Music is an amazing Gift of God. Music composers leave foot prints through their notes and lyrics. Those foot prints guide those who follow to the place in time where the music started.
Strangers, who hear a song at the same time, are often drawn together in unity and harmony, even though they have never met. Music not only leads us back to its origin, but it seems to “time stamp” our past. Years after hearing a song for the first time, a group of people can hear its familiar tune and each remember a different experience of where they were when they listened to it long ago.
Making a Joyful Noise
When I was a little girl, I enjoyed visiting my Uncle Wyman and Aunt Bessie in Macon. They had a piano. They could have told me to “look, don’t touch” or invited me to hear them play. But they didn’t. They and my parents invited me to play!
Of course, I couldn’t play music in the way that most would have recognized music. But I made a joyful noise on those keys, and I did learn something about what keys I could put together that sounded pleasant and which ones produced an unpleasant discord.
One Fantastic Christmas Eve!
My parents did not have a lot of money, so having a piano seemed way out of consideration. However, one Christmas season, my mother began to encourage me more than usual to clean my room. I didn’t notice at the time, but looking back, I realized she was giving particular attention to one side of the room.
On Christmas eve, my father invited me to go with him to the post office. He worked from there as a rural mail carrier. He asked me to go help him “put up mail,” another name for organizing the mail he would be delivering. It took us awhile.
When we arrived home, everything seemed as we left it. My mother was baking in the kitchen. Both my parents seemed unusually merry. But it was, after all, almost Christmas. Some time passed and then my mother casually asked me to bring her something out of my room.
When I walked into my room, my life changed forever. There was a brand new piano in that corner my mother had so meticulously cleaned! I then heard my parents’ voices, as they said in unison, “Merry Christmas!”
Teaching Little Fingers to Play
They had already arranged for me to have piano lessons. My first teacher was Miss Theresa Monts, who guided me through the book, “Teaching Little Fingers to Play.” As she guided my little fingers across the ebony and ivory keys, I was amazed to discover that unlike my earlier experiences, I could play the same sounds over and over again and a real song came forth.
I learned how to use first one hand and then the other. Then the day came when I graduated to other more advanced books, and I played a song with both hands! Playing piano is a brain intensive activity. Learning to read different notes and play different notes with each hand, and sometimes in different timing was an adventure.
Suzanne, The Gift of a Sister, Wrapped in Music
After Miss Theresa stopped teaching, but before I moved on to other teachers, God provided another Gift in the form of a beautiful lady named Suzanne. Suzanne became my brother’s wife. She knew everything there was to know about music. When I listened to her play, I not only heard the songs, but I felt the joy she was able to transmit though her fingers. She seemed to become one with the music.
Suzanne taught me to play beautiful songs and fun songs. It was through Suzanne that I was introduced to the fun of duets. We sat at the piano together, as each of us played our part. There was music and laughter and all around fun. God brought me a sister, wrapped up in music.
Suzanne’s Gift kept giving, as she taught her children to play. And now, my niece has passed on the music to her children and her grandchildren. The prized piano now lives in my niece’s house and many little and adult fingers has caressed those keys.
Play It The Way It Is Written!
I next had Miss Nick Harter as my music teacher. Miss Nick was talented, focused and so very patient. Not only did she play piano, but she was the organist for her church. Now that I was more advanced, Miss Nick filled in the details.
She sat at my elbow and watched carefully. Any misstep and she would say, gently, “Carolyn, stop and start over.” She would then patiently explain what I needed to do and where I especially needed to be careful. When I was able to play a song perfectly, her looks of approval and occasional outright applause made the intense concentration all worthwhile.
I discovered what I thought was a creative shortcut. I learned to play “by ear.” Now that I knew a little more about music, I could predict how I thought a song would go. I would slide in a few bars of the song “as interpreted by Carolyn.” That never flew with Miss Nick. I could never put a thing over on her. She would catch it and shake her head, and say with mock disapproval, “Carolyn, you know that is not how the song is written. Now, stop and start again.”
Once, when I was feeling particularly daring, I added a few flourishes to an old hymn. I was sure I saw Miss Nick smile. However, she quickly hid her smile, and said, “Carolyn, stick to the song. Now stop and start again.”
The Day The Music Died …
Tragedy struck. Miss Nick’s husband, Mr. Jesse Lee, died. It was as if all the music had been knocked out of Miss Nick. There came the sad phone call that she would no longer be teaching piano. My parents did not want me to stop advancing in music, so they found another teacher for me.
Don’t Be a Lazy Piano Player!
I took music for a year with Miss Alma Best. As much as Miss Nick had been a stickler for playing the song the way it was written, Miss Alma was a stickler for good hand position. She quickly identified that I had a habit of resting my hands on the piano instead of holding them upright.
She said, “We cannot have a lazy piano player. If people see you slouching on the piano, they won’t want to hear you play. Now sit up straight and raise those hands and arms.”
We began each session with a series of hand exercises. Sometimes, even now, when I sit down to play the piano, I can heard Miss Alma saying, “Stretch and claw! Stretch and claw!”
At the end of that year, we received wonderful news. Miss Nick had decided to take only two students to get back into a little teaching. The two students she took had to be willing to also learn organ. Miss Nick had a piano on one wall of her living room and on the opposite wall, she had an organ. The opportunity to learn organ was exciting!
Miss Nick was as exacting with organ as she had been with piano. Now there were even more things to coordinate. In addition to multiple keyboards, there were foot pedals. It was like playing four songs at once with two hands and two feet involved.
