Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Claude!

For today's column in Small Town Newspaper, I wrote about the birthday of Claude Debussy and what his music has meant to me over the years. You can read it here—I'd be honored.

In it, I talked about La Cathedrale Engloutie, a piano piece I first learned in high school when I took lessons from the eccentric Mr. Stevesand, a bachelor with frazzled hair and dirty glasses who lived up on a hill with two cats who ate out of pans left sitting on the stove. Those are the things I remember most about the man, those and that he claimed to have difficult playing complex music because his fingers had grown so large. He was a big man, that Mr. Stevesand.

The Cathedrale piece has crazy chords that require you to play two notes with one finger because there are so many notes to cover—six or seven with one hand, even. I would sit at our piano in the living room, and on days when my mother had reached her nutty limit, I would pound as hard as I could on those chords. Very satisfying, if not hostile.

I remember one night coming home from a marching band trip and being completely exhausted. I had spent all day on a stinky bus and just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. But when I walked in the front door, I discovered my Aunt Bunny and Uncle Kenneth visiting from California. I had not seen them in years, and they happened to be passing through. My aunt was an accomplished pianist, and my mother insisted I play for her. I told them all I was just so tired, I couldn't begin to play anything with any reasonable skill, but she insisted and insisted some more and then picked up Cathedrale. It was all I could do to see the page, but I tried, and I made such a mess of the thing that I gave up after a couple of pages and apologized to my relatives. That's when my aunt smiled and said she had played that piece for her senior recital, and it had always meant a great deal to her. Well, then double apologies to poor Aunt Bunny.

Anyway, it's a new era, and now I play Cathedrale and other things for my own private enjoyment. Maybe somebody I'll clean the thing up a bit and play it here.

1 comment:

dive said...

What a wonderful celebration of Debussy, Robyn. And so nice to see your first commenter loving it (much as the redneck ranters who use your column's comments facility to display their hilarious ignorance to the world are amusing, it is refreshing to see a compliment for a change).

I'm sure Aunt Bunny was delighted with your playing. However much you might have messed up you were playing a piece she knew and loved. I'd love to hear how you play it these days. I think it's time for another Robyn Recording.