Sunday, June 12, 2011

Contraband Song Sheets

"Are you going to play the guitah?" Her voice, crackled with age, heavily stained by a New York accent. "No, I'm playing the piano tonight, and singing," I answered with a 'please-like-me-anyway' smile.

She nodded unsatisfied.
"They said there was a latin guitarist, tonight."
Petulantly, she asked another half-a dozen times, "Are you playing guitah?"
"No, I'm sorry, piano."

Finally I got the retirement community's activity director to explain to the puzzled audience that there was a mistake in the entertainment schedule, and that Broadway piano was the night's line-up.

Thus the evening began. I did a little Spanish chord progression, hoping to humorously satisfy their expectation. Then put on my best vintage Broadway voice and sang songs from Can-Can, Annie Get your Gun, Show Boat, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls- all the pre-1950 offerings I could get my hands on.

Singing along, they exchanged knowing grins and nods excavating a mother lode of golden times; decades lost and mysterious to me. With platinum hair, pink hats and thick glasses, they visibly enjoyed the music they grew up on.
"All I Ask of You" from Phantom ended the evening, the best part yet to come.

I'm no Sarah Brightman, but they heaped on thanks and compliments.
"I loved your selection."
"Beautiful piano playing."
"You brought back so many memories."

'Memories like what?" I asked. "Tell me one."

Her words twinkled mischievously. "When we were teenagers, we would buy these
contraband song sheets
.
You know, they were made without permission, so the songwriters didn't get royalties. We would sit around the radio and sing along to the songs we loved. All the kids did it. You could buy them anywhere. Sometimes the words were wrong, because whomever took the lyrics down just got them off the radio themselves." (And I thought 'Napster' was a new thing!)

We were happily caught and drenched by a Florida downpour of laughter, handshakes and 'God-bless you's" brought on by the magic of song.

Music had worked it's inimitable, transforming miracle.

Marked by their glowing faces, spirits were lifted, though bodies hobbled. Smiles emboldened as tired limbs lumbered toward their rooms. Hearts full within their frail, aged frames.

I could play for these people every night, I thought...

Maybe I'll brush up on my guitar!

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