Once Upon A Time

Not too long ago while walking at the mall, I was captivated by the music being played. You might ask, on what occasion does mall music captivating? Many times the music is just blaring and quite annoying.

Not in this store. Actually I was in a large department store that you would consider old-school, a holdover from the classic era, if you will. Though it is in the mall, this particular store has a quiet and serene environment. The music is calming and not loud. Most of the time it is provided by a grand piano in the center of the store, near the escalators. And they employ a live pianist to play the piano.

So when I heard the certain song being played, I was drawn to the place where the piano was, to see the musician who was providing the music. Though I was not familiar with the tune, somehow it stroke a nostalgic chord.

When I came down the escalators, I was surprised when I saw the pianist.

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He was a bit older than what I was expecting. He was perhaps in his late 70’s or even 80’s. His mobility was not very good anymore, as substantiated by the presence of a walker beside the piano. Yet the dexterity of his fingers were still impeccable. And the emotion in his playing was still very much palpable.

I was enthralled that I had to sit down on one of the sofas near the piano so I can watch him a little longer. He has no notes or music piece that he was reading. He was playing by memory with his eyes closed. Perhaps he has played this song so many times, that he’s performing it all by finger or muscle memory. Yet I can feel the deep sentiments on those fingers as it runs through the piano keys.

Maybe he was reminiscing the good ole days. Maybe he was reliving bygone happy moments. Or maybe he was lamenting a lost Valentine’s.

What was the song? I didn’t know, so I asked him after he finished playing.

He answered, “Once Upon A Time.”

Such an appropriate piece.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

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“Once Upon a Time” is a song composed by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams, from the 1962 musical All American. It has been sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan among others.

Here’s a version by Alex Bird (taken from YouTube):

 

For all the lovers out there, including those who loved and lost, and who loved once upon a time, may you have a memorable Valentine’s.

Quitting my Day Job

I was again on-call the other weekend. After the extended hours of working a very long week (2 weeks that blended into each other), I felt exhausted and depleted. Am I getting tired of this profession? What if I call it quits today? Will I be able to survive on my current passion and skills other than being a physician?

I can give more time to writing. In fact, writing is my stress reliever, that’s why I still blog no matter how busy I get. I enjoy writing, maybe because I don’t have any deadlines or quota on how many articles I can spew out. I write only when I want, and is always on my terms. But that may change if I have to write to earn a living.

Talking about earning, I was offered an honorary* amount of $25 for every article that I contribute to a national newspaper in the Philippines. So that can provide enough money for a decent meal for a day. And on days I cannot produce an article, I guess I don’t eat. Forget about supporting a family or sending my children to college.

But maybe I can write a book that will be a bestseller. Then maybe my book will be adapted into a movie. Then I certainly have it made. I can dream, can’t I? Or maybe I can make big money from this blogging? Ha! Dream on.

How about if I pay more attention to my piano playing? I was asked to play for a funeral service once and I did it out of respect. I was not expecting anything in return, but was surprised when they gave me an honorary sum of $75 for about 30 minutes of playing. Not a bad gig at all! But then I need to find more dead people to play in their funeral to make this a living. (Hanap-patay instead of hanap-buhay.) That’s not a good wishful thinking.

Maybe I can hone on my violin playing once more and move back to New York City to play at the Lincoln Center. Did you think the concert hall at the Lincoln Center? No! I’ll play in the subway station at Lincoln Center. I read some news articles that panhandlers in New York City can make up to $200 – $300 a day! Really? Really.

I can also consider teaching or giving lectures. Last year, a national medical organization invited me to speak in one of their educational courses. I obliged to give the lecture since they prepared all the materials and slides, and all I have to do was present it. I did it for the love of teaching, but was delightedly surprised when they handed me an honorary fee of $200 for spending about 2 hours with them. They invited me again this year, and of course I said yes. Did I mention they gave me free lunch too?

Maybe I can be a traveling lecturer, like the ancient Greek philosophers. Maybe I can assume the title “Pedagog.” Or maybe I can be a motivational speaker. That will be great! But wait a minute. What if I am a lousy teacher? Or what if I am a boring speaker? And what if…….

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After giving so much thought on all these options, I have decided that I will keep my current day job……..for at least a little bit longer.

(*honorary job really means without pay, so an honorary fee is definitely less than its market value; in other words, they can pay you better but they wouldn’t)

Funeral Pianist

I don’t like funerals. I don’t think anybody does. Except funeral homes’ owners, I guess. Here’s another reason to dread funerals….

I received a phone call last week. It was a lady in our church, and she informed me that a beloved church member had passed away. I thought that was it. But there was more.

She told me that the widow of the deceased requested her to sing in the funeral service, and she was in turn requesting me to accompany her in the piano. Moreover, she also told me that the widow asked me to play some hymns during the viewing, preceding the funeral service.

I was a little shocked by the news, and maybe even more shocked with the thought of playing piano in a funeral. But somehow I agreed to do it, out of respect. I played in church before, just not in a funeral service. This would be my first.

I can play the piano, but not very well. To sound good, or at least half-decent, I need to practice a lot, which I admit, don’t do.

A year ago, a church member requested me to be the pianist for his wedding. I know the wedding music pieces are difficult and I am fully aware of my limitations. I respectfully declined. I was afraid I will  messed up so badly that when I play “Here Comes the Bride,” the guests will be looking at me instead of the bride marching down the aisle.

Unlike a recital, or a wedding, or a Christmas program, you have months or at least few weeks to prepare and practice. You don’t have that luxury for a funeral. I got two days.

It was not that the two ladies who asked me to play, don’t discern good music. The one who would sing had professionally recorded religious songs in the past, in fact, I even had a music CD of hers. She may not be in her prime, but I would not call her faded, as she still sings beautifully. And the widow? She was the church organist for several decades. She just elected not to play anymore in the past year or so, perhaps due to her age, or maybe more so to give way to the younger musicians.

But they had no choice. The three regular and “real” pianists in our church were all on vacation. Two were out-of-state, and one is out of the country. I was the only one available. I could have forced my 13 year-old daughter to take my place, who by the way, already plays better than I do. But I owned up to the responsibility, for the sake of the memory and out of respect of the departed brother. I tell you, do not die when the pianists are on vacation, for you will get a crummy piano player for your funeral.

As the time to play came, I just blocked my mind from the audience, and felt the solemn music, and immersed myself on the inspirational content of the hymns I was playing. And as I accompanied the singer with the hymn “Face to Face,” (the song the widow requested to be sang) I don’t think people were focusing on me, nor even on the singer. It was the hopeful message of the song, and the loving memory of the departed that people reflected on.

        Face to face shall I behold Him,

Far beyond the starry sky;

Face to face in all His glory,

I shall see Him by and by!

After the service, I was standing by the door, waiting for the casket to be brought out and placed in the hearse. The grieving relatives passed by me and with tears in their eyes said: “Thank you. It was beautiful.”

I was grateful that I accepted the part, and contributed to the last memories of our departed brother. I now realized that it is not who plays it, nor how good we play the songs, but it was the songs themselves, and the messages they bring, that touches people. And it is not necessarily our mastery that is important, but our willingness to serve, is what really matters.