Echoes of a silent night long past

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

The yellowed sheets of music sat underneath a pile of old lessons books inside the piano stool. I picked up the first one and smiled.

Black letters across the top read "White Christmas." I looked at the squiggle of music notes underneath the title.

"I don't think I was ever able to play this," I said. "The music is too difficult for me."

I put it to one side and picked up another aging piece of paper with the words Holiday Song Book on it.

The piece I held in my hand was "Silent Night," and a sweet memory came calling as I looked at the music and read the lyrics.

"How old was I when I learned to play this?" I wondered out loud. "I remember practicing and practicing."

I saw myself dressed in my flannel nightgown seated at the piano in the living room of my childhood. Kids swooped in and out of the room as the candy-colored tree sparkled in front of the window.

Plunk by plunk I picked out the notes on the page in front of me. A halting version of Silent Night filled the air.

Every now and then I'd hit a real clunker and wince at the sound. Finally sure that I had mastered what my right hand was supposed to play, I added the left hand. What followed was more plunking and many more clunkers.

I'm sure my playing got comments from the brothers and sisters who wanted me to stop the noise that interrupted their play. Still, I was determined to learn this song for Christmas, so I played on and on.

I can't remember why learning the old carol meant so much nor do I recall if I played it for anyone on Christmas.

What I do remember is the feeling I had sitting in that living room with the Christmas lights shining and the sounds of the house all around me.

Wrapped in the wonderful blanket of childhood, I felt warm, secure and at peace. It was a time of innocence when you could imagine any future you chose. I could even grow up to be a pianist playing Silent Night in some great concert hall.

With a blink, I returned to the present, lifted the old music out of the stool and put it on the piano. Then I slide into place in front of the black and white keys. I hit the first notes with my right hand, playing slowly at first then picking up speed as my fingers remembered where to go.

My left hand joined my right searching for the location that matched the notes on the sheet of music. Stopping and restarting, I made my way through the song with a minimum of clunkers.

As the last note died, I closed my eyes for a minute lost in an echo of the past that faded with the sound.

Lifting the stool, I put the yellowed sheets back inside, closed the lid on yesterday and returned to a silent night where there was still decorating to be done before Christmas morning.