Metatarsalgia is a technical-sounding word for "sore foot." I have been foot sore and unable to play the piano for more than a month. Ha! That sounds pretty funny; creates an image of me playing the piano with my feet. Didn't know I could do that, did you? But actually, the right-foot operated sostenuto and sustain pedals have a role in many pieces and even sitting on the bench with a throbbing foot has been uncomfortable.
Until last night.
An early evening rain storm, its glassy sheets of water surrounding the house, created a cocoon of comfort for us, the sound a blessing of white noise. Even the satellite television system was out, reminding us of the joys of human conversation over dinner with no attendant original-thought-killing soundtrack.
I started with a piece already on the stand. It was Brahms, Der Gang zum Liebchen (The Watchful Lover), surely one of the most lovely, haunting melodies ever written. From there, I picked up what was closest: Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," and Randy Newman's bluesy "Louisiana."
Darkness was complete in the room, except for the circle of light within which I sat. An old John Denver songbook peeked out from the pile. I pulled it out and started with the first one, then just kept on going. When I got to the softly rolling "Back Home Again," an unexpected surge of memories swamped my small tidal pool of song, and suddenly I was back in Scotland, our first trip to the Isle of Arran. The year was 1998.
Buck spent the week stalking red stags on Goatfell Mountain and its environs, while I explored the island on foot and by bus once I learned the schedules and became halfway confident in which coin was a ten pence, twenty pence or pound.
I remember waiting for a bus one rainy day in a high wind, swaddled in my green rain suit, hanging on to a light post for fear of blowing down the narrow road like some out of place tumbleweed.
At week's end, the guides, ghillies and other guests gathered for a party at Sannox House with many rounds of drinks, toasts and music. Some German fellows drank dark beer and shots of Jagermeister and later on scotch whiskey. One of the ghillies was a tall Englishman, Neil Fox, who told us he had once played guitar with Eric Clapton's band. Neil had brought along his karaoke machine and guitar. He knew most every song ever written by John Denver, plus all the words to every verse, and was thrilled to have two Americans in the house who were familiar with Denver. After a wee dram or two, we were induced to sing along. Before the night was out, we danced with abandon, oblivious to the two younger German guys snapping photos.
When Neil played "Back Home Again," Buck and his guide and good friend, Alan Ross, wrapped their arms about each other's shoulders and sang along, jocular at the beginning, but earnest and nearly sober at the end, singing Denver's timeless tale of love for home and family.
". . . and oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down and feel your fingers feather soft upon me. . ."
On a later visit, a small group of us ended the evening standing in a small circle, glasses raised, as Alan's wife, Farquhar, sang The Flower of Scotland a capella in her clear, beautiful voice. It sounds ancient, with it's surprising atonal shifts, but was actually written in 1967 by Roy Williamson of the folk group, The Corries. My own nostalgia for that moment surprises me, and I suddenly long to be back on Arran.
Music opens the door to memory, puts me in direct and immediate connection with emotion, and down the rabbit hole I go!