Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Music of My Life

If there is anyone out there who has been reading these posts for the past few years, he or she knows that my wife was an exceptional person. You have read about the way she befriended a Russian youngster on the streets of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), how she shrugged off being attacked and bitten by a 700-pound sea lion in Argentina, how she concocted the most delicious crab bisque known to man (this man, anyway). But what you don’t know about was her musical talent, because that’s not the kind of thing that translates well into a blog. Well, let me now try.

Jill had an unworldly knack of picking out the right notes and the right chords for anything that anyone could hum. She read music, of course, but at a family get-together she never needed to. She would just sit at the piano (after being coaxed, usually) and noodle around songs like “Crazy,” “Edelweiss,” “A Small World After All,” seamlessly segueing from one to the next. The arrangements were her own, with flights of fanciful fingerwork that defy description. And that touch! Her fingers didn’t maul the keys, they strummed them.

She had perfect pitch, verified by an audio engineer long ago, and, more impressively, a unerring knowledge of chord structure that left me (a klutzy piano player) speechless. “How did you know,” I would ask her, “that an E seventh chord belonged there?”

“I don’t know,” she would answer, “it just had an E seventhness about it.”

If it all sounds ad lib, it wasn’t. Underneath it all was a solid musical foundation that enabled her to direct college productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, arrange music for the Crocodillos, a Harvard singing group, and work with the Handel and Haydn Society. “She was the most talented person I ever knew,” says a classmate of hers through high school and college. But she kept that talent well hidden, because she saw her mission in life to be, not a musical whiz, but the best wife and mother possible. In this she succeeded brilliantly.

Jill died on May 24.