IN COMPLETE HARMONY: My Story of The Piano & Music
Updated: Apr 10
I'm an exuberant lover of health and the arts. As a “baby boomer” child growing up in Texas and at the urging of my mother, I pursued ballet, tap, acrobatics, calligraphy, and painting. When my family moved to the Bay Area in California just before I entered junior high, at my mom’s encouraging (neither of my parents were musicians or informed about that art), I took up five years of piano lessons. She scraped together money from the family allowance that she managed, and bought me the best quality small piano she could afford, the famed Baldwin Acrosonic upright, which sits in my dining room today and is pictured here. After high school graduation in 1958, my love of the visual and dance arts persisted, but sadly, music receded into the background. Rather, I pursued advanced education after college, and after graduating from Hastings College of the Law in 1974, I pursued a 16-year career with the State of California in administrative, regulatory, and civil rights trial law.
Getting tired of the restraints in practicing law in a conservative bureaucracy (and after a year of intense therapy!), I dramatically switched in 1990 to own and operate an unusual, cozy, erotic lingerie and corset boutique in San Francisco, named ROMANTASY. During that time I also presented image consulting services to the MTF crossdress transgender community, and published an online book on how to effectively and safety wear custom corsets in waist-training to shape the body and improve health. After eight years, I closed my retail venture in 1998, and opened an in-home and online custom corset and wedding gown design business for another 22 years until I retired in early 2020.
Shortly after I retired, we were locked down in the 2020 pandemic. One day in May I looked to the right of my office desk located in a corner of my dining room, and focused on my high school piano. All of a sudden I wanted to take piano lessons again! I have no clue why or how this happened, but as at a few other times in my life, it was a “eureka” moment and I knew it was the right thing to do. Soon I named my lovely little piano "Ms. Bellamy" (pictured above) and to this day I consider her special, because it was from playing her for a year, that my love of music and the piano developed. She is the sine qua non to what happened next and where I am right now.
Since May 2020 I have studied online with three piano teachers but only on zoom. In April 2023 I commenced searching for my first in-person teacher in San Francisco, and am in the meantime enjoying my period of "pause" to consolidate and practice what I ahve learned in 23 months of lessons.
Somewhere along the way, three related and exciting musical things happened.
The first was a vistation by poetry! One morning I felt compelled to write a poem about music. It just popped into my brain. Now, a bit over a year later, I just published my first anthology of poems, called “Poetic Musings on Pianos, Music & Life - Vol. I” (available in most major online distributors; volume II's cover is pictured below and will be published summer 2023). Almost every day inspiration to write a new poem comes to me in the form of childhood memories, antics of my cats, some musical theory I read about in one of my many musicology books, or some miraculous aspect of how a piano works. For my second volume that will be published later this year, I wax poetic on more troubling, current topics in politics and public health, and I focus more on my feminist understanding about the pathos and unfair treatment of women composers and musicians in music.
Poetry has become the perfect way to amplify my voice on both troubling world topics and about the world of kindness and creativity that I want to inhabit. Poetry also perfectly expresses my growing love of music. Late last year I launched a website, rhapsodydmb.com, designed to encourage others, especially seniors, to not waste time regretting missed opportunities, but to take up studying a musical instrument or finding other ways to bring musical inspiration into life.
Even though I am not naturally or easily proficient in the piano, and occasionally lack self confidence, I’ve found that music has many pleasures and benefits. It has led to a deepening relationship with my life partner, Ron, and with old friends. It has helped me to make new warm-hearted friends in the music community both in person in the Bay Area, and online. It has renewed my love of and enthusiasm for the creative life, and I know it will improve my brain health. There is much respected scientific research confirming that brains are plastic and can change and grow from the practice of memorizing music, plus managing the myriad challenges that are inherent in learning to play the piano.
The second exciting thing was last year deciding to purchase my partner and I tickets to five recitals sponsored by our San Francisco Symphony. Many of my friends were amazed to learn that until then I had never attended the symphony! But remember that I was brought up principally with the visual and dance arts, not the musical ones. I always opted to invest in the ballet or opera or various dance lessons I pursued over the years, all of which arts had their accompanying share of great music to listen to, in any case!
The third exciting musical thing that happened to me, was deciding to pursue a grand adventure mid-2021 to find and purchase a grand piano! The idea came to me like another bolt of lightening in my life, this time an idea to “borrow” some friendly neighbor’s grand piano to play just once in my life, then return to practicing and lessons on my spinet piano. I posted my request to neighbors online at nextdoor.com. But when the owner of a gorgeous special edition Beethoven Bosendorfer 7-foot semi-concert grand “loaned” his piano to me for two hours in exchange for a home-cooked gourmet meal, I was completely hooked and wanted my own! And, we became fast musical friends, and he an important mentor to my fledgling efforts.
After four months of stressful searching with no luck, I decided to have a small parlor grand piano rebuilt. A piano broker referred me to a lovely old Steinway Model M with a superior, original soundboard and I had it rebuilt and beautifully refinished to match our teak living room furniture. Even as my piano came to life again with new strings, action, and finish, so, too, did my zest for life take fire again. I felt seized by music. Since my piano was moved in on April 23, 2022, I need no additional motivation to practice daily from two to three hours (usually broken into smaller time segments so that I do not tire out my gracefully-aging hands, arms, and body!).
I think a lot about what my piano represents and is to me, and I write about it in some of my blogs and poetry. Perhaps it is best expressed thusly:
My piano is my voice for the self-expression of joy and gratitude. She is a blessing of love and an inspiration to take heart, persist, and find the courage to have self confidence that I can and will improve in my pianism, coming closer day by day to expressing the incredible music that I hear inside. She is a means for me to be creative, and to learn about myself, my foibles and weaknesses in personality and ability, and my strengths as well. She is a means for me to honor and carry forward the legacy of the wonderful composers whom I so deeply respect, those from the Romantic period or impressionistic style of music. She is not only a part or extension of me, she is me in whole, especially when we sing in complete harmony on some days.