Friday, February 22, 2019

The piano will save you - revisited


I started piano lessons when I was six.  I can still see my mom at the corner of Vaughan Avenue and Grove Street (Northwest Detroit.)  She was calling my name, and she told me “Rosemary they just delivered our piano,,,,,run!”  So that is what I did-- run, to find a beautiful brown Baldwin spinet in our living room.

Initially my mom took lessons, but with family responsibilities, no time for lessons or practice.  One evening at dinner, my Dad asked me and my brothers, “who is going to take piano lessons?”  My brothers’ hands didn’t shoot up, so I said yes.

That started my long relationship with my favorite instrument.  My first teacher was our parish organist.  He was a taskmaster, rapping my hands with a wooden stick when my hand position wasn’t correct.  As an outspoken child, I told my mom…and quickly moved on to another teacher. 

In 7th grade when I found my dream piano teacher, Katherine Lemon.  I took lessons from her through 12th grade.  She was an Oberlin graduate, and very accomplished. I began to dream of a career as a piano teacher, and professional musician.  My senior year I played a Debussy Prelude in my final piano recital, and to my surprise, I only played one or two incorrect notes.  I had just told my teacher a few weeks earlier, that I wasn’t sure I had the ability to be a piano teacher, and that I was thinking of law school.

During my first year of college, I took piano lessons through the school of music.  My teacher criticized my playing and told me I didn’t have the right type of thumbs to be a pianist.  I was heartbroken and quit lessons after a semester.  I didn’t even play the piano in our dorm lobby.  I boxed up my love for the piano and my musical dreams.

When Sarah and Michael were little, my mom called me one day and asked me whether I wanted our little Baldwin piano.  I thought, maybe I would start playing again even though I told my mom that I didn’t think I could play anymore.  My mom firmly responded “no, Rosemary, you need the piano, and eventually it will save you many times in life.”

You know my mom was right.  I spent the 1990s playing all kinds of Disney music.  I played the Winnie the Pooh theme at least 100 times as Sarah marched around the living room.  I found an amazing piano teacher Madeline Karn, who also graduated from Oberlin for Sarah, and I watched Sarah’s progress from Piano Adventure books to sonatas.  When Sarah was in eighth grade and Michael was in fifth grade, I started taking piano lessons from Dr. Suzanne Newcomb.  Suzanne like my other great teachers focuses on your current ability while tackling your collective musical challenges.

During my children’s busy high school years, I again took some time off from the piano, but I have gone back to the instrument, taking lessons in my 40s, 50s and now in my 60s.  I am currently taking lessons from Dr. Suzanne Newcomb, but also took lessons from Madeline Karn.  Both have given me the courage to try anything I am willing to practice.

I’m close to finishing my legal career, and my parents are now no longer with me.  My mom’s words stay with me.    Yes, the piano has saved me.  It has provided moments of order when I’m anxious, joy when I am sad, goals to achieve when I am bored, and peace when I’m troubled.   I feel as connected to the piano as when I was six.  And I have created a blog on piano playing through the mind of the amateur called FocusedHour88keys.

The piano stands alone for me as the greatest instrument.  So take a moment and see if playing the piano or any instrument can save you.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Michelle Obama A Glimpse into her Piano Journey

I have taken the opportunity to blog about Presidents who have played piano.  However, I have yet to explore the piano playing efforts of our First Ladies.

I am currently reading Becoming by First Lady Michelle Obama.  Her book is an interesting read, and she writes in a conversational tone, that simply feels like she is speaking directly to the reader.

Mrs. Obama was four when she wanted to learn to play the piano.  Okay folks, I feel like Mrs. Obama is simply so down to earth, I am going to call her Michelle.  If you ever read my blog Michelle, please forgive me.  Michelle's Great Aunt Robbie owned the house where Michelle resided with her parents and her brother Craig.  What I thought was so interesting, was Michelle's first thoughts about the piano.  In her words "When you're little, a piano can look like it has a thousand keys.  You're staring at an expanse of black and white that stretches farther than two small arms can reach."  It was the first time that someone put into words, what I thought, the first time I stared at our brand new piano, arriving in our home in 1962.

