Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Nickel Creek; Nickel Creek

I am not finished. I am a “work in progress”. You may have a good idea of who I am … I may have a good idea of who I am … but the real Erik Apland isn’t finished until the last few moments before the Lord God hits the stop button on the holy egg timer and declares, “Time’s up! Now, let’s take a look at you.” In the mean time, I will spend the balance of my time on God’s green and blue Earth decorating my life experiences with the tchotchkes … (Thank you, Kate!) … tchotchkes of life.

Over the course of three seasons of “Star Trek” and seven seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the USS Enterprise and the USS Enterprise-D each withstood token damage. That is, until the movies. Then they blew them up. The original USS Enterprise survived the first two movies and then got detonated in “Star Trek III”. The USS Enterprise-D was totaled in the middle of its first feature film, “Star Trek Generations”.

While looking over the damage, at the end of the picture, Captain Picard and Commander Riker searched for the photo album that he had shared with Councelor Troi earlier in the film. Of all the personal effects that Captain Picard had brought with him, he regarded his photo album of the utmost important. How he didn’t have them stored on an Apple iPod escapes my grasp of comprehension. But, I suppose they didn’t have iPods in the future back in 1994.

Riker remarks that she, the Enterprise-D, “went before her time.” Captain Picard responds to his Number One with the remarks of an acquaintance of his who said that:

“Time is a predator that stalks us all our lives. But I believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey; reminds us to cherish every moment … because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.”

I play music. It’s how I enter the world. Every note of music that I’ve inhaled since that evening forty-five years ago today has found a place to abide in my soul. I share, with anyone who has the patience to listen, the state, shape, order and fettle of my inner being: the sunshine, the rain, the warmth, the cold, the trees, the birds, the lake, the ocean, the wood, the neon, the up-close, the far-away, the tweed, the denim, the happiness, the depression, the fantasy, the real, the fleeting and the everlasting.

Almost ten years ago, I encountered the music of Nickel Creek on what was supposed to be a pass through the Country Music Television station to get to SpikeTV while channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon. But I got stuck – trapped – in a song. “The Lighthouse’s Tale”, a sad story – trapped in a major key – has a quiet, measured and timeless energy that matches the pace of life itself …

I am a lighthouse worn by the weather and the waves

I keep my lamp lit to warn the sailors on their way …

And the waves crashing around me

The sand slips out to the sea

And the winds that blow remind me

Of what has been and what can never be

Now who can forge poetry like that on the walls of their spirit and not find inspiration? I, long ago, supplanted the youth and vitality of this vibrant ensemble in my inner garden of ideas, notions, import, design and grit. And I find a place for the harvest in Brahms, Beethoven, James Brown, Glen Campbell, Enya, Oscar Peterson, Gordon Lightfoot, Edith Piaf, John Mayer, Andy Williams and the Beach Boys.

How do you enter the world, my friend? What theatrical stage to you take – what platform do you storm – what threshold do you cross to reverberate the life that sings, dances, paints, burns, pulses, do-se-dos and, otherwise, hoola-hoops inside your soul? Do you capture, and nurture within, the vast essences of humanity that touch you the most, make them a part of you and then feature them wholesale through your lens of heart and spirit?

We are expressive beings. The flair in our clothing, the way we decorate our homes, the neatness of our desks, the style and color of our cars, the pedigree of our pets, the preferred flavor of our Jell-O, even the gait of our walk all reveal even the slightest essence of the unique spirit inside our skin and bones.

It has been my pleasure to be with you, dear reader, for three-hundred and sixty-six days. You now know much about me that I never ever would have thought important enough to share. It’s the little things in life that add up, trounce and trump the big things. I will miss talking to you. Come around and see me some time. I’ll take you out for some soup. In the mean time… I think I’ll go dancing in the rain…

Credits: To Mom, D., K., three or four Uncle D.’s, Cousin W., … ah, heck, all of you. You all frost my calvinator. And to God. Soli Deo Gloria.

