As I sit here, visiting my sister, Sarah, in her rural house, she plays on the piano while her husband sits next to her on the couch, running cake-decorating ideas past her. They work as a team, preparing the cake to celebrate her Baby Shower, happening tomorrow. Her belly is large, full of multiple heartbeats. Twins! Boys? Girls? They aren’t sure yet, deciding to wait until the birth to consider the amazing opportunities that await them.
I don’t often get a chance to see family, and when I do it’s usually always to celebrate a large family event. The excitement and anxiety in the air based around a huge life change is contagious! Getting to photograph my sister amidst this change is about capturing that energy. I watch my sister observe, calmly direct, and connect with her nephew in law and I see that crease between her eyes that our own mom used to get when we were growing up. I always called this phenomenon “worried eyebrows” and would physically push that look of concern away from my mother’s face with my fingers, making my mom laugh. My sister is perfect mom material. Sometimes she’s so “mommy”, I have point it out to her. “You sound just like mom!” It’s definitely a compliment.
In my own journey with kids, I am a beginner. Playing with John, Sarah’s 3 year old nephew in law, threw me into a learning experience for sure!
“I have to go bathroom.”
Oh no! Does he know how to go himself? Am I supposed to do something? I heard his mom and my sister laughing in the other room, knowing of my 0 to no experience with children that age. After determining he just had to pee, I was relieved of any overwhelming duties. Phew! All I had to do was keep him company.
“This looks so scary, doesn’t it?” Sarah stops me as I write, showing me the piece she plays, a Beethoven Sonata of some number. There are black marks as dense as a forest all over the sheet of music. To my eyes, it looked like this.
“Is it?” I ask.
But she knows it, having studied music throughout her life and growing up in the musical family we did. Some parts she plays slowly to get right. At every wrong note she pauses, laughs and makes a ridiculous silly noise. Her humor has always put me at ease, making me snort embarrassingly; but it’s just my sister, so snorting is perfectly acceptable.
Sitting here, listening to her play is like a blast from the past though, throwing me into our childhood where we grew up in a family that believed music was life. Everyone in the family played an instrument and sang. My dad was a music professor (a student termed him a “cute old guy” on ratemyprofessor.com) at Lock Haven University, jazz director, and played trombone in a Dixieland band. My mother was a music therapist, organist, and accompanist for Lock Haven University’s choir. All their kids (us) played multiple instruments throughout their (our) lives. Sarah, my older sister, plays trombone, piano, organ and studied music education in college. Sophie, our younger sister, can pick up any instrument and make beautiful music. I like to call her a music prodigy, but in reality she put a ton of work into developing her mad guitar skills! She plays guitar, violin, any string instrument really, and at one point an accordion and saxophone. Zack, my younger brother, plays trumpet, viola, and sings. Because he’s older now, his voice has matured and he sounds like a mini-version of my dad’s strong, baritone voice. Now, the mini doesn’t mean height wise! The dude is 6’4 at the moment, and I bet he’s still working his way up there.
I tend to tell people I am the “least musical” of the family. I tried my hand at piano, violin, and percussion instruments but stuck with singing for years and years. I sing in the Erie Philharmonic Chorus and was at one time the Development Director on their Board. These days I play the ukulele for fun and therapy, and own a guitar, which has a lot of dust on it at the moment. Music is my pulse though. I recognize it calms me, enlivens me, and is a necessary tool for staying centered in my daily life. This seems true for my siblings too.
And check this out! Sarah and her husband, Alex, are creating their own little musical family, similar to the families they grew up in.
My sister met Alex at their college, IUP, where they both studied music education. He comes from a very musical family himself, with 3 sisters who were all drum-majors in high school. He plays countless instruments that I’m probably going to forget some when listing! He loves the accordion– celebrating his Polish heritage– and plays wind instruments. Together Sarah and Alex are continuing the musical legacy. I remember the days, waking up early in the morning to the sound of our mom, playing a tune on the piano, yelling out “Sugar-boogies!” at every other wrong note, and the other times making small little exasperated screams and laughs at her mistakes. Yep, my sister certainly takes after her!
Saying it’s comforting listening to the process of learning a musical piece is an understatement in a way. It feels necessary to be surrounded by that creative process, any creative process. I may not be as musical or instrumentally blessed as my siblings, but that same kind of creative energy that fuels my art fuels their music. I can relate, I can appreciate, and I can be motivated to go out and create as well.
Sarah finishes what she is playing, running her hands messily over the keys of the piano, a stark contrast to the original melody. Always the comedian, she remarks, “He didn’t write that, I added that.”
Creating beautiful music is one thing, but my sister is an incubator at the moment, creating one– no, TWO of the best creations there are to create.
Feti! (As I lovingly call them)!
It’s just like her to, on her first go, create a quartet of a family. I can’t wait to capture the other large life events that my sister will go through. I often look to her to prepare for my own future. I’m grateful to have her as a role model and learn from her journey. Today, it’s a big belly-bump, but in a few months I will have two new subjects (Nephews? Nieces?) to photograph and spoil! So this blog post goes out to you, Sister. Congratulations on your new family!