Music has been defined as the universal language of the world. Some feel it is perhaps the oldest. It is a common verdict of history that music came before speech. When our prehistoric ancestors were roaming what we now call North Dakota and looking for lefse, and realized they had arrived too early, they moaned in union. Someone in the crowd let out a high pitch moan letting them know that lefse would not be present until after the Ice Age.
Moans continue to be part of music - especially if you have children taking piano lessons. They start out very excited to begin lessons; once they realize that it will be some time before they are playing like Chopin, the joy and excitement takes a downward turn. Even the enticement of homemade lefse does not work.
Lydia started taking music lessons with Mrs. Christine Halvorson at Children's Music Academy in Rugby. She started when she was 4 years old; on the very first day she was not sure if she wanted to stay. Mrs. Halvorson, in her inviting manner, convinced her and we were off and running. From the very first lesson I heard Mrs. Halvorson say, "it is OK to make mistakes." For parents and children, this was music to our ears. Rather than worrying about mistakes, we simply try our best each time.
Lydia is now 9 years old and on Sunday, May 4, she along with Erik Foster, Kendyl Hager and Tabitha Huwe graduated from the Master's program in Children's Music Academy. It was a shining moment for all of us present to watch them showcase their knowledge of the keyboard, identification of sharp key signatures, major and relative minors, play their recorders, sing and identify scales by ear - just to name a few of their gained music skills. This class has been special to Mrs. Halvorson because they were her first class when she took over the program from Denisse Cameron. Mrs. Cameron now conducts CMA in Minot in the Artspace building. The highlight of the afternoon came when each of them played a selected solo. Lydia played "Morning" by Edvard Grieg. I have always enjoyed when Jan plays the piano in our home. Several years ago, her parents brought her piano from their farm home, and it has been a most welcome addition to our living room.
We live in an older home which has an open staircase. Often in the past two weeks, I stopped and smiled as Jan sat with Lydia on the bench and helped her with "Morning." It brought back memories to Jan of her days with piano lessons with her teacher, Mrs. Bernice O'Connell of Ray. Jan recalls how Mrs. O'Connell would use imagery to replicate the sounds on the piano - "like wind coming through the pine trees on your farm." Lydia took great interest in her mommy sharing these details when describing how to feel the music when the sun rises in the morning. At times
they both were laughing at the keys, which in turn made playing something difficult a bit easier.
Easy Lemon Bars
When Jan attended Mrs. O'Connell's home auction a number of years ago, she purchased a box of copper items and nestled at the bottom of this box was a bundle of recipes that she had often used at her piano recitals. Many of the recipes were centered around lemons. The following recipe comes from a well-used recipe card, which tells me it was a real favorite. These are easy, delicious, legato smooth, and in tempo at recitals and beyond!
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 good-sized lemons juiced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, blend together soften butter, 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9- x13-inch pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven until golden and firm. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the oven. Let the bars rest on a rack and they will firm up as they cool. After they have cooled, cut into uniform 2-inch squares and dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
Jan's patience with Lydia at the piano is without a doubt one of my favorite pictures - one of our Rugby home that I will always treasure. My climb of the stairway always takes longer when I look down and see mother and daughter at the piano. What is it that causes a child to want to learn and enjoy the piano for a lifetime? Much of it depends on their attitude, their willingness to practice, the touch of the teacher, and the encouragement from a parent when tears are shed upon the ivories.
Jan also took the time to share with Lydia and me the details of Mrs. O'Connell's cozy home where she gave piano lessons. She had two pianos in one very small room. When they played duets, their backs touched. She was a caring, yet also aggressive, teacher who encouraged her students to advance and to play for enjoyment - both of which required practice! She also held small recitals at her yellow cottage home - the mothers sat in the living room and could only hear the students play in the piano room just around the corner. She served lunch - bars, coffee and a bit of punch.
Mrs. Halvorson has been to Norway and her travels there took her to Bergen where she visited the home of Edvard Grieg. She delighted Lydia with a story about his composer's hut, which overlooks Nordas Lake where he could see the sun rise. Perhaps that was the inspiration for "Morning!" He is widely considered one of the leading Romantic Era composers. His music is part of the standard classical repertoire worldwide, and has been played on a birch colored Henry F. Miller numerous times at 409 Third Street SW in Rugby, N.D., by a 9-year-old girl. We hope that someday she will play this piece when she strolls by a piano in an airport, on the campus of Minot State, or in her own home.