Remembering piano recitalsAlways festering in the back of my mind prior to our family’s June Canadian fishing trip was the May piano recital at St. John’s Academy. Brother Jim and I had to survive the recital to enjoy the fishing trip.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
Always festering in the back of my mind prior to our family’s June Canadian fishing trip was the May piano recital at St. John’s Academy. Brother Jim and I had to survive the recital to enjoy the fishing trip.
The very thought of the recital gave me a pang in the pit of my stomach. The only other time in my life that I had a similar feeling was a dozen years later in the Marine Corps when I rappelled out of a helicopter hovering at 130 feet.
It all began when Jim came home from grade school one day and announced that he’d like to take piano lessons.
“Well, if Jim takes them, so will Bern,” Dad said. End of discussion. There was no escape.
I endured piano lessons for five years in the old convent that once was at St. John’s. It felt like I had taken piano lessons my entire life. I think Jim took them one year longer than I did, which was appropriate punishment for him in getting us into the ordeal in the first place.
Mom got the new Baldwin Acrosonic piano delivered in October 1959. Today, it sits in my living room next to the fireplace and beneath a Gary Carter print entitled, “Parting of the Brigade” — a colorful depiction of fur trappers going their separate ways in the Snake River country of northwestern Wyoming.
I don’t play the piano anymore because I can’t. I haven’t played in decades, and with the minimal talent I possess, my ability to play quickly evaporated.
But back in those days, more than 50 years ago, Jim and I had to practice every day. We taught Mom how to play, and she practiced happily and contentedly for hours, reading music, patiently working through the sheet music. Meanwhile, I hated practicing and loathed the piano.
One inevitability was that Sister Hortencia, a tiny, ancient nun who was almost deaf, would choose a piece of music sometime in late fall for each student to play in the May recital. We labored all winter and spring on those pieces and with a sense of dread. Even worse, those of us who were cursed with having a sibling were expected to play a duet in addition to a solo.
Oh, the suffering we endured! I remember sweat running down my skinny ribs as I walked across the creaky stage where the piano sat. It was like ascending the gallows. Sweaty palms … my heart pounding in my ears … glance at the audience … there sat Mom and Dad, so proud of their boys. Play the song, hoping no one hears the mistakes, praying you don’t forget the whole dratted song and sit there like a fool until a nun whisks you from the stage and ushers up another victim. (That happened a couple times to kids at May recitals and it was a terrible thing to witness.)
My sweat had hardly dried when Jim and I were next on the program for our duet. We sat on the same bench and played away. I still remember the first notes of one duet, although the sheet music has long since disappeared.
About 20 years ago I wandered into St. John’s and walked to the recital room. The old wooden stage was gone but it is still etched in my memory.
I opened the lid of the piano seat today and saw the old music we struggled with so long ago — Leila Fletcher’s “Music Lessons Have Begun,” from the Boston Music Company. In my handwriting is scrawled “Bernard Kuntz” on the cover. Other pieces in the bench have “James Kuntz” on them … old wounds from a common campaign. I put the music back and closed the lid.
Laurie, who can play by ear and also from sheets of music, plays the Baldwin now and then. I enjoy listening to her and to the piano of George Winston, Phil Aaberg, and Catherine Foley — people who really can play.
These days the month of May holds no foreboding for me. I am looking forward to the Canadian fishing trip. I like it that way.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist at the Sun since 1974