Friday, May 3, 2013

Challenge 7: Remembering Piano

Not long after I came back from Spaulding, I sat down at my piano. I wasn't sure if I could play anything at all, but I tried to think of the piano as a therapy tool--both physical and cognitive.

From time to time, I've been going through my sheet music for my favorite pieces. With some pieces, I've tried to pick out the notes. Sometimes I listen to recordings and follow along with the sheet music. Other times I just listen.

But there was one piece that I couldn't find in my music books, and I also don't have a recording. It was a slow Scott Joplin piece called "Solace" that I've been playing by memory since middle school, and it was one of my show-off pieces. But when I tried playing even a few notes by memory, I couldn't. My left hand waited for cues from my right hand, while my right hand sat on the keyboard, useless as a dead fish.

So my challenge was to drive to the music store, track down the music, and hopefully pick out some of the melody, in any way possible. After thumbing through anthologies, I found the song. To my dismay, the music didn't look like anything I remembered. Did I confuse the name of the piece? Were my music-reading skills affected by the stroke even more than I realized?

I was never the most talented pianist, but that was beside the point. I loved making music. And now one more piece of myself was lost. This really sucks, I said to myself.

I bought the music book anyway. When I came home I googled "Solace," and found a video clip of someone playing the piece. Halfway through the clip, I recognized it. It was "Solace." But I had always skipped the first two movements, and even forgotten they existed. And I don't think it had anything to do with the stroke.

Afterwards, I tried to play a few lines. It didn't sound much like music, and I'm not sure it ever will. But at least I now can tell you: I used to play this Scott Joplin song called "Solace" for decades; I always skipped the first two movements; and that was part of who I was.

Here's a post by Marcelle Greene about ragtime and stroke. Here's a video clip of a performance of "Solace" (with a lot fewer mistakes, of course, than I used to to make. The parts I used to play start at 3:37).


  1. You must have been so upset when the music did not seem like the right piece! I hope you keep trying with the piano. I have been looking for new ways to get music back in my life and it is very satisfying.

  2. I didn't realize the third movement of Solace was the theme song of the movie "The Sting" with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. My go-to song that always transports me is the 1st two minutes of the Forrest Gump Suite composed by Alan Silvestri. It's the song at the end of the movie that plays as the feather floats away. Music makes me happy too.

  3. I remember you playing Solace! And the Maple Leaf Rag, which made me hop up and down in my seat. Well, if it's any solace (and it might not be), I've never had a stroke, but can't play Joplin at all. Though, by way of your inspiration, I have tried. I wonder if my piano-teacher boyfriend and you should have a phone yack? I don't think he's studied post-stroke learning techniques, but he's pretty creative...

    I'm really glad you're getting back to the piano, Grace!