Michelle went on to describe that she liked the piano and that sitting at it felt natural, like something she was meant to do.  Again, that was how I felt, the first time I climbed on our piano bench.  I had a family who loved music.  My mom listened to Frank Sinatra while cleaning.  My parents went to the symphony and the opera, and yes, we watched Lawrence Welk, every Sunday evening, whether it was at home, or at my grandma's house.  The way Michelle described how she was surrounded by music lovers, was exactly the way I felt about my family, yes we too were music lovers.

Michelle had a focused pursuit on learning the piano.  She picked up scales and filled out sight reading worksheets that her Aunt Robbie gave her.    I loved her thought process in this part of the book, because Michelle commented that there was magic in the learning.  Learning the notes for the first time is magic.  It's a whole new language and to coin the Aladdin lyrics, it is a whole new world.

Interestingly, Michelle like me, often would look ahead in her piano books, and work on pieces that were more advanced.  In reading the book, her Aunt commented on the fact that she wasn't ready to move ahead.  However, I sensed a dogged determination on the part of Michelle, that she was moving ahead anyway.

Often in the piano world of Rosemary Ebner Pomeroy, I found myself at the music store, IMC Music Center in Berkley, Michigan to be exact, always asking my mom to buy me sheet music that said advanced.  I was confident, that I could in fact learn it even if I wasn't ready.    Perhaps that is a sign of a real musician, knowing that you might not be ready for a piece, but you are going to take a leap of faith and see if you can play any part of it anyway.  As a young pianist, I wanted to be bold.  I wanted to play like famous pianists on the covers of albums my mom had.

Michelle also took some time to describe her performance in an early piano recital.  Her piano recital was held in a practice recital at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.  Just like my mom, Michelle's mom saw to that she was wearing a nice dress and patent leather shoes.  My mom was obsessed with black patent leather shoes, and that was what I had on for just about every piano recital.  On page 15 of her book, Michelle described her first cold sweat of her life, and her anxiety about performing.  I so remember those feelings, fear, wanting to play well, and most of all not disappointing my piano teacher.

She got to the grand piano she was going to play for the performance.  Michelle realized when she sat down on the bench that the piano was perfect, unlike the piano she played at her Aunt Robbie's home.  The middle C on her piano at home, had a chipped middle C key.  The recital piano was in mint condition.  I was relieved when her Aunt Robbie stepped up on stage, and showed her where middle C was on that piano.  When I read this excerpt, I was feeling her fear and anxiety just as if it was me.  The car ride to your piano recital is one of the toughest ones you will ever make.  You are hopeful, you will play the way you have in practice, but you are also thinking of what you will do if something goes wrong.  I used to use the strategy, that I would return to my strong place in a piece, and hope for the best on the second attempt.

I'm about half way through her book.  I took a hiatus to finish my Hamilton book,  before I see the amazing musical this Sunday. So I hope to return to Michelle's conversation very soon.    I guess what I take away from Mrs. Obama's piano journey, is that she loves music.  You see it in the way she listens, when there is a concert at the White House, that is part of a news clip on television.  You see it, when President and Mrs. Obama are at the Kennedy Center Honors program, that music is part of their souls.  And you see it in their eyes, when dancing at a State Dinner.

I've said this before in my blog, but there is order and discipline in learning to play the piano.  But more importantly, there is pure joy when you learn to play a piece you heard on the net, or a piece that an experienced or famous pianist is playing.  It is great, when you are singing a song you heard on the radio, or on your I-phone, and you make a decision right then and there to buy that piece, and learn it.

