When it comes to remembering people and events that have inspired us in the past, music is an important way for us to connect with our memories in a powerful way.
In this article, we'll talk about how playing the piano, accompanying someone singing and composing music can all be ways of expressing gratitude, connecting with the source of our relationship with music and/or how we can inspire others.
May is traditionally the month when we remember our loved ones. Between the two major holidays of Mother's Day and Memorial Day, there are plenty of opportunities to think about people who have sacrificed some part of themselves for our benefit. That said, music can help us to remember those who have inspired us at any time of the year.
Years ago I attended a choir directors' seminar. One of the most important take-aways was that certain hymns will trigger memories in people's lives. I guess I have had the same experience. Every time, I play The Old Rugged Cross and Let Us Break Bread Together for our congregation to sing, I think of my mentor Joe Maneri, who helped me change the course of my musical career during my private lessons with him in the the early 1980s. Recently, I had another experience with one of my adult piano students. He selected a song to learn called Innamorata. Since this Italian song, written by Harry Warren (whose real name was Salvatore Antonio Guaragna), was sung occasionally by my mother, I couldn't help but recall hearing her sing it while playing the piano to accompany herself.
In addition to connecting with ones's past through accompanying singers, playing songs on the piano can recall a person or an event. For instance, every time I play East of the Sun, I remember playing it on my early gigs at the Embassy Club in Dobbs Ferry, NY and at the same time find myself inspired by Diana Krall's quintessential performance at her Live in Paris concert. Every time I play Autumn Leaves, I am reminded of the transformational jazz piano studies I had with Charlie Banacos. Charlie had a special way of teaching jazz improvisation that helped to unlock my musical potential at a critical point in my career. He taught hundreds of Boston area jazz musicians for many years until his untimely death at age 63 in 2009.
Sometimes we can pay tribute to a person by composing a piece in her honor. Such is the case with a song I composed in 2021 on the 15th anniversary of my mother's passing. I began by experimenting with a few chords and deciding to set the piece as a waltz. Originally, I chose a faster tempo, but as time went on, I took a more contemplative approach which meant playing it at a slower tempo (which would have made my mother much happier). The title of the piece is Remembering.