What I did not mention about my trip to Louisiana, is that I suffered a concussion while there, which affected me greatly for two months afterwards. I am not a person who can stay in bed and rest without using my eyes, without going slightly nuts. But rest is what the doctors ordered, and so all projects and plans were put on hold for a couple of weeks. Lying on one’s back is an excellent exercise for anyone to confront deep otherwise-evasive thoughts, not to mention dream up new goals, and contemplating the complex role my mother played in my life, both musically and otherwise is fodder for a book some day…
Because just as I thought the concussion was healing, my quite elderly mother started declining and died on May 9th, the morning of the day that my son, Dennis Parker, gave a recital at Weill Hall at Carnegie. Shock and sadness in the morning, and pride and gladness in the evening. The full range of human emotions within twelve hours. My son told his audience that 21 years earlier, he drove up from Louisiana with his wife, Jacquie, and his one-month-old son, Rollie, to give his New York debut recital in this same hall, and his grandmother, Grace Mont, had volunteered to stay backstage in the Green Room to take care of the baby while the concert was in progress; and now 21 exact years later, his grandmother had passed away that morning.
He then dedicated his encores to her memory.
My mother recounted to me, that as a baby, I loved being under a tree! She told me I looked up at the sky through the leaves and sang and babbled happily. Some things just stick! Fast forward to a day ago on the porch, as I was lying down and resting , looking up at the sky through the leaves. She gave me the book Heidi, and Heidi became one of my favorite female characters from children’s literature, especially the episode where her grandfather prepared a bed of straw in the hayloft under the open sky—To this day I have to have my bed near an open window, smelling the fresh air coming in. I can trace that to Heidi as well. SOMEHOW, my mother gave me something that has lasted as one of my deepest loves—nature. She also took us to the library in Brooklyn, so that from a very young age, I got a love for books. She gave me the book The Secret Garden, which I then shared with my daughter, Kim, the theme of which is the restorative joy of Springtime returning and little chutes coming up through the ground, and the character of Dillon, a child of Nature, who talked to birds and woodland creatures,…not unlike myself. And she gave me the Louisa May Alcott books, and I purposely read Under the Lilacs under a big bush in our Brooklyn house. My love of gardening, I believe, may have started during the war, when I helped my mother plant a victory garden, and tended to vegetables in the backyard in Brooklyn. I can remember the plantings around every modest house we ever lived in—
I know my mother got great pleasure from the fact that I became a “serious” piano student, then pianist, and I will always be grateful for the devoted and smart way she went about finding me the best piano teachers she could—ultimately finding Leopold Mittman—when I was only 11! . How did she know that he would be perfect for me? That he would not only teach me the piano, but about Art, and Life, in ways my own parents could not have done? She said “she just knew.”
That was my mother’s greatest gift to me. I have written about Mittman in my books and articles. Ironically, I do not think my mother entirely understood who I got to be as an adult, what music has meant to me in the deepest sense, except that she gloried in sitting in audiences and reaping the “rewards” of parenting a gifted child, up to and including the little gigs I did for her in her various adult residences in her last 8 or 9 years. And she certainly did not understand the hard work, commitment and joys of my teaching–“You sit there, and someone else plays..” i.e. ‘why are you tired??’
But she was creative in her own ways, bright and curious, an action person, and she had a quite challenging and exotic background, which I plan to write about.
As soon as I can fully concentrate, it will be on to the next Composer’s Landscape episode with Schumann.