Editor’s Note: The following is a sample from a memoir, Life with Music: My Story of Family, Faith, and Hope. The subject tells her story about growing up as a missionary’s daughter in the South, training as a classical pianist in New York, and eventually beginning a foundation — with the help of her piano students — to offer music as therapy.
I opened the back door of my blue Datsun station wagon and watched Tacy climb into the seat. I set her small backpack on the floor below her feet, buckled her in, then climbed in the driver’s seat to begin our morning commute to the Waldorf School of Baltimore. As I drove out of our leafy, wooded neighborhood in Columbia, Maryland, I peered at the lights shining in the windows of other homes where families were preparing for the day. Occasionally I spotted women dressed in work suits or dresses stepping into their cars. It was 1987, and I was immersed in the transition into motherhood while trying to maintain some semblance of a career — a somewhat precarious act like keeping a balanced weight from tipping too far either way. My thoughts flashed briefly to my friends who had stayed back in New York pursuing their music careers full time.
Things were certainly smoother in the daily routine of our little family, thanks in part to several years of marriage counseling and recently moving Tacy out of public school, a decision that alleviated her Sunday spells of crying and anxiety. If I was honest with myself, I was relieved that I had given up my music teaching position at Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University. I enjoyed teaching, but was happy to ease the daily grind so I could devote more time to my daughter since my husband, Darryl, was working twelve to thirteen hours a day. It wasn’t an easy decision; I considered my friends who had hired nannies or had mothers living close by who cared for their children during the day. Thankfully I still had work on my plate, and now time with my daughter.
As I merged onto Interstate 70 heading east, I thought about the lessons I needed to prepare for the students who would be coming to our home for piano instruction that evening, how to work with them on fingering, and which classical pieces I might introduce next to the older ones. Oh, and I needed to practice for rehearsals of the next performance of “Chicago” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia. The show tunes were always something new for me as they weren’t part of my classical repertoire in which I had been trained. I wondered what my grandfather, who had once led church congregations and community banquets with his toe-tapping gospel tunes, would think. I imagined he would approve, as devoted as he was to music.
I did love the show tunes and looked forward to practicing them as many times as possible so I wouldn’t lead the entire orchestra astray. My greatest fear always was that I might mess up during performance, or I might not measure up to everyone’s expectations. That part of me certainly hadn’t changed since I was a kid, despite my many years of playing the piano, I thought to myself.
Tacy suddenly brought me out of my daydreaming.
“What happens in the story next, Mom?” she asked. I glanced up from the road and saw her blue eyes staring into the rearview mirror. I had to think about where we left off yesterday in my improvised narrative about a boy and his sister Maya who were becoming Ninja warriors under the guidance of a great Master Ninja named Ezekiel. “Well, Mahatma had to go to training camp that summer and—“
“No, no, no. He was already there,” Tacy corrected me, leaning forward in her seat, the seatbelt straining at her shoulder. She was five, and how she kept track of this story so closely and what I had told her the previous day, remembering every word, always astounded me.
“That’s right,” I said slowly, trying to think what might happen next. “Well, suddenly there was a disaster in Nepal. So while their family was sleeping, Mahatma and Maya snuck out and joined Ezekiel and together they traveled to Nepal.” I glanced in the mirror to see Tacy settle back into her seat. And for the next forty-five minutes we traveled along on this little Ninja warrior’s latest rescue mission.
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Note: Layout and design of Life with Music was done by Marion Johnson of The Memory Works LLC.