This is the forty-fifth of my final forty-five CD’s.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor; Sergei Rachmaninoff, composer; New York Philharmonic; Eugene Ormandy, conducting; Vladimir Horowitz, piano

My sisters and I were part of that last generation to grow up with a black and white television. For a while there, we went through a number of TV’s. When one would go up in smoke, D. and I would look at each other, cross our fingers and hope, and pray, that our next set would show us the world outside South Dakota in glorious color.

Alas, glorious color didn’t arrive in our house until Grandma A. passed away in 1986. We think that Grandma got the very first color TV in the county. We also think that Grandma got the heaviest TV in the county. It was absolutely huge and maintained its heroic physique by ingesting heavily from the feast provided by the electrical current suffused into her house.

I don’t know if Grandma planned this or not, but the family visited a lot more after she got the TV. We came over to watch the Superbowl, we came over to watch movies, we came over to watch Charlie Brown. D. and I even went over one time to play with the color knobs so that we could watch the Beaver eat green peanut butter.

When we cleaned out Grandma’s house after the funeral, Dad arranged it so that we could inherit the color TV. We put it into the southwest corner of the living room. I think that our house settled a little to the southwest after we brought in the TV.

The little black and white TV that our “new” color television replaced ended up in my bedroom – much to the chagrin of my sisters, I suppose. The configuration of our house, along with the aerial position in the attic, the temperature of the water in the cistern, Mercury’s relative position to Venus, the Dow and the location of the squirrel in the tree in the front yard all contributed to an ideal location of the … now, spare … TV on my dresser.

In the late summer of 1982, I was flipping through channels after a day out in the hay field with Dad and I came across the broadcast of the finals of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had never heard of this competition. But it appeared intriguing. So, I went downstairs, fixed myself a brown peanut butter sandwich – how lame – and went back to my room to watch the big contest.

The first contestant played Peter Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor. Oh, man, I thought. This guy’s gonna win! Then the second contestant played the Sergei Prokofieff Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. Oh, man, I thought. She’s even better than that other guy. She’s gonna win! Then the third contestant approached the piano; this skinny, compact, wet-behind-the-ears, eighteen-year-old piece of fuzz, and he played a piece I had never heard before: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor.

Have you ever taken a bite of something, and then forgot to swallow? A lump of food that stays lodged between your tongue and the roof of your mouth because you can’t believe what you are seeing or hearing? One of the bites of my PB sandwich became uber-gloop in my mouth for several minutes as I sat riveted by the most breathtaking display of musical and technical fireworks, pianistic wizardry and pageantry I had ever seen … and heard. I knew, in the moments following this forty-five minute spectacular, while I sat applauding and weeping in my room, for both Mr. Rachmaninoff and this little urchin in a tux at the piano, that my life would never be the same. I had heard the finest piece ever written.

Sergei Rachmaninoff completed this most difficult of all of his piano and orchestra works in September of 1909 at his country estate, called Ivanovka, in Russia. He often said that he “wrote it for elephants”; hint: he wrote it for pianists with elephantine technique. The work has been known to instill fear into many pianists, including the dedicatee, Josef Hofmann. Pianist Gary Graffman has been heard to lament his not having learned it when he was younger, when he was “still too young to know fear.”

As God is my witness, I yelled after making sure that only God was hearing me, I WILL learn this piano concerto. The next day, I went to the Brookings Public Library to see if they had a recording of this behemoth. Pianist Andre Watts had recorded this musical reincarnation of Goliath with the New York Philharmonic and I about wore out the LP from the number of times I played it before having to take it back. After letting the masterwork fester in my ears for a few years, I summoned the courage – stupidity? – to order the sheet music. During the summer of 1985, I learned it. It took me four months to learn it, memorize it and play it.

I don’t think I endeavored to learn this piece from the standpoint of a challenge … or to show off. It certainly was a challenge … but, believe it or not, … I don’t consider difficulty when choosing or dismissing a piece to tackle. I listen to the whole piece in order to evaluate its musical merits and its potential match to my musical personality; and to see if I like it.

