later problem and vowed to keep him away from the casinos. Quarter after quarter dropped into the machine and very few were returned as prizes.

    When the quarters were gone and I was drenched in sweat, I announced that I could take no more heat and was headed to the car to drive north until we found cold.  My family followed, uncertain of my sudden meltdown, but willing to follow me anywhere.  I mumbled to myself, "Moses Supposes" and would laugh each time I got to "Erroneously."   The summer heat and 72 hours of tap dancing sounds can do that to a person.  We made it safely to the car and I loaded the stroller, the toddler, the tiny traveling suitcase and all my family members.  We did not drive north, but drove further south until we found the cool dining area of a Cracker Barrel where I sat quietly while the sounds in my head settled into simple memories.  To this day, however, the first sound of a tap on a wooden floor makes me want to jump up and yell, "Moses Supposes Erroneously!"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Window

A young woman looks through me.  Her skin is smooth, her smile bright.  Bubbles float up from the sink as she washes the last of the dishes and stares out at her children racing about the driveway on scooters and skates.  She can hardly wait to join them.  The daily chores and I are the only things that stand between parent and child.  My rail and casing are strong and sure. My glass is clear and bright. I am the window above the kitchen sink that looks out into her world.
A sleepy woman looks through me.  It is dark outside and shadowy trees move in the distance.  Her entire world is under one roof, each child tucked safely in bed.  Nothing in the dark calls to her.  She wakes to check on her children and be certain of the security that wraps around her like a blanket.   My locks are secure.  My framework is strong.   My family rests peacefully until I let the light back in. 
A loving woman looks through me.  She watches the early morning snow falling gently to the ground.  She leans close and her warm breath meets my cold glass, painting it in a ghostly fog.  She smiles and readies herself for a day full of sledding and snowball fights.  That night, she will look through me again and see her children’s art, the snowmen that stand outside glistening in the moonlight.  My view is good and is filled with love.
An older woman looks through me.  She wipes a smudge from my pane and watches for the distant glow of headlights returning young drivers home.  The clock counts the minutes until midnight as she continues to stare through me.  Worry lines have replaced the smoothness of her skin.  My frame has shifted and my blinds are faded in color.  She pulls them taut as she keeps her midnight vigil until all children have returned home.
A lonely woman looks through me.  With hands that are no longer steady she pushes and pulls at my lock.  She is in search of fresh air.  I creak and sigh and give way to the bindings that have secured me in place.  Through my screen comes the smell of Gardenia, filling the room with memories of that which is no more.   Her reflection has faded.  Skin weathered and dry.  Smile subdued.   She watches for her children to return.

A young woman looks through me.  It is a different smile and a different face.  Standing where her mother had stood for so many years, she wipes my pane and secures my lock.  Lights fade and empty rooms echo the sounds of departure.  Both women, young and old, walk hand in hand towards the drive where they will leave together.  In my panes are the reflections of a life well lived.

Written by M. Brodnax
Sep 14, 16
First Assignment, Creative Writing Class

Friday, September 9, 2016

Anyone's Child

Anyone’s child did not like grapes.
It had been a very good day.
The teacher passed out grape suckers to all her students.
Anyone’s child quietly handed his sucker to another child.
The little boy with two suckers smiled.
Anyone’s child smiled.
He knew the joy in sharing.

When school ended, happy children with suckers ran to their parents.
Parents smiled.
A little boy named Chip showed his mom his treat and beamed with pride.
It had been a good day.
Chip’s mom noticed that one child had two suckers.
The day was no longer good.
She tossed Chip on her shoulder and steamed out the door.

She brewed.
She steamed.
She plotted how to right this wrong.
Chip just wanted to enjoy his sucker.
But how was this possible when someone’s child got two.
Words flew like bullets.
Aimed at hurting those who had been unfair.

Chip’s mom called her friends
She called the Bureau of Fair Candy Disbursement
They sent out more words
And more words
All filled with anger over this candy injustice
Teams were formed
Committees gathered
Helicopters came
Dogs circled in patterns searching for candy leads
Someone yelled, “Ban all suckers”

Anyone’s child was unaware of any unfairness
It was his choice not to like grape
He knew the right thing to do when he gave his treat away
Someone’s child enjoyed his sucker and gave his extra one to his sister
They both smiled with grape colored smiles
The act of sharing still filled children with joy.

Chip’s mom cringed when she saw the color purple
It was a painful reminder that her child had been given less
Chip wanted his mom to smile
He handed her the sucker the teacher had given him
She needed a good day

Chip’s mom snatched the sucker and showed the teams
They cried, “Woe!”
They cried, “How?”
They gathered all their words and wrote a letter
The letter was filled with bitterness and one grape sucker

A sign was posted on the school door
"No treats allowed"
No one at the school knew why
No one ever stopped to ask the teacher why one child had more
They never asked the simple question
That would have come with a reasonable answer
Instead, the mom with Chip on her shoulder
Assumed the worst and let hateful words guide her

A good deed was twisted and turned until it was no longer good
Good days would no longer come with treats
When there was a chance someone might share and anyone’s child might get more.
Sharing was frowned on and the children did not know why
They cried, “Woe!”
They cried,  “How?”
Their joy in giving was riddled with doubt
Anyone’s child did not want to get in trouble for sharing
Someone’s child learned that a good deed may not be so good

The teacher sighed
She cried, “Woe!”
She cried, “How?”