I know that playing the piano, does mean a certain focus on the pieces your teacher wants you to play to advance your progress.  But playing the piano also means that you are going to conquer a musical work that has changed your life, sent chills up and down your spine, or reminds you of that first kiss, first date, the receipt of good news, or the chilling sadness that can happen on life's journey.

So Michelle, I am glad I am reading your book.  I didn't come from the same place, but if we had met as kids, we could have been friends.  It feels good to know that we have some common experiences, especially when they involve my favorite instrument the piano.  Now that the hustle and bustle of White House life is behind you, I hope you can take some time to play more, and maybe even take some lessons.  Who knows you might be able to accompany the President on "At Last."

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Carols

I have lost some of my zest for the Christmas holiday season, but I never lose my interest in Christmas carols, and hymns, and the beautiful Christmas liturgies that are part of the Catholic Church.

I have a wide variety of Christmas music.  I happened to be looking through my trove of holiday treasures the other day, looking for easy Christmas carols to share with my neighbor, Ann.  Ann wanted some carol books that she could share with her grandchildren, so she could play simple carols and they could sing along.

I happened to find an addition from the Willis Music company, that dated back to my earliest days of piano study.  As I leafed through the small blue book, that was titled something like Christmas Carols for Children, I noticed that my teacher at the time George Assemany, had dated some of the carols during December of 1962.  I was 7, and had just started piano lessons that previous summer.  I was always happy that my mom took the time to find music for me that I WANTED to play.  I could learn whatever my piano teacher had planned for me, but my Mom also wanted me to have a book or sheet music pieces that represented what I was interested in learning.

In looking at this little blue Willis addition of Christmas carols, I now realize how far I have come as an amateur pianist.  I can still play these one note versions of familiar carols straight or with the panache of a more experienced player.   I also look at the many carol books I now play, and realize that my mom knew that music is about what you feel and how much you feel in terms of sharing music with others.  I sort of laughed, when I saw the 1962 dates. In 1962 I was in second grade, leading what I considered to be a fairly carefree life.  Christmas holidays, meant incredible presents, amazing food cooked by my mom, my grandma and my Aunt Irene.  But it also meant rich musical treasures, played or performed at church, or by me at home, or by my Aunt Irene at her house or ours.

In second grade, I was always impressed that my Aunt Irene could simply sit down at the piano and play all types of Christmas carols with ease.  I knew even at 7 years old, that Aunt Irene had been a real practicer.  She took the piano seriously and I think she took all music seriously.  My mom was musical too, but she had not been exposed to piano lessons the way my Aunt Irene had.  In some ways, I associated Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett with my mom, but I associated piano music with my Aunt.  I add that my Aunt also sang in her church choir for almost all of her adult life, and that commitment to music,was the same commitment you needed to make to become a good pianist.

So in looking at my little Willis book, I took some time to find out about the Willis Music Company located in Florence, Kentucky.  The Willis music company has always been about music education.  In fact the Willis company was sold to Gustave Schirmer in 1919 and as mentioned in previous blogs, if one was playing a Schirmer edition, as a pianist you had arrived.

I looked at the www.willismusic.com website and learned that Willis added the Modern Course for the Piano by John Thompson to its catalogue in 1936.  Again, the red John Thompson book, was another side, that you were progressing as a pianist.  Willis also added the Dozen a Day series by Edna Mae Burnam.  Take a moment during the holidays, to read about Willis and learn about how the company has expanded to serve the musical community with music educational materials, musical instruments and accessories.  Willis is also well known for its support of school band and orchestra programs, particularly in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky areas.

When I look at my treasure of music, I am always reminded of the great history in my many music books.  There is a history of my progression as an amateur pianist, and a history of what I think I can accomplish as a pianist.  There is always hope, when you sit at a piano, hope to become better, hope to calm your fears, hope that you can share the music which is such a part of your heart and who you are.

My Aunt Irene is gone now, but when the Christmas holidays come around I always think of her, and I am proud that I can sit at the piano and play those familiar carols.  I also know that our Sarah can do the same, and will assume the mantle of piano playing when I can no longer do so.

