I have a new piano! The first piano I have ever bought in my life. She is a Young Chang, G-150, mahogany finish, 4’11 1/2 ” long, about 23 years old. For almost 45 years, I have played the same piano.
A 1912 Cable piano my parents bought for my brother and me. I have moved that piano, weighing close to 1000 pounds from Illinois to five different houses in Nashville, Tennessee and then back to Illinois to 2 different houses, and then to Blacksburg to two different houses. It has a really wonderful sound. I played the Moonlight Sonata as a farewell piece.
There’s a wonderful story behind how it found its new home at the Virginia Tech Adult Day Center. I’ll share that in the October Menah’s Matinee.
This pandemic has compelled me to think differently about my life. It has caused me to evaluate and question what is important to me, what gives me meaning, and what gives me joy.
And, my piano has been an immense source of comfort and solace and joy, especially during some of those “midnight” hours, that often seem to come more frequent than anticipated.
I’ve always love the majesty of a grand piano. Just sitting by herself, it seems to speak, to beckon, to summon. I’ve always wanted a grand piano in my house. I just didn’t always think I deserved it — I’m not a professional pianist. I didn’t think I could afford it, but she didn’t cost a fortune. And so, I have Simone in my house. It was a long journey to get her here.
The phrase #yolo (you only live once) or at least in this manifestation, has encouraged me to live this current manifestation to the fullest. And that means “more me,” #Imatter, #Iamimportant, #myneedsareimportant, #blackwomenmatter. It means it is ok to put me first, because I am responsible for myself and my happiness and my joy. It means letting go of some of the past to create a new present and future.
It doesn’t mean I am still not committed to serving humanity, it just means I am committted to serving myself, too, “putting on my oxygen mask first.” Often times as women, especially women of color, we have to be told that it is ok to put ourselves first, that we are of value and valuable and deserving.
It means that on occasion I’m purchasing something wonderful and special, and that I’m also doing more and different things to bring more wonder into my life.
As a new school year starts, I see this as a time for new beginnings.
I want to meet new people and form new friendships.
I want to explore new ways of being healthy, eating better and exercising more.
I want to be more of service and promote scholarship on race, class, and gender, and critical race theory and critical race feminism.
And, I also want to play beautiful music on my new grand piano, Simone.
I’ve named her after Nina Simone. I want to share one of my favorite songs – “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.” The lyrics really speak to me:
I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say ’em loud, say ’em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free
I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew
Well I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
Then I’d sing ’cause I know
How it feels to be free
In the version below, she improvises new lines (“I wouldn’t know myself / I’d have new hands / I’d have new visions / My eyes would be open”/The Bible Says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”)
Nina’s life reminds me of how she has been bruised as a brilliant black woman by a world that has hated and despised Black brilliance.
An excerpt from
https://www.boulderswingdance.com/news/nina-simone shares a bit about Nina Simone’s life and her brilliance:
“Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21st, 1933. After starting to play the piano at the age of three, she took classical music lessons and played in her mother’s church. She loved the classical piano composers: Bach, Chopin, Beethoven and Schubert. By the time she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and started studying at the Julliard School in New York, her goal was to become the world’s first African American classical pianist.
She was thwarted in this ambition, however, after being denied a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, another top music conservatory. In an interview from 1991, she says, “They didn’t give me the opportunity to start as a black classical pianist. I was refused a scholarship because I was black.”
After this disappointing end to her formal music training, she began performing in Atlantic City nightclubs, taking the stage name Nina Simone in honor of the French actress Simone Signoret. Her career began to take off at age twenty-four, when she was signed to King Records and recorded her breakout song, “I Loves You, Porgy” from the musical Porgy and Bess.
In her 1991 autobiography I Put A Spell on You, Simone wrote,
“Critics started to talk about what sort of music I was playing, and tried to find a neat slot to file it away in. It was difficult for them because I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a classical piano technique influenced by cocktail jazz. On top of that I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs were automatically identified with the folk movement. So, saying what sort of music I played gave the critics problems because there was something from everything in there, but it also meant I was appreciated across the board – by jazz, folk, pop and blues fans as well as admirers of classical music.”
Nina was unique and special and underappreciated in her life. I’m glad she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Frame in 2018. It was just too late.
We just need to recognize more Black women while they are alive. #blackwomenmatter.
Yet, we can keep their name alive by honoring them. And so, a tribute to Nina Simone on Menah’s Matinee: Music and Musings.