Friday, October 6, 2017

Piano pleasures: A life of music brings joy to musicians, audience

Cookie is at her happiest playing piano.  Here, she entertains at a housewarming party.
Cookie serenades at friend Corby Skinner's on the 1902 piano
she purchased for his home, The Castle, built that same year. 



I'll see you again
Whenever spring breaks through again...
This sweet memory
Across the years
Will come to me
Though my world may go awry....

--from "I'll See You Again," by Noel Coward

MORE THAN any other art form, music has the ability to connect people and cultures.
Nephew James Hayes, on double bass, plays
with Auntie Cookie at his home,
Purple Martin Farm, in northern California.

Cookie also plays saxophone,
here at the Cowboy Bar
in Fishtail, Montana.
It can reach out and touch us in a way nothing else can. It joins us in unexpected, moving ways.
Who'd have thought that I'd play piano at a black tie dinner hosted by Chong Sangchon, mayor of Seoul, Korea, in 1979. (Our delegation of 12 American Women performed "Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific" and the mayor requested a Korean folk tune I somehow conjured.) That same trip, I serenaded Mike Mansfield, then Ambassador to Japan, in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. (He asked for "Don't Fence Me In" and his wife Maureen put a dainty box of tea sandwiches in my purse when she realized I wouldn't stop playing to dine.)
A couple years before, when our chartered flight from JFK to Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee in London was delayed, the chief publicist for United Artists asked me to entertain fellow writers. We sang show tunes and enjoyed champagne and caviar for two hours then were happily poured onto the plane.
Cookie plays the vintage Wurlitzer organ in Wellington,
New Zealand's Southward Car Museum. The museum's
chief organist brought her up on the revolving pedestal.
WHEN I WAS a little kid, I'm told, the adults were drawn from post-dinner cocktails to an unexpected concert. There, in the music room, not quite three-year-old Cookie was playing "You Are My Sunshine" on the family's Steinway.
Music has been my balm, my joy, my fun, my friend as long as I can remember.
In February of 1986, just a few years before the fall of the Soviet Union, my sister Robbie and I were holed up in a Moscow hotel during the coldest day of the year.  The snow was thick, the temperature was a chilly zero degrees and all tours were cancelled.
Cookie admires her tip jar last weekend
at the Petroleum Club at show's end.
Robbie and I tipped a pair of waiters bounteous rubles to move an ancient upright into the lobby bar.  I coaxed a few tunes from that rickety old piano and told the three bored bartenders to stand by, even though it was before noon.
Within a half hour, the bar was packed as I played Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Gershwin, an Israeli lullaby, German polkas and a medley of American show tunes. The bar ordered in sandwiches and more vodka and we shut the place down at midnight. I'd taken only three brief breaks and loved every Moscow minute.
Great niece Penelope Margaret Ganner watches intently as
Cookie plays and sings on the Bay Area family's piano.
Absarokee veterinarian Rex Anderson
and Cookie play duets at Montana
Jack's, before it sadly closed.
I WON'T FORGET that magical day. The Kremlin and Red Square could wait.  Someone produced a harmonica and we paired for Scott Joplin ragtime and western swing. An Italian woman with a beautiful soprano voice sang my mother's favorite aria, "Un Bel Di" from Madame Butterfly.  An Irishman pulled a penny whistle from his pocket and let loose with a jig. I chorded along. The French contingent requested "La Marseillaise" and marched around the lobby, hoisting their wine glasses in rhythm to their national anthem. An English couple asked for Noel Coward tunes.  I remembered "I'll See You Again," that bittersweet ballad, and plunked out the tune for "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," which the couple joyously delivered.
Cookie at the Lawrence Welk piano at the Welk Resort
north of San Diego.  The piano was played on the show. 
We sang "Getting to Know You," Anna's wonderful song from "The King and I."  We sang, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" from "Oklahoma" -- and it was, despite the cold.  Had we not been snowed in, there would have been no musicale, no communion, no lifelong friendships (I still get holiday notes from the Frenchman from Aix and the Irish couple).
FOR WEDDINGS, funerals, birthdays, celebrations -- good times and sad times -- our family has cherished music. It goes with me on the road. I've played piano quintets and barroom stride, on cruise ships, in saloons,  barns and former brothels, grand concert halls, basements, penthouses and living rooms. I've played for hundreds -- even three thousand -- -- and I've played for myself alone, to cheer up. I played on a keyboard in the glory days of the 747 when the first class cabin had a piano bar.
I'm classically trained, in the style of my Vaudevillian grandmum Olive who was equally at home with Mozart and movie themes. May it ever be thus. Now, what would you like to hear?

UP NEXT: Yellowstone in autumn.  Could there be a more breathtaking part of the northern Rockies?  It's time for our annual Yellowstone road trip and we're taking you along to explore the park's wonders with us. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend -- original essays on travel, the arts, nature, and whatever strikes our fancy!

1 comment:

  1. Delightful! Have heard Ms. Cookie play in this venue before it was the Double Tree.
    Have also heard her charming playing in the old Fox Theatre during fundraisers for the Alberta Bair Theater when it was still the grand old Fox. Wish I'd been in Moscow for that day's impromptu music fest. What fun.