Was reminiscing recently about a battered and worn upright piano that occupied a back corner of our family's garage during my teenage years. It wasn't very pretty - broken ivories, broken keys, broken wood. Still, there were strings - and the potential for music.
Occasionally, I would wander over to the tired instrument, hoping to coax a melody or two from the heart inside its fading shell. Untrained, I was relegated to simple, original compositions - haphazard improvisations that were largely exercises in avoiding dissonance.
At seventeen, my parents, maybe sensing a little spark, upgraded the piano and enrolled me in lessons with a woman who lived across town named Betty Hansen. A middle-aged widow, she possessed a sparkling personality and a vast love for music that outsized her petite frame. In her cramped front room resided the Steinway. Around it, stacks and stacks of sheet music - Gershwin, The Beatles, show tunes and folk songs - most of them transcribed in her own hand and signed - "Arranged by Betty M. Hansen"
We progressed slowly, working through primary books, and eventually some of her simple sheets. I was surely one of her least diligent students - though she would never say so. We'd meet for 30 minute sessions every couple of weeks, and there were periods where I might not have played in between. Still, she was patient, always quick to encourage and careful not to criticize. Occasionally, when I'd do something well, she would prop open the top on the grand, offering my tentative hands the chance to fill the room with sound. Her love of music was contagious, and over time, I had learned just enough to carry my interest forward, a gift I appreciate to this day.
Near the end of our time together, when it was becoming clear that music was going to be just an avocation for me, Mrs. Hansen offered to score one of the small pieces I had composed. As I played, she plotted the notes on paper. Her handwriting was elegant, lyrical. When we finished, she added my name next to the title: "Genesis."
I read today that Betty May Hansen died two weeks ago. She was 88 years old. One year for each of the keys on her piano.
When we first met, she had a few octaves yet to play. But midway through her own life's symphony, Betty Hansen struck a more resonant chord than she knew. Because of her, I still play today, decades later. Still can't say I practice much, but I play.. I play.