Holiday Digest: Sounds of Music

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by Cecile Sarruf

Come holiday time, our mahogany upright grand begged to be played. The piano was a natural go-to, especially during the holiday season. As a teen, I’d open its bench and rummage through Mozart and Schubert while seeking caroling tunes or perhaps some Roger and Hammerstein favorites. Music always offered merriment and harmonious melodies.

As I played the keys, my three sisters would while the time away with a good game of Chinese checkers in front of our fireplace next to Mother’s handmade crèche. The Nativity scene was created with a roll of brown newsprint paper which was shaped into a mountainous landscape, then dotted with figurines of shepherds and their sheep. At the center, our mother would place a wood stable complete with its own tiny light bulb. Miriam and Joseph stood over an empty crib surrounded by one lone cow and a shepherd boy. Of course, the Magi would not be placed in the foothills until Jan. 6.

Beside this display stood a tall snowy Douglas fir redolent with the scent of pine and festooned with shiny blue baubles and silver tinsel; a reflection of the harsh winter seasons of our childhood in Montreal perhaps, where, at the age of eight, I’d grab a large red toboggan and head out to trudge the deep snow with my sisters in tow. We were in search of a good-sized hill.

At that time, we also had a vintage piano, and our father would pull a player roll from a long box and secure it to the center of the piano so it would play itself. Sadly, when we left Canada for California, the roller piano was left behind, along with Frosty the Snowman.

Once in California, sunlight would slice through tree branches between rain showers, and Mother’s cooking would fog up the windowpanes. I’d take up a seat at our piano and set the mood for good holiday cheer. Sometimes, two of my sisters ponied up with their violins and we’d have a regular concert!

As the years passed, we eventually flew the coop and found ourselves in other people’s homes with other people at other holiday tables. I guess one could say I became a musical orphan. As a result, when a glossy grand presented itself in a hotel lobby or a forgotten spinet called out from the corner of a friend’s home, the sight of a piano would spark my heart. It was as if I’d found a long-lost friend that had shared cherished memories of family sing-a-longs. There was something sacred about touching those ivory keys and hitting the first chord, which ensured a spirited journey around life’s icy rink.

One crisp early evening, I found myself strolling Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach. While people nattered away in restaurant fronts, I headed toward an art gallery showing to meet a friend. When I neared the corner of Glenneyre Steet, I discovered an older fellow and his keyboard under a large eucalyptus tree. He could have been in an Italian plaza, the way he played. I listened to his soothing palette of wondrous tunes and waterfall runs from his portable Roland. As I applauded him, we chatted and chimed about keyboards and song favorites. Although we were complete strangers, a familiarity set in. I believe musicians are life’s troubadours whose sole purpose is to fill silent spaces with moving pathos and nostalgia through the sounds of music.

Cecile Sarruf, a member of the Third Street Writers and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, likes to pen memoir and paint in oils.

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