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Mostly Memories
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 • Posted March 17, 2010

An Organ Music Romance

My love affair with organ music began, if I remember correctly, at the age of 16. I had accompanied Hugh Cox and his parents to San Antonio and Hugh and I went to a movie at the Texas Theater. At the end of the movie we heard the sound of music coming out of the darkness and much to our surprise there arose from the bowels of the theater basement a well lighted platform with an organ on it and an organist playing wondrous music.

After the organist had finished his introductory number the movie screen lighted up with words to a song appearing on the screen together with a bouncing ball. Then a +loud voice directed the audience to follow the bouncing ball and sing along as the organist played the music. Gad, what wonders for a couple of country boys to see and enjoy — and bashful though we both were I feel sure that we joined in the singing.

On the trip home I continued to think about that beautiful organ music and began to wish, for the first time, that Papa had beat hell out of me at an early age and made me learn to play the piano when my sister was taking music lessons. Mama had tried to interest my younger brother and me in taking lessons but we said "heck no — nobody but sissies played the piano". (The only exposure we got to the piano was to learn to play Chop Sticks or maybe pick out a one fingered tune.)

We had only one friend who played the piano (John Lawrence Evers) and for no other reason than his playing of the piano we rough and rowdy boys considered him as a sissy.(I might add here that he wound up as a professor of science in some eastern college).

Through the years that followed I listened to organ music at every opportunity and always regretted that I had not learned to play. During the three months that I ushered in the Paramount Theater in Denver, Colorado, I got to listen to the organ every day (this was still in the days when the organist played and the audience sang with the bouncing ball) and my love affair with this instrument deepened.

It was perhaps from this three months servitude as an usher and the constant exposure to this beautiful music that the continual recall of old songs first appeared on the scene. This is an occurrence that has haunted my days and nights and has been my enduring mind companion for what seems to be a lifetime.

After my second marriage my wife, learning of my strong desire to play an organ, insisted that we buy a second hand one that she had found for sale. This we did — and then the fun began. Here I was, 60 years old, not knowing a note of music and too embarrassed to take lessons. The question that should follow was "then how on earth did you learn to play?" The answer was, "determination", I presume.

My wife, who does not play but who learned to read music in her early schooling, taught me that "every good boy does fine" and "face" were the notes of the scale for the right hand which plays the melody. Our neighbors in the adjoining apartment, who had an organ, gave me a book that taught me the notes comprising chords which were played with the left hand. Then, armed with this complete set of musical knowledge I set out to conquer the instrument I had just purchased.

After about of month of practice I found that I was going crazy and getting nowhere while looking through my bi-focals at the sheet music to find the a note then looking at my hands to see if they were on the right keys. When I looked down at the keyboard I lost my place on the sheet music and when I looked at the sheet music I lost the place where my hands should be on the keyboard.

During that first month I learned that with my right hand I had the natural ability to pick out any melody that I knew, therefore my primary trouble was with the chords. To overcome the problem of looking up at the music then down at the keyboard I attacked from another direction. In order to be able to look only at the keyboard I just simply memorized every note and chord on the sheet of music. And by George it worked!!

Now having solved my greatest problem I started to work on trying to drive my wife crazy by playing the same piece of music over and over and over until I had it completely memorized. How that dear woman put up with me during this learning period I will never know and I am sure there was no one more relieved than she when I became able to play a piece without having to repeat it.

After a year of practice another problem appears on the horizon for my wife. Having learned to play some fifty or more pieces without the use of sheet music my love affair with the organ had become so intense that I traded my second hand instrument in on a new high-fangled one that would produce more music than the old one. Now, all I wanted to do was to play and play and play. At long last I could play the music to those songs that had been running through my head for years.

And play I did, from the time I got home from work in the afternoons until late at night. As a matter of fact I played so late at night that my wife tried to stop me by cutting off the lights. But alas for her. In that year of memorizing and practice I no longer needed the light — ha, ha I said to her — I can play in the dark. And play I did until she said, in a tone I well recognized, "Bill, come on to bed" — then to bed I went.

During the following years I learned to play more than 100 pieces from memory. I also learned that most people would rather talk than listen. After asking me to play something they would immediately start talking and talk all during the piece they had requested. This, together with the fact that I had much more to do here in Brady than I did while living in San Antonio caused me to start playing less and less.

The fallacy of learning to play from memory now appears (this is not the same as playing by ear mind you, this is playing from memory). I soon realized that the less I played the fewer pieces I remembered and now after years of seldom sitting down at the organ I find that that old romance is fading; that there is much truth in the old saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder for someone else"; and that I am now writing memories instead of playing the organ.


All you rough and rowdy guys that want to call me "sissy", go right ahead. I’m too old to mind and besides I don’t play anymore anyhow.


All of the above was written in 1992 or 3 at which time I could play some 150 pieces of music (mostly from memory) but since my by-pass surgery in 1996 I have forgotten everything I had memorized and at the present time I cannot play one piece of music on that organ.

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