I have performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 two times, but neither time with an orchestra. I had a brave second pianist sitting at a second piano representing two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, double basses, cellos, violas and violins. It was a thrilling experience each time.

Why did I learn it? I liked it. And it was an accomplishment. It hangs on my figurative wall of achievement – along with my performance of the Prokofieff Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major – and the day Dad and I stacked thirteen wagonloads of hay bales – and my well-earned B in high school biology – and the day that my Brookings High School freshman and sophomore boys vocal ensemble earned a superior plus at solo and ensemble contest – and the day we saved a batch of kittens from certain death after their mother had died – and the year I ran the Marine Corps Marathon – and the year that I wrote a blog …

Credits: To Vladimir Horowitz, the last of the romantic pianists. Thank you for your pianism, your excellence and your music.

This is the forty-fourth of my final forty-five CD’s.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Pride of the Dakotas

Light Out of Darkness (a tribute to Ray Charles); Shirley Horn, piano and vocal

I cherish the memories I have of my days in the SDSU “Pride of the Dakotas” Marching Band. As I’ve said before, as a pianist, I’m the one that moves the show when I make an appearance by myself. It’s typically a one-man show. I’ve decided what to play, how to play it, when to play it, where to play it and what to wear while I play it. My successes and failures are my own.

In the marching band – I found an opportunity to hide amongst the numbers. No matter what I did individually, it was done as a member of the ensemble. I was one of one-hundred seventy-five members. I was one one-hundred and seventy-fifth of a marching band.

We played some pretty decent music. But it wasn’t about the music. Music schmusic. We were part of something bigger than any of us could ever be on our own. And we put on a fantastic show five to six times per season.

We only took one big trip during my four years in the “Pride”. In the autumn of 1987, my senior year, we went to Greeley, Colorado, where the SDSU Jackrabbits played the University of Northern Colorado Bears.

Here’s what happened: they seated us in the stands on the other side of the field from the main part of the stadium. Then, during the half-time show, we took the field and played the show for the main part of the stadium.

Our marching band director, Mr. McK., had missed a whole week of rehearsals two weeks prior to our trip. It came to our attention that his fortieth birthday would happen during our time in Greeley. So, while he was gone, we rehearsed a little routine that we nonchalantly inserted into our half-time show. At a specific part of the show, - “We interrupt this half-time show performance to wish our illustrious director Jim McK. a happy fortieth birthday!” - we broke ranks and spelled out “Jim’s 40” on the field and played “Happy Birthday” – “This has been a special announcement. We return you now to your regularly scheduled half-time show!”

We all had lots of fun, Mr. McK. thought it was a riot and we all had cake before sitting down for the second half of the game. I asked one of the spectators seated next to us how the show looked. “Great. You guys have a fantastic band.” Did our little scheme come across on this side of the field? “Well, I don’t know. Was it your intention to spell out ‘Oh sh~t’ on the field while you played “Happy Birthday”?

Since my time in the “Pride of the Dakotas”, the band has grown considerably – almost four hundred playing members! – and taken much more impressive trips. They have traveled twice to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. They have also traveled twice to Washington, D.C.

Their first trip to our nation’s capital took place on the occasion of President Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997. The band took a second trip to Washington, D.C. for the Independence Day Parade in 2000. Upon their arrival into town, they had a picnic in a park and they asked me to put together a jazz trio to play music while they chowed down on some barbeque.

An interesting thing happened during their preparations for this trip. They received a call from someone associated with the “Capitol Fourth” concert that PBS broadcast on Independence Day evening. It seems that actor and singer Barry Bostwick, host of the concert, wanted to sing Meredith Wilson’s “Seventy-Six Trombones” from “The Music Man” for a show opener. Since the setting of the song concerned a marching band, it had been suggested that they choose one of the bands from the Independence Day Parade lineup to accompany him on the song. They went with the “Pride of the Dakotas” because it was the biggest.

