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Jack Smith

The lost chord is still lost, but he liked the children's piano recital anyway

June 11, 1987|JACK SMITH

We went to a children's piano recital last Sunday--an event that I would have thought had vanished, like the milkman, with a less riotous era.

I had spent the morning in my rattan rocking chair, trying to watch both the Lakers-Celtics game and the French Open tennis finals.

It was a triumph of sports telecasting that those two events were shown in our living rooms simultaneously, so that I was obliged to switch from station to station by remote control, trying to anticipate which would offer the most exciting action before the next commercial.

Had I known the Lakers were going to lose I would have left them to their shame and stayed with Ivan Lendl's skillful destruction of Mats