The Best Medicine

One of my favorite quotes is by Kelsey Grammer: “ Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

I received my second dose of Covid-19 vaccine this week at our local hospital. Full immunity should be developed ten days after the second shot. As I joyfully left the hospital with my husband, I was so excited about the first place I will going post-vaccine. Consider that since March of 2019 I have spent 99% of my life at my house or medical facilities. The first place I will go will be to play the organ and piano for a church service! That is the perfect place for my first real outing. I have missed worshiping in church so badly. Online church services and Bible studies are terrific, but just not the same for me as worshiping with other people.

I began piano lessons at age six with my wonderful elementary music teacher. She helped a very shy introvert find her voice at the piano. She encouraged me to sing along as I played and taught me to FEEL the music. I spent eight years going to her house for weekly lessons! Vocal music was her specialty so she found another teacher for me who concentrated on piano. My new piano teacher really pushed me technically. Part of each lesson’s warm-up was sight-reading. She taught me how to examine a piece of music before I ever tried to play it. My strength at the piano today is sight-reading, and I credit her with that. I took piano lessons as a college class for a few semesters. I could not tell you my professor’s name and I’m pretty sure I’m not a memorable student for her. I took lessons because that gave me 24/7 access to the sound-proof practice rooms in the music building! You could find me late at night, alone in a practice room, playing anything BUT what I was supposed to work on for class.

My second favorite instrument is the organ. When I was 11, the organist at my church offered to give me organ lessons. I began playing a prelude for church. When I improved more, I would play the offertory, too. My denomination had liturgy so I started learning that. I would play one part of the liturgy with her on my right side. When the service reached a part I didn’t know yet, she would slide across and take over, without a break in the service. We were a great team! We played piano and organ duets often. When I was twelve her daughter who lived hundreds of miles away gave birth to her first baby and needed her mom. My teacher told me I was ready to play for a whole service on my own. I was utterly terrified, but I did it!

I have enjoyed part-time, full-time, and substitute music positions at many churches in my area. Before Covid, I had a regular part-time gig at a huge church about 40 min from my house. I am not a member, but still consider that church to be “one of my home churches.” They stuck with me after my diagnosis and chemo, understanding that some mornings I just wasn’t 100%. Home isolation brought that to a screeching halt. When I received the call that the second vaccine dose was scheduled, my next communication was to that church, to see if they would put me back in the rotation. Playing for 2 Sunday morning services on March 14 will be my first post-vaccine outing and I am so excited to be back at the bench.

When I play piano or organ, I understand exactly what Kelsey Grammer meant. I do my best thinking at the bench. I am constantly talking to God or listening for an answer. When something is troubling me, I can play the piano for an hour or so and have it all worked out in my mind when I close the piano and stand up. I remember the night I returned home from my first trip to Barnes Hospital to meet my oncologist. I sat at the piano and played and cried for hours. It was the only thing I knew that could help me sort it out.

I am so grateful for my teachers. I am most grateful for my mom and dad, who paid for lessons and music books, who drove me to and from lessons, who encouraged me to practice. We didn’t have a dishwasher so after dinner each night I had a choice of washing dishes or practicing the piano. You had better believe that I practiced the piano every single day of the week – sometimes twice in a day! My dad would take me to church at night to practice the organ and stay there with me. Dark empty churches are spooky places! My parents gave me many valuable gifts, but the best was encouraging my passion for keyboards. I cannot imagine dealing with this cancer journey without being able to sit at my piano for a “therapy session.”

Tonight I found myself home alone and wrestling with fear and doubt. I sat at my piano for a couple hours and had a silent but animated discussion with God. (Sometimes those forte measures are my version of yelling.) I don’t have all the answers, but I have everything back in the right places in my mind, thanks to my piano and my Teacher.

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