If you play even at a beginning level, get out your Christmas carol book, or buy one and start a new holiday tradition...now!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

J.S. Bach Prelude Eleven- Ornaments!

I had always thought I had arrived as a student of the piano, when my teacher Katherine Lemon started purchasing Schirmer editions of classical music for me.  As the years have passed, I am now in possession of the G. Henle Verlag, Urtext editions of several classical composers.  The Henle edition, elevates you to an even higher status, once you can master a work within the volume.

I love Bach, and I have both volumes of The Well-  Tempered Clavier, or Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Teil I and Teil II.  As an amateur, in the Henle edition, there is not a lot of direction in terms of fingering patterns, or the notes to be included in an ornament.  There is the Vorwort or Preface, for basic guidance. However, in my quest to learn quickly, I generally don't spend a lot of time reading the editor's notes that accompany these challenging preludes and fugues.

Currently I am working on the Praeludium XI.  I am the second string pianist at my church, and on rare occasions, I fill in as the pianist, for Saturday night Mass.  I'm not sure about the congregation's affinity for classical music, but I like it, and I think my pastor does as well.  I am always hopeful, that if I can master a prelude, it can become an after communion interlude, before the final announcements, blessing and recessional hymn.  There is nothing like a Bach prelude, to make you feel like you are in a house of worship, a place of peaceful reflection.

The Prelude in F major, is in 12/8 time, which always adds another dimension and another challenge.  I know this is a bold statement on my part, but without the ornamentation, I believe I could master this work of Bach, in a reasonable amount of time.  But this prelude has ornamentation, otherwise known to the common amateur pianist as the trills, mordants and cadences.  So proper mastery of the prelude is simply going to take more time.

I add that two of my piano teachers, Katherine Lemon and Suzanne Newcomb each had a book on ornamentation.  I would guess that my other teacher Madeline Karn also had such a book, but I don't recall asking her about such a necessary volume of musical information.  You don't get to piano greatness, like these three amazing teachers, without a volume on ornamentation.

The trill focuses on this concept, integrating the stream of notes that comprise the trill into the musical melody, while maintaining the steady beat of the time signature.  Often over the years, teachers have told me, learn the prelude, and add the trills, once you have mastered the notes and rhythm.  Some teachers over the years have even told me to forget the trills.  However, when you are a serious musician, even as an amateur, you want to take on the challenge of the trills, no matter how difficult and frustrating they might be.

I was scouting around on the internet this week and, I found a transcription of an ornament table(transcribed by T. L. Hubeart, Jr.)  appearing in the Clavier-Buchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, written by Johann Sebastian Bach for the keyboard instruction of his eldest son.   If you put J. S. Bach's Ornament Table in an internet browser, you will be brought to a graphic of the table.

The table gives a good description of the symbol for the ornament, as well as the written out notes for each ornament.  So, at least for the music of Bach, you can refer to the table when trying to determine how in practice, you will accomplish the ornamentation.

I add, that in time one probably will learn "the how" of playing the ornaments without referring to the table, but keeping the table close by, when playing Bach, will help you to figure out the ornamentation, and perhaps you may even surprise your teacher.

Without spending time to define the ornaments, I can add that there are at least the following ornaments:
trillo
mordant
trillo und mordant
cadence
doppelt-cadence
idem
doppelt-cadence und mordant
idem
accent steigen,
accent fallend
accent und mordant
accent und trill
idem

I add in defense of all of my wonderful teachers, all have been willing to write out how the ornament should be played.  Particularly in Bach's music, the addition of properly played ornaments, adds to the dimension of  the prelude or fugue.  The beauty of Bach's music is enhanced by the ornaments, and therefore, the ornaments must be integrated into the melody and counterpoint melody.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Thoughts About Aretha Franklin

I couldn't let the death of Aretha Franklin pass without a few words.  Since I grew up in Detroit, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin remain my favorite Motown musicians.  The Queen of Soul and her music are both a part of me.  I also love the fact that Aretha recorded one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs "Until You Come Back to Me."  So there will be time for Mr. Wonder, but for now I want to focus on Aretha.