I saw the “Pride” march in the parade but I couldn’t go watch the concert. The broadcast of the “Capitol Fourth” happened while I was with the Marine Band on the south portico of the White House. But I had set up the VCR to tape the extravaganza and when I got home from the White House, I relived my “Pride” days vicariously through the spectacle played before me on the TV.

On the day before, the band rehearsed with Barry Bostwick, the National Symphony “Pops” Orchestra, conductor Erich Kunzel and the PBS live broadcast crew. It had been a hot day – over one hundred degrees – and the band had been out in the sun for quite some time. All of a sudden, a rainstorm whipped up. No lightning, no thunder … just rain … lots of it … and it stayed for about twenty-five minutes

As college kids are wont to do, all four hundred members of SDSU’s “Pride of the Dakotas” Marching Band cheered, whooped, clamored, hollered, shouted and erupted in general celebration and revelry. The drumline went into their twenty-minute routine, the other members of the band rocked the joint with singing and choreography while the symphony, crew and other performing artists watched on in amazement.

When the rain had passed on and the crew could uncover all of the electronic equipment, the rehearsal went on as planned.

Several months later, Mr. McK. received a letter, recounting all of the excitement that had happened on that day in July the previous summer, “when the heavens opened up and poured” and “your band exploded. I will remember that moment for a long, long time. Signed, Ray Charles.”

I don’t have any Ray Charles albums. I need to get some. But his spirit lives on through this tribute album by Shirley Horn.

Credits: To the South Dakota State University athletic teams. GO JACKRABBITS!!!

This is the forty-third of my final forty-five CD’s.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Junior high chorus

Cloudburst and Other Choral Works; Eric Whitacre, composer; Polyphony; Stephen Layton, conducting

Junior High started in the autumn of 1978. Every kid that advances out of elementary school has his or her list of anticipated freedoms, new found rights and privileges. Mine? Lockers, candy bars for lunch … and study hall. I looked forward to the study hall the most. We never had anything like this in elementary school. Imagine … getting your homework done at school, leaving it in your locker (LOCKER!!! Yea!!!) for the next day, keeping a light book bag, and more time to watch TV in the evening … or play the piano. The cost … Ha! Cost! … of this study hall was a sabbatical from all things singy, chorussy and choiry. I could live with that. Band was enough. Besides, I was a scholar and I needed my study time. Yup. My priorities were absolutely in “oar-dair”. More studying, parents would love that, conscience clear, cased closed.

All it took was the prettiest girl in my class to come to my desk, at the end of my first study hall, and say, “Erik, what are you doing in here? You’re the best musician in our school. We need more boy singers. Won’t you come sing with us?” And then she turned on the baby seal eyes and said, “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaase?” I rallied every speck, every morsel, every smidgen, dram and dollop of academic integrity in order to invoke a justified harangue about my supplemental scholarly requirements, the narrow, lonely path to a 4.0 and the extra free time at home with my Mom, Dad, sisters and kitty … and said, Okay.

I’d been pathetic before, and I’ve been since – but that was the most pitiable plummet I’ve ever sustained. If I’m thirty minutes smarter today than I would have been at my high school graduation commencement ceremony in May of 1984, it came from my one and only study hall on the first day of Junior High.

In January of 1999, I accompanied the twenty-fifth South Dakota Honors Choir when they performed for the regional convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Sioux Falls. The ACDA had invited the choir to repeat their concert from the summer before. It provided me with the opportunity to work again with the great choral conductor Dr. A. In addition to his concert with the Honors Choir at the convention, he brought his own choir to present a concert. And on that concert, I heard, for the first time, the music of Eric Whitacre.

Mr. Whitacre is an internationally renowned choral composer, conductor and clinician. He looks like a surfer dude. And young people absolutely love him.

