I come from a musical family of sorts. My parents sing in the church choir as did my grandfather. My father plays guitar and piano. My mother plays piano. My sister, mother and niece sing in a women’s barbershop choir (no I’m not currently in the midst of an illicit drug intoxication event, that is a real thing) and a similarly harmonic quartet. That niece also studies music at university while another niece is taking singing lessons. And I write cute blog posts about songs I like to listen to.
This is not to say that I don’t sing or play musical instruments, I do. Just not very well. And certainly not for the public. I am capable of reading music and can butcher a tune with my warbled voice or plunk out a simple melody on the piano. I’ve just never taken the initiative to hone these rudimentary musical skills which is a regret that will likely haunt me well into my grave dwelling years.
The fact I have any music ability at all stems from two influences in my youth; St. Jacobs Public School, where choral singing was encouraged with such enthusiasm by Mr. McPhail, Mrs. Von Milke, and Mrs. Stayzer that joining the school’s voluntary Concert Choir was actually seen as a badge of honour rather than a target for ridicule, and piano lessons at the house of a little old lady who happened to be the mother of my Godmother whom I can’t recall having ever met and honestly couldn’t pick out of a lineup consisting of she and four assorted patio stones.
These piano lessons, foisted upon my sister and me by well-meaning but ultimately disappointed parents, were very much what you might expect of such piano lessons in the mid-eighties. We’d arrive after school for a half hour of basic music fundamentals (All Good Boys Deserve Fudge/FACE/All Cows Eat Grass/Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always will follow me to the same aforementioned grave), scales, and piano playing bordering on the embarrassing. Our reward at the end of these hardly arduous lessons, okay they were outright boring, was a, yes, you guessed it, glass of milk and a cookie.
It sounds absurdly cute now but at the time the whole experience was excruciating. Eventually my parents relented and both my sister and I were allowed to quit, neither of us piano virtuosos, let alone recreational players. What I would give to be able to pound those ebony and ivory keys like a honky tonk hero today.
There was, however, a moment of childhood bliss that occurred before my first foray into piano playing was aborted. We had not been following any of the rigorous Royal Conservatory of Music regimen but nonetheless most of our assigned homework was traditional classical music. William Tell and Canon in D and the like. Not the most inspiring choices for a couple of barely interested youngsters. So in a last ditch attempt to ignite our piano passions, my sister and I were given an opportunity to purchase, together, one book of popular sheet music from which to play from. This was a huge deal to us both. We would actually be learning to play songs we not only knew but liked!
Naturally, we settled upon Kenny Rogers 20 Greatest Hits because, well, apparently my sister and I are small town rubes straight out of a fifties sitcom. It goes without saying that the recorded album from which this sheet music stems was a staple in the Schmidt house during this time. And while this noble attempt at passion ignition ultimately failed as well, my memories of trying to play “The Gambler” on piano and the milk and the cookies and the hand drawn staffs and the long walks back home are now happily tinged with a rosy glow.
The song I chose to kick off the weekend is my very favourite of those 20 greatest hits. And believe me, that’s saying something because there are some monster hits in Kenny’s repertoire. This one, perhaps a little more serious than the others, or at least a little less country cliché, is a true gem. Originally recorded for the 1969 album Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, your weekend just got awesome with “Reuben James”.