From: H. Bruce Downey   ---"Bruce at 7 --- and a bit of "Ashoken Farewell" at 77"








Photo at left dates back to 1941, when I was but 7-years old.  It was taken at Alswangs Department Store in Elmhurst, IL, across the street from the National Bank Building on York Street at the C&NW RR tracks.  I'm sporting a yellow shirt that my mother made for me so long ago.


As for the music some 70-years later, go to the video clip immediately below... 




In this video I try to talk of why it is that at 77, I now try to teach myself how to play the piano?  The video never does provide the answer that I did so want to give to you, so here's why.  Remember that recently, Tom Hodges, York '52, told us through a slide show clip of all things important to us as we advance in age?   Well, what I do at the piano these days is to keep on learning more.  Whether it's gardening or computer crafts or whatever else turns you on --- in my case it's the piano--- because that's what interests me.  For me, my piano playing grows new brain cells.  Don't ever let your brain cells become mindless, for they will most certainly just idle away and die--- for an idle mind is the devil's workshop and the devil's name is Alzheimer's.  So you go out there and find something that's new and different--- just keep on learning!

I began taking an interest in learning how to play the piano after retiring in 1999.  Earlier--- back around 1995--- I acquired a 1905 upright piano made by Jacob Dahl (nee Doll) for $100 and had that piano fixed up for another $500.  It is extremely heavy with its cast iron sounding board setting inside its original wood frame in our walkout basement, sitting as it does on top of tile covered concrete flooring. 
Sometime around the early 2000's I began teaching myself how to play the piano.  I bought the first series of piano books by Alfred's Beginning Piano Books and got so I could play them.  I also got the Thompson Beginner, Book I and worked a little out of that.  The Treble Clef is the easiest for me.  The Base Clef is a whole 'nuther story.'  That's what always drags me down.  And so I gave up playing the piano for awhile.  But not before I bought a Yamaha electronic keyboard, which I set up, looking as it does out over some woods we see from our second floor family room. 
Then just this past summer I began talking to Alice Mahler Ashley, York '53, about it all, and I discovered that in addition to her playing the flute, she had a childhood just filled with piano lessons.  She gave up the flute sometime ago now, but tells me that she continues to play the piano for her own enjoyment.  Anyway, I told Alice that I'd like to be able to play "Ashoken Farewell" because of its recent association with the PBS series on the Civil War.  I have a copy of the sheet music, but it's written in a key with two flats.  I told Alice that I'd really like to find a rendition of "Ashoken Farewell" that was in the key of C--- without any sharps or flats.  And so Alice said she'd transpose that piece of music into the key of C for me.  Then I didn't hear from Alice for awhile, but last fall she said she had since found some sheet music for "Ashoken Farewell" written in the key of C.  And so she sent it to me.  I told her even back then that I would work on it, but not to expect anything soon, for it would take me months to get my left hand working with my right hand on this music.
And so I've been doing and on again...ever since.  Then, just the other day Nancy picked it up.  Nancy too has had many years of piano training as a child.  And so I recorded Nancy's playing of the first half of this piece...just so I could get a feel for how it should sound.  It was only then that I got inspired to tackle this task in earnest.   It's a waltz, you know--- and I've gotten at lease half of it done right now.  And so I've played it for you 'ratch hyar' in the voices of the 'theatre organ" and the "live grand piano".  I'm still searching for all those notes in the left hand for the second half of this it's not a complete production just yet.
I hope you enjoy it.  Meanwhile, I am continuing my efforts to get my left hand up to speed...and someday I too shall play this piece using both hands, from beginning to end.