Eric Whitacre has, many times, claimed that he never participated in anything … ANYTHING … musical, in school or at home, before attending the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He had grown up in Las Vegas and enrollment in the local University was only logical. He had announced no academic major at the time. All of his classes served to fulfill basic academic requirements.

On the first day of classes, Eric’s roommate burst into their dorm room and declared, “Dude! You gotta come join the chorus! They need men. And the chicks – are – AWESOME!” When he walked into the choral rehearsal room the next day, the chorus was rehearsing for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Mr. Whitacre typically concludes his story by saying that “I came for the chicks – but I stayed for Mozart”.

His biography from that point on renders one of the strangest, yet motivating, transformations I’ve ever stumbled across in the classical music biz. Without any appreciable history of musical instruction of any kind, he began to hear and compose music in his head. Not just happy, little thirty-two measure long ditties – but complex, harmonically innovative structures that can easily underpin the weight of the deepest, most esoteric text of any culture. After graduating from UNLV, he went on to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Since that time, he has received commissions, commissioning awards, honors and invitations to conduct all over the world. His compositions range from the very serious and moving “When David Heard” to the very entertaining and ridiculous “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas”.

I admit it. I am envious of his success. Although, turnabout is fair play, I suppose. All humility in tact, I would guess that others have envied the relative ease in which music flows through my ears and under my fingers. Somebody has to be near the top of the envy chain. I’m sincerely glad of his monumental success. He probably had more study halls than I did.

Credits: To Dr. A. What big ears you’ve got, Maestro. It’s always a pleasure to work with you.

This is the forty-second of my final forty-five CD’s.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Looking forward, looking back

Both Sides Now (2000); Joni Mitchell, vocal

Joni Mitchell was twenty-four years old when she penned the words and music to “Both Sides Now”. It’s a work of genius. Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number 170 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Genius? Yes. The perspective from which she philosophizes, in the lyrics, seems to emerge from a lifetime of loves, experiences, life encounters, friends and lovers. Life, as depicted from this mature point-of-view, has brought, to the person in the song, vistas that afford prospects from many different angles. A little toy dump truck may, in the end, be just a little toy dump truck – but what it means to a six-year-old boy may mean more to a sixty-five-year-old man.

I Corinthians 13 remarks that:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Of course, the Apostle Paul takes a longer view than Ms. Mitchell, but parallels manage to materialize, nonetheless.

Why is it genius? Joni Mitchell was only twenty-four when she wrote the lyrics! To the rest of us, she hadn’t lived nearly enough of life to intuitively, yet accurately, presuppose and conceive of the nostalgic outlook of one in their twilight years. But, Mozart wrote music beyond his years. I suppose Mitchell can write lyrics beyond hers.

We learned this song in junior high chorus. I remember Mrs. B. playing a recording of Ms. Mitchell singing this song before we started learning it. It sounded, to my ears, like a well-written folk song. And I thought it was very pretty.

I like the movie “The Player”. Robert Altman directed this movie in 1992. Tim Robbins – the player - plays the part of a producer at a studio in Hollywood. He begins to receive death threats and “unintentionally” kills the person that he thinks is writing them. Yet, after the killing, he continues to get death threats. The police can’t produce a witness to prove that the producer killed the guy. But the writer of the death threats knows that he did it. The producer and the death threat writer, at the end of the picture, come to an agreement: no more death threats – if – the producer makes a movie about the whole ordeal and gives writing credit to the death threat writer. And – all of a sudden – the movie turns into itself. Cool, huh?

When my friend L. told me to download Joni Mitchell’s 2000 re-recording of “Both Sides Now”, L. hadn’t properly prepared me … bless her heart … for the impact of emotion, depth and charge of Mitchell’s presentation. All of the notes in the melody, and the words in the lyrics, remained the same. But the landscape of the harmonic foundation, orchestration and ethereal atmosphere, matched with Joni’s later-in-life dusky contralto, laid out the terrain of a life frought with trees, pock marks, lawns, dumps, oceans, deserts, sunshine, storms, unions, attacks, affection, war, balloons, disease, picnics, homelessness, clouds, love and life.