When I moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1987, my friends and colleagues began to identify me with Motown music.  People often would ask me whether I was a fan of Aretha or a fan of Stevie Wonder and I always responded with a resounding "yes!"

Aretha had her roots in gospel music, and in any good gospel performance there is always the amazing piano accompaniment and a great soloist.  Since Aretha's death I learned that she played piano by ear, and was more often than not, able to play and sing one of her amazing songs at the same time.

In one of the many news shows covering Aretha's recent death, it turned out, she sought out classical training on the piano, and decided to attend The Juilliard School.  Can you even imagine what it would be like to teach Aretha?  I have nothing to base this on, but I think she would have approached her lessons with great humility.  I would hope that Aretha would subscribe to my motto, while taking piano lessons, that of "trusting the professionals."

Aretha had occasion to collaborate with many musicians, but I loved the fact that she connected with former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.  Aretha and Secretary Rice, teamed up to perform for one of President Obama 's fundraisers for underprivileged children.  Secretary Rice even accompanied Aretha on "Say a Little Prayer."  It is simply good to know that a Republican like Secretary Rice and a Democrat like Aretha Franklin can team up and accomplish something great.  Greatness comes, when folks put aside their differences for the good they can do!!!

Take a moment  to read Randy Lewis' tribute to Aretha in the LA Times.  Mr. Lewis has been covering pop music for the LA Times since 1981.  He hit some of her music highlights, and has praise for her ability as a pianist.  Mr. Lewis aptly describes Aretha, "But there was something special when she sat at the keyboard:  a fusion of singer, instrumentalist and song that inevitably pushed the goose-bumps quotient up several notches."

 http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-aretha-franklin-piano-20180816-story.html#

Mr. Lewis also writes about Aretha's 2015 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington DC.  He mentioneds that the performance has had over 12 million views on Youtube. 

I must add that everytime I see that performance, I literally cry.  First, Aretha is playing and singing for Carole King, an accomplished pianist and song writer.  In fact, Aretha is performing Carole King's (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.  To see Carole King's reaction to Aretha's performance, is so amazing.  You are swallowed up by the emotions of Carole King.    At the same time, the video pans to President Obama, as he wipes away tears during this song.  You can only imagine what he is thinking, but at least I feel that he is recognizing how much Aretha means to citizens of this great country, and particularly citizens, people of color, who look to her for meaning, understanding, leadership and frankly soul.

I'm going to miss Aretha.  Her songs are entwined in the tapestry of my life.  But music reminds of us of one thing, that it lives on.  Her singing, her piano playing will continue, everytime you tap your music on your I-phone, when you pop your vinyl on the turn table, when you still push a CD into your car player.  That's the essence of music, the musicians may not physically be here, but the music is still with us, whether we are singing it playing it, or watching memories on television or the net.    Aretha is truly the key ---to my peace
of mind!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Suite Detroit Sounds of an American City

During the last several months, I have been focused on some chronic medical issues, and closing my solo law practice.  I have been an adoption and estate planning/administration attorney for the last 25 years and have been practicing law in total for 30 years.  I often think about the big events in my life that have brought me such happiness, and I can honestly say there are several:  meeting and marrying my husband Mark, the births of my children Sarah and Michael, graduating from law school and passing the bar examination and buying a 6 foot grand piano.

I think now,  I am going to have a little more time to pursue hobbies and interests, including this blog.  In keeping with the spirit of my blog, to focus on the mind of the amateur pianist, I want to spend a small amount of time writing about composer Catherine Rollin.

I have had a variety of piano teachers over the years, and currently I take lessons from Dr. Suzanne Newcomb.  I will try to blog about her interest in adult students, her sign up genius program to schedule lessons, and what I think her approach is to adult piano students with some level of experience, in a follow up blog post.