She wrote her own letter
It said…
Dear children and parents
There is a basket of grape and cherry suckers on my desk
Take what you want, but no more than you need
To make your day good.

And with that simple act, filled with kind words, fairness was restored.

                                    By M. Brodnax, 2016

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Pokemon Go

In a playroom, no longer used by children who now sit on the cusp of adulthood, sits a box with hundreds of Pokemon cards inside.  There are first edition cards, cards with baby Pokemon, evolved Pokemon and even rare and wonderful Pokemon.  The trading card collection was once grand and brought much happiness.

There was seldom a trip to Wal-Mart where we didn't bring home a pack of Pokemon trading cards hoping to find a Charizard or a Mewtwo hiding inside.  The love of Pokemon grew and we purchased Pokemon backpacks, notebooks, t-shirts, bedding and more.  My son treasured his Pokedex, a handheld computer used to catalog his Pokemon.  The kids battled with friends for Pokemon as they exchanged trading cards.  It was great fun. And then it was over.  The cards, once treasured, found their way to a box where they sit today. Then, with no warning, Nintendo gave us back the joy we once had, with their release of an App called Pokemon Go.

Oblivious to the new virtual Pokemon world, I was caught off guard when my 21 year old son called to tell me he caught a Pokemon. With great excitement, he explained how he and his friends were all over the city hunting Pokemon with their phones.  Those old familiar names came back to life. Charizard and Pidget were running amuck outside and were just waiting to be caught.  You can only see them if you download the App and set up a character to hunt Pokemon. Once online, your phone uses your camera and a GPS system to place hidden Pokemon on top of the real world around you. There are creatures and floating, spinning objects all about that only a Pokemon avatar can see.

Unable to resist a good treasure hunt and thrilled to meet up with old friends from the past, I created a character named Cera5. Not being a gamer, I was stumped when I had to enter an online name that all could see.  I knew I shouldn't use my real name and anything containing the word Mom just seemed lame.  Mom64, Supermom, Tired Mom, all fitting names, but not for Pokemon Go.  I spied a bottle of Cera-Ve face wash sitting on the counter and it was from there that I stole the name Cera5.

Moments after I had suited up Cera5, the camera on my phone turned on and I could see a baby Charizard standing in front of me in my kitchen.  I smiled as we both stared at one another.  He jumped about and I quickly tossed a virtual Pokeball at him, catching him and keeping him for my own.  I was thrilled to have Charizard back in the family again.   

Riding through town I turned on the App and saw a completely different world outside the car than the driver did.  There are Pokemen everywhere! My favorite restaurant has a gym floating over it where I can collect coins and special items, but not until I reach level 5.  It sits and spins in a virtual reality over unsuspecting diners enjoying their chef salads and corned beef sandwiches.  At the post office, a wild Pidget flew up in front of my car and I snagged him and put him in my Pokedex.  While standing outside my mother's house, I turned on the game and just as she walked out, a group of Pokemon descended upon me.  I aimed my phone at her garage and told her to watch out as Charizard was running around in the corner. She jumped behind me as I threw Pokeballs and spun about to catch an incoming Pidget.   We both looked into the Pokemon world through the screen on my phone and laughed as these characters from so long ago brought back memories of great fun! 

This morning, I have to stop by the local museum because I saw a Pokemon gym floating overhead yesterday and I must go see what is there.  Off the couch and into the world.  What a fabulous new gaming concept! Thank you Nintendo for breathing life back into old friends and inviting us to come out and play once again. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beach Chair Madness

   It's 5:30 a.m. and a single beach chair sits alone on a long stretch of beach.  Peaceful?  Not at all. There is craziness behind this picture.  It is sudden onset beach chair madness that drives me. If one waits a minute too late, the entire beachfront will be covered with rental chairs and umbrellas.

   When my alarm went off this morning, shortly after five a.m., I fell out of the bed and landed feet first on the floor, much like a cat.  Wide-eyed and focused, I went straight to work.  My goal was to arrive at the beach before the rental chair company and secure a place in the sand for a family of ten who will follow later with towels, floaties, speakers, a cooler, tropical drinks and maybe a kayak or two.  Space is a hot commodity here and those who wait will take back seat to the ocean front seating.

   By 6:30 a.m., the beach will look like this...

   In the early morning hours, there is a race amongst grandfathers, young men working for the beach chair rental company and one crazed mother.  The grandfathers can be seen setting up large tents and toting multiple chairs at once.  The distance between youth and old age becomes blurred as these family loving men crisscross the beach weighted down with outdoor furnishings, driven by a newly returned strength from their younger days. They look at me. I look at them.  We smile with respect for one another.  It's an early morning acknowledgement that we understand the principles of finite space. Tents and umbrellas pop up along the water's edge as we all work to secure the proper amount of shade for tender skinned babies and those smart enough to stay out of the sun.

   Why do we do this?  For these people...

   It is important to have front row seating to watch your children play.  This photo was taken just before one child took a paddle to the face while the other tried to retrieve a jelly fish from the sea. One bloody nose later, I was able to step from my shady spot by the water, assure my child that no stitches were needed and send her back out for more fun in the sun.  Had I been a few rows back, I would have missed it all.