In short, when Joni Mitchell sang this song thirty-three years after she wrote it – her song turned into itself. Cool, huh?

Tears and fears and feeling proud

To say “I love you” right out loud

Dream and schemes and circus crowds

I’ve looked at life that way


But now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed

Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained

In living every day


I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

As I approach the end of my writings, October, 2010, doesn’t appear much different from October, 2009. Same job, same truck, same friends, same family, same gigs, same computer, same electric fan, same favorite soup place, same wallet. Different printer, different glasses, different house, new socks. Despite the sameness … and not because of the newness … I’m a little different. I’m one year different. And some things have a little more meaning than they did before. I understand a little better how I’m different – yup, that’s the word I’m going to use – from you.

And God bless you.

Credits: To Paul of Tarsus, model Christian, before there was any such thing as a Christian.

This is my normal Saturday individual track posting.

Friday, October 8, 2010


The Calling; Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves came to Annapolis in January of 2002. I saw it in the newspaper and had to call Curtis. Hey, Curtis. “Hello.” Dianne Reeves is coming to town. Do you want to go? “Oh, YEAH! Get a ticket for me.”

I met Curtis on February 11, 1994, in Auckland, New Zealand. He was the first person I met after disembarking the shuttle from the airport to the Royal Odyssey. “You the new piano player?” Yeah, my name’s Erik. “The bass player D. was talking about you as the shuttle pulled up. Have you had lunch?” Oh, is that what I’m supposed to eat next? I thought I had dinner a couple of hours ago. “Put your gear in your room and I’ll show you what a New Zealand hamburger tastes like.” He was an instant friend.

Curtis worked on the ship as an illusionist and as a hypnotist; comedic on both accounts. I thoroughly enjoyed playing for and watching his shows. He had a quick wit and always kept things fun and clean. After he had hypnotized his – victims? – during his hypnotism show, he got very creative with the people on stage. My favorite was when he told them, while “under”, that the number eight didn’t exist. When he brought them out, he would ask one of them to count their fingers. Then, they would count to eleven, and the look on their face was worth the price of a cruise.

At the end of his contract about six weeks later, I told him that I was sorry to see him go. “Don’t worry. Royal Cruise Line likes me. We’ll see each other again soon.” And he was right. Three months later, he came to work on the Star Odyssey. Curtis! What a surprise! “I told you. Royal Cruise Line likes me.” His contract had him stay for three months while we traversed the peaceful waters of Alaska. How do you know so much about Alaska? “I grew up in Skagway.” Curtis came and went two or three more times during the rest of my voyages on the Star Odyssey.

I lost track of him for about two or three years. But then, I found a telephone number in my address book, so I called to see what would happen. It led me to another number – and then another number. Finally, I found him in Annapolis, Maryland. AND … he had gotten married. “Are you coming to visit?” I’m going to do you one better. “What, you’re moving in?” Then I told him about “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and how they were about to become burdened with me as their new piano player.

The first time I went to his house, I met his wonderful new wife Susan. She was an instant friend. Together, they became as good as family. It was always a pleasure to let them know where and when I was playing around town and it was a treat to see them.

In 2006, my good friend Curtis passed away, after enduring the weight and load of a monster, whose encumbrance proved too substantial to bear. During his ordeal, it was made plain to me that I was part of his family and Susan’s family and, to this very day, they are very special to me.

Curtis and I walked the few short blocks from his home to see Dianne Reeves that January and she totally blew us away. During the concert she announced that she would be singing during the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, in just a few weeks and that she would be singing “Fascinating Rhythm” from her new album.

Curtis bought her new CD for me that night.

It’s special. And it’s awesome.

Credits: To the memory of my friend Curtis. All of your troubles are gone, my friend. It must feel wonderful. And to my friend Susan. You are a rock.