But for now back to Catherine Rollin.  I was born and raised in Detroit the Motor City.    Ms. Rollin is a pianist, composer, clinician and teacher, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Oakland University.  You can take a look at her many accomplishments at CatherineRollinMusic.com.   Ms. Rollin is a committed teacher, clinician and composer.  Frankly she is quite amazing!!

Suzanne had the good fortune to connect up with Catherine Rollin at a recent Music Teachers National Association conference.  I showed up for a lesson one Friday morning, and Suzanne told me that she had a present for me.  Suzanne presented me with a suite of music called Suite Detroit, Sounds of an American City.  The cover of the music even had the modern glass structure the Renaissance Center, which has ended up on almost any travel brochure for Detroit, over the last 30 years.  The Renaissance Center was the skyscraper building in Detroit that symbolized Detroit rebirth after the riots in 1967.  The riots were the results of escalating tensions between the white and black communities, and our community was struggling for civil rights, civility and fair treatment by law enforcement.  So the Renaissance Center in a way was Detroit's way of saying, we are committing to our citizens of this great city.

Back to the suite of music, at first when I opened the score, I thought, in my usual cavalier manner "this doesn't look too challenging."  Well, as I started to discover this suite of pieces, even in music that does not appear to be challenging, there is always something to learn, and always a challenge to be conquered.

The suites are entitled, The City:  Overture and Improvisation, Belle Isle: An Interlude and Good Vibes:  Finale.  I found that these three short pieces brought back a lot of memories for me about growing up in Detroit.

The City: Overture and Improvisation.  When I first learned this piece, I realized that the melody made me very nostalgic for the Detroit I grew up in, especially in terms of my memories.  Northwest Detroit, was a beautiful area, with every street containing elm trees that formed an actual tunnel of trees.  Our street was filled with children, and all the activities that children used to play, hide and seek, tag, jumping rope, kick ball, snowball fights, playing army and bike races.  For me, growing up in that beautiful Detroit neighborhood also meant, carving out my time to practice the piano.  No matter what I was up to after school 5:00 to 5:30 was piano practice time.  As I grew older, the time would become 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. or even 4:00 to 5:30 as my practice assignments grew in length and complexity.  I never had to be reminded by my mom to practice, I practiced because I loved it so much.

This melody reminds me of what Detroit was in my memory bank, but also makes me think of the amazing people of this city.  Many of my grade and high school friends still reside in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs.  I keep track of these folks on Facebook, and many share memories of our growing up years.  The Overture, reminds me that I must keep the memories of my family, friends and neighborhood alive.

Belle Isle: An Interlude.  This melody captures the feeling you might experience if you were riding on boat on the Detroit River.  In fact, growing up, my mom, Grandma and my brothers used to take a large sight seeing boat called the Bob-Lo Boat to Bob-Lo Island with a small amusement park south of Detroit, near Amherstburg, Ontario.  If you went north on the Detroit River, you would come to Belle Isle, complete with a beautiful park and picnic area.  In fact, when my maternal grandmother was young, she told me that Belle Isle was often the place she went to picnic with my grandfather.

The piece captures what is like to live near so much water.  I took my time in Michigan for granted.  I didn't realize how much I missed living near water until I began living in Ohio.  And it seems that folks in Ohio, don't even seem to care, that they don't live near water.  I don't know, I just know I cannot explain how living away from water has changed my life, and not in a good way.

So this piece reminds me of what it was like to live in Detroit, not far from the Detroit River, close to multiple lakes, and the peace of mind I experienced in owning a sail boat and sailing with my Dad on Orchard and Elizabeth lakes.

