A Pencil Memory
I love writing with mechanical pencils and have a few nice ones I rotate between in my professional life. Today, I was rushing to a meeting and forgot my pencil so went into the supply closet and grabbed this one quickly.
It brought back the strangest memory to me: my organ teacher Judy.
Yes, I played the organ from second through fifth grades. Unlike other kids who took piano, I learned how to play the organ because my grandmother had one, previously played by my aunt. I’ll have to dig out a photo of it some time. I also think part of me loved even then that I was a bit different, and playing the organ definitely was not a typical 8 year old musical choice.
In any case, I loved it. I took lessons at The Melody Shoppe in the town next to me, a business run by “The Polish Princess,” this woman who was famed in the organ musical world and was a Liberace tribute artist. In the back of the store she owned, there was a grand piano (it might have been baby blue) and lots of glitzy trimmings, a red plush carpet, and various organs and keyboards for purchase. There were small lesson rooms around the store.
In my few years taking lessons there I had the same teacher- Judy. I can’t remember her last name, but she ALWAYS ALWAYS had one of these mechanical pencils. She would make notes in my music books about places to speed up or slow down, areas to concentrate on, and after I successfully completed a piece, she would write praise/comments and the date. She had perfect cursive penmanship with this mechanical pencil. I remember her long, skinny fingers would always grip the pencil so tightly that she frequently broke the pencil tip and would ever so carefully spin the pencil top to get more lead out.
It may have been the early 90s when I was taking lessons, but Judy dressed like she was stuck in the late 70s. She wore shades of tan, orange, and reds all the time, lots of tunics and bell-bottoms. She had a wardrobe uniform before it was trendy. She wore the same brown shoes no matter the season or weather. Her brownish hair was sort of that 1970s pageboy style and she had big, wideframed oval glasses. I think at the time I thought she was probably ancient, but thinking about it now, she was probably in the same age range as my parents. She liked hymns and traditional church music ( I guess because that’s usually where one hears an organ); one of the first tunes I played ( and still remember to this day) is “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” When I got to the point with a song that we added in the background music, I remember she always like “bossa nova.”
I don’t remember much else about Judy– I’m even questioning if that was her name now that I’m trying to bring back the memories. What I do remember was how kind she was to me– as a perfectionist and Type A personality even as an 8 year old, I was often hard on myself for not getting the right notes or screwing up the tempo. She didn’t give me stickers or stroke my ego, but she helped me a long and praised me when I needed it. Playing the organ and having weekly lessons gave me an early experience with discipline and practice; it also taught me to read music a few years before my peers, which was helpful later on as I explored other musical opportunities.
I stopped playing the organ in the fifth grade when I took up the French Horn ( another story for another day!) For a few Christmases, we would take out my keyboard for my aunt and I to play some “greatest hits” on, but for the most part, I can’t remember many tunes from my organ playing days.
And all this from a pencil.