This is the forty-first of my final forty-five CD’s.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Piano lessons

Rhapsody in Blue; Piano Concerto in F; An American in Paris; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Andre Previn, conducting and piano

I took piano lessons from Nadine for about eleven years. The same year that I started kindergarten, I started taking piano lessons. “The boy is learning some bad habits at the piano,” Nadine had told my mom after church one Sunday. “We’ve got to teach him how to read notes.”

I have to tell you, piano lessons sucked all of the fun out of playing the piano. I didn’t want to play their way. I wanted to play my way. Their way was boring. My way was fast. Their way was tedious, monotonous, mundane, banal and unstimulating. My way was fast.

So, I didn’t let on for quite some time that I hadn’t yet really learned how to read notes. Right at the end of the lesson, before sending us home, Nadine would play the next week’s piano lesson pieces out of my lesson books, like she did for all the other kids. It took her a while to realize that I memorized the next week’s lesson songs while she played them, and I practiced them from memory when I got home. Yeah, I was sneaky.

But I paid for my crimes. How? She stopped playing my lesson songs for me, and I had to figure out how they went by myself. And they were tedious, monotonous, mundane, banal and unstimulating.

After I got the hang of whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes, major and minor keys, time signatures and tempos, I moved along fairly quickly. Nadine knew how to task a young country boy: contests. My sisters and I played in so many piano contests. Then she moved me on to something called Guild, where I had to play something like twelve piano pieces from memory.

The last competitive setting in which Nadine had me participate was the South Dakota Music Teachers Association auditions. I only had to learn three pieces. But … they were much harder … AND … I competed against piano students from all over the state. This was an eye opener. I had never heard other serious piano students my age. They kind’a scared me.

So, I vowed to wow them the next year. Nadine, I need something really showy. “How about Prelude No. 3 by George Gershwin?” Is it fast? “{sigh} Yes.” Let’s do it. She had piles of music all over her studio. She moved things here, she moved things there. She climbed up on one of her piano benches to reach some of the stuff on the top shelf. “Here, hold this.” There, in my hands, she placed the sheet music for “Rhapsody In Blue”.

Time stopped. I’ve heard of this. I want to play this. Look at what this does. And there … oh, that’ cool. Where have you been all my life?

“Here you go.” What? “The Prelude No. 3. Here you go.” Then she looked at my eyes, then at what she had placed in my hands, then back at my face … and she knew the end was near.

I learned the Prelude No. 3. It’s a marvelous piece and I still enjoy playing it; maybe not quite so fast, now. After the SDMTA contest was over, I cautiously asked Nadine if I could take the “Rhapsody In Blue” home – for just a week – pleeeeeeease? “Yes, you can. But bring it back next week. And be careful with it. That copy is forty years old.” I learned as much as I could in a week.

At the next week’s lesson, I played a bunch of it for her. She had a big smile on her face. “Erik, that was wonderful. Thank you for playing that for me.” Then she looked serious and said, “Erik, you have to move on. I don’t teach ‘Rhapsody In Blue’. I teach ‘Down In The Valley’, 'The Merry Farmer', ‘Brave Indian Chief’ and ‘Bill Grogan’s Goat’. I’ve talked with Dr. P. at SDSU about you. He's a fine piano teacher. Go home and think about it."

For Christmas, that year, I got my own copy of “Rhapsody In Blue”. I still have it. There’s a Santa Claus sticker over the price.

Nadine was more than a piano teacher. She was a major musical force in the community. And she wasn’t scared of anything. She played the organ, she directed the church choir, she accompanied soloists at church … she even directed the bicentennial band on a float in Bruce’s bicentennial parade in 1976.

With piano lessons, her technique was "hands on". With everything else, it was "lead by example". Those lessons were just as important.

Not counting my Mom and Dad, she was my very first fan.

Credits: To Nadine Anderson. I miss you terribly and will love you always.

This is the fortieth of my final forty-five CD’s.