Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Mother’s small upright Wurlitzer piano was the heart and soul of our little Oregon farm home as we children grew up. We had no TV available until my last year in high school (1956) so everything seemed to center around that piano. Mom and Dad played piano and drums in a dance band that played for church and school dances, so we often heard her fun toe-tapping style of music being played in our home, and oh how we loved it! When Dad came in from the fields at night and relaxed in his recliner she often played some of the old familiar love songs for him and he’d sometimes sing along. Those were sweet times.
Mother also gave piano lessons to family members and neighbors’ children on the Wurlitzer so we enjoyed a steady diet of piano music in our home. On family night we gathered around the piano to sing with Mother accompanying us, or we would join in on the instruments we were learning to play in the school band. Having our own accompanist, we often sang solos and duets and quartets around the piano. Mother gave my sister and me piano lessons and we kept the old Wurlitzer busy with our practicing (my sister more than I). Looking back I realize what a great blessing it was for us to have that wonderful piano and parents who loved music and kept it going pretty constantly in our home. While a senior in high school I wrote my first song on that piano, “I Walked in God’s Garden.”
When Mother passed away the piano went to my sister Nettie, and from there has been passed to her daughter Amy Porter in Alaska.
During my BYU years I had to schedule piano time in a little practice room in the basement
of my dorm and I missed the ever-present sound of music I had grown up with. I enjoyed my music theory classes, especially the writing assignments. When my beloved Grandpa Reuben Saunders passed away I wrote a song for him on that practice piano and found comfort in it. Pianos help us in our sad times, and add joy to our happy times.
When Doug and I married in 1958 we spent three years in military service, a few years at BYU as he finished his degree, and four years in graduate school at Indiana University. We were pretty poor during these years and were busy caring for our growing family, so we had no piano in our home for a decade. We both missed it and finally decided that we had to have a piano no matter what it took. In 1968 we purchased a new Kimball spinet piano. It definitely stood out as something special in our small army-barracks apartment in student housing and we gathered around it almost reverently to introduce piano music to our family of six. I cried when I first sat down to play for our children as so many memories flooded back from my childhood days.
Eventually we returned to Utah and the piano filled our home with music in Logan, Utah and then in Provo, Utah where we still live now, 47 years after graduate school. I cannot even begin to count the talents that have been developed, the friendships that have flourished, and the joyous moments of singing together that have happened around our old Kimball piano. Our children’s vocal lessons were practiced there, piano lessons were practiced, and friends have come by to practice special numbers before singing in Church or in musical productions. In 1976 I wrote my first music on this piano for our ward road show. And since then I have written hundreds of religious hymns and songs on my well-used Kimball piano.
Following our mission we served for three years in a Spanish-speaking ward in south Provo and I began giving free piano lessons to four bright children from the Primary. They came to my home every week for seven years working toward the goal of becoming church pianists, and the old Kimball piano definitely got a good workout during this time! As they progressed, their picture appeared on the cover of the Church News and in the Friend magazine. Now they are in college and on missions and playing for everything and I am so proud of them.
At first they only had little LDS-Fifty keyboards to learn on, but then I discovered the Mundi Project, which refurbishes used pianos and makes them available at no cost to serious piano students who cannot afford a piano. Each student soon had a real piano in his or her home, which accelerated their learning greatly and started a tradition where the piano would become the heart of their home. Some of my students are even teaching others to play the piano now.
A year or two ago my piano wasn’t holding a tune as well as it used to so I considering buying a new one. I asked a piano dealer what he would give me on a trade in and he asked, “Have you written most of your songs on this piano?” I told him I had, and he said that if I would let him advertise that fact he was sure he could sell it for enough for me to buy a beautiful new grand piano. I told my son John about this offer and he said, “Mom, that piano is never leaving our family.” I knew that too—I couldn’t part with it. I found an innovative piano tuner who used an unusual method for fixing the tuning problem with my piano and it has been much better since. Either that or I am too old to be that discriminating about pitch anymore.
Two other pianos have played an important role in my life. Years ago we bought a Packard baby grand piano for $500 from a man who was desperate to move and hadn’t been able to sell it. It wasn’t in the best shape but we bought it and spent $2,700 renovating it into a serviceable piano that looks nice in our living room and makes the grandchildren feel special when they perform for us on our family programs! The baby grand piano even made it onto the cover of one of the gospel albums I co-wrote with Senator Orrin G. Hatch. I enjoy playing it myself occasionally but I almost always gravitate to my private studio and sit at my old friend, the Kimball piano, to do my songwriting. I think we’re a team after all these years and I wouldn’t want to hurt its feelings.
We bought a cabin in Hobble Creek Canyon, east of Springville, Utah at the time of our 30th wedding anniversary and we had many good times there with our family. We soon realized we needed a piano there too so we could go there for a few days at a time and I could write in the quiet that existed there. We took a Roland electronic piano to the cabin and I did much of my songwriting there over a couple of decades of time. I had earphones so I could write without disturbing Doug who sat right next to me reading. I loved writing at the cabin with no interruptions.
I was sad to read a January 2015 article in the New York Times that said, “Pianos aren’t selling the way they used to. In 1909 more than 364,500 pianos were sold in the U.S. In 2015 sales were between 30,000 and 40,000. The piano was once the heart of the home, but the television has adopted that role in the modern era. And now children are easily entertained with tablets [and other electronic devices] and aren’t practicing scales every day.” Given the many benefits that experts are finding accrue from learning to play the piano, this is sad indeed.
A free-verse poem entitled “Piano” by poet D.H. Lawrence, who had grown up in a situation where the piano had been the heart of his home, expressed his sadness about how things had changed decades later toward the end of his life.
Piano (By D.H. Lawrence)
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
Janice Kapp Perry: Composer, Author, Lecturer