Additionally, Miss Nick continued to teach piano. As my partner and I learned more, Miss Nick introduced us to playing duets with one of us playing piano and the other playing organ and then switching. Initially, we could tell Miss Nick carried the weight of her heavy grief. But, God gave Joy back to her, as we filled her house with music. With each lesson, Miss Nick began to smile again and then to laugh.
Play What Your Heart Feels!
One day when I was at Miss Nick’s for my individual lesson, I played a song on the piano and added flourishes and even an extra chorus of what I thought it should sound like. I was so caught up in the music that I temporarily forgot my duty to play it as it was written. When I caught myself, I dreaded looking at Miss Nick. I was sure I would find disapproval.
Instead, she was smiling and looking as if she had been lifted to a place of Joy. Before I could speak, she said, “That was really nice, Carolyn.” When I attempted to apologize for going “off script,” she gently put her hands on mine and looked me straight in the eyes. “Carolyn, there comes a time when you have to play what your heart feels. Music does not have to always sound the way you thought it would.”
I think in her own way, she was reflecting on life. She was really saying, “Sometimes life does not turn out the way you think it is going to. But no matter, you can feel the music God gives you. You can still play with Joy, even if it’s different from what you thought it would be.”
Music Flowing into Other Times and Places
I treasure the memory of those afternoons at Miss Nick’s house. I went on to be a back up organist for my church. I played a huge cathedral organ for a friend’s wedding. I played piano for many other gatherings and I played for the pure joy of it when I was alone.
I played at funerals and memorial services. (I even got an job offer from a funeral home! I turned it down!) I put a keyboard on a rolling table and went room to room at hospitals and nursing homes and played. I played in my father’s nursing home room when he was close to his promotion to Glory.
My mother died in October, 1997. I was overcome with grief. We were very close and I simply could not imagine a world without seeing her and talking to her … and yes, playing for her and seeing her smile.
I found a picture of a bridge. It was kind of etherial. It was small enough I could put it on our piano. I would sit and just let my fingers find their way across the keys, while I thought of my mother. I would imagine us meeting at the middle of that bridge.
We would talk. I would tell her about my life and she would tell me about her life in Heaven. It was always clear that she would not be coming back with me to my side of the bridge and I was not permitted to go to her side yet. But I came to love our “meetings” on the bridge.
God Spoke With Words!
One snowy January morning in 1998, something truly amazing happened. As I was randomly caressing the keys of our keyboard (we had moved up from the basic piano by then to a fancy, computerized instrument, that would allow us to mix sounds and do the ultimate flourishes), God gave me the words of what I thought was a poem. In addition to being a nurse, I had become a writer by then. So I was accustomed to God’s dropping in and giving me words to write at times. Now, as I pondered my mother’s final earthly suffering, God allowed me to express my grief in words.
I remembered again how she suffered with such Grace and such faith in The Lord she loved. I remembered how she encouraged and prayed for each of us, even through much pain.
My mother loved butterflies. So my “poem” turned out to be about a butterfly, who is freed to soar the heights. I hurried to the bridge in my mind to share my poem with her. But this day was different.
God Spoke With Music!
Suddenly I realized my hands were not moving randomly. God was giving me music to go with the words! I had never composed a song in my life … and yet, God was allowing me to do it.
Later I remembered Miss Nick’s lesson from deep within her own place of grief. It was true.
“Carolyn, there comes a time
when you have to play what your heart feels.
Music does not have to always sound
the way you thought it would.”
It was also true that
“Sometimes life does not turn out the way
you think it is going to.
But no matter, you can feel the music God gives you.
You can still play with Joy,
even if it’s different from what you thought it would be.”
God Brings Healing Through His Music!
I have played the song, Butterfly, countless times since God entrusted it to me. I am always amazed at the Joy and Healing God brings to others through this song, which came from His Heart to mine and now to others.
God has allowed me to compose other songs since then. They are always Gifts I share freely with others. It amazes me and humbles me to realize how the music that that has flowed through me came from seeds patiently planted and watered by others:
my parents, Horace and Pearl Priester,
who were willing to make an investment in a little girl’s dream.
Miss Theresa, who taught “little fingers to play.”
Suzanne, who introduced me to the joy and fun of playing in harmony together.
Miss Alma, who taught me not to be a “lazy piano player,”
and Miss Nick, who taught me technique,
knowing how to play exactly what the writer intended to be played,
both in piano and organ,
but who also taught me the most beautiful lesson of all —
you just have to play what your heart feels.
It is in joy and thankfulness to all that I share with you my story, and now share with you the words and music to Butterfly. It is copyrighted by me. If you share it apart from this blog, please remember to credit me with composing both its lyrics and music. (although the True Author is God!)
Dedicated to the memory of my mother,
Pearl Vivian Hinely Priester
Words and Music by
©1998 by Carolyn Priester Jones
Butterfly, soaring high,
Look at me, as you pass by.
Butterfly, don’t go far.
Linger here. I know who you are.
Butterfly, fan my face.
Cool me now with your style and grace.
Long ago, you sang a song.
It brought me Life and now I belong.
You sang the song. It was for me!
And still you sang from your captivity.
You struggled so that I did cry.
But when I looked down, you still saw the sky!
You found the way to stretch your wings.
And left behind those earthly things.
Butterfly, now you soar!
This world’s strife is no more!
Butterfly, can you see me,
As you fly so high and free?
Butterfly, you’re the Pearl,
and me below — yes, I’m still your girl!
Butterfly, way up in sky of blue,
Always know that I LOVE YOU!
Click Butterfly to listen to the song, Butterfly by Carolyn Priester Jones.
In writing this blog, I discovered in old records that Miss Nick’s full name was Mary Pearle. My mother’s name was Pearl! So neat how God just brings everything full circle!