Good Vibe:  Finale.  The finale piece leaves the listener with hope.  Hope that the once beautiful and vibrant city is returning.  In fact, when I go to Detroit now to visit, I see so many exciting things happening in Detroit, that there seems to be a real renaissance within the city.  I was in Detroit, last summer, and took time out to walk along the newly created River Walk near the Renaissance Center, and took a boat tour of the Detroit River.  I was beginning to feel a small glimmer of hope for the city I love so much.

Good Vibes also has a rhythmic, jazz feeling, that sums up the sense that Detroit is in fact a musical city.  Detroit has so many music venues, and even Detroit has its own Montreaux Jazz Festival.  The Detroit Symphony is going strong, and Detroit's Orchestra Hall is one of the top classical music venues in the City.  In Good Vibes, measure 9 starts a melodic passage that sort of feels like you are travelling upward.  Perhaps upward to more good years ahead for this amazing city, my home town.

I don't know Catherine Rollin, but I think you should take some time to explore her website, and perhaps even encourage your piano teacher, to purchase some music that she has created.  You might even consider the Suite Detroit.  It may make you even a little appreciative of the beautiful Motor City.  Another opportunity for you to be inspired!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pianists in the movies

I have a great obsession with old black and white movies.  I am a particular fan of the directors William Wyler and Alfred Hitchcock.  The playwright and writer Robert Sherwood, created two of my favorite screen plays The Best Years of Our Lives and Waterloo Bridge.  Robert Sherwood was an original member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, poets and satirists that met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City during the years from 1919 to 1929.

The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler, focuses on the stories of three United States servicemen returning from World War Two.  Each little vignette within the movie, tells of how these three brave men acclimate themselves to live after the war.  Teresa Wright, plays the daughter of one of the service men who returns home, and she ends up falling in love with one of the other men, who returns to the states, realizing his wife no longer wants to be married to him.

Harold Russell plays Homer, a returning sailor who has lost both hands in an accident on his naval ship.  The film beautifully portrays how Homer comes to grips with the loss of his hands, and how he finds that the promise he made to his girlfriend Wilma before the war, to marry, is still the promise she shares and wishes to keep.

Harold's relative owns a bar establishment called Butch's in the film.  The relative Butch is played by the great jazz pianist Hoagy Carmichael.  Hoagy Carmichael's simple duets with Homer, including Chopsticks, showcase Mr. Carmichael's versatile style.  While at the same time, the piano again, is displayed at as a force for good in a difficult world, an instrument, that since it's inception has brought people together. 

Mr. Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana.  His mother Lida was a versatile pianist, and she taught him to play and sing at an early age.  As a lawyer, it is a comfort to know that he earned his bachelor's degree and law degree at Indiana University.  After graduating from IU's law school he did move to Florida, where he failed the Florida bar exam, but managed to pass in Indiana and he joined an Indianapolis law firm.   The law was not to be, as Carmichael devoted most of his energies to music, arranging gigs and writing tunes.  I must admit, I can relate to this part of Hoagy Carmichael's life.  Throughout my law practice career, I find myself during the day, listening to clips of classical music or jazz, and reading about my favorite musicians.

The beautiful melody Star Dust was composed by Mr. Carmichael and recorded in 1927.  Carmichael also composed Georgia on my mind, and arranged and recorded Up a Lazy River.  Interestingly, as it drives a lot of amateur pianists crazy, Carmichael composed Heart and Soul, which has become a popular duet performed by American children everywhere.

For me, my favorite song he collaborated with Johnny Mercer to create Skylark.  It is a beautiful song, and has been recorded by many artists, including my personal favorite Linda Ronstadt.

In his performance in Best Years of Our Lives, he taught a disabled veteran to play Chopsticks, and I find that so endearing.  Even teaching someone a simple piano tune, can change someone's life.  William Wyler as a director had a real gift, in determining what scenes to keep and which ones he should cut. This is one of the beautiful stories, within the whole story of this incredible film

And though he was a pianist, his greatest strength was as a melodist.  His songs have stood the test of time, and the beautiful Georgia on My Mind, is the State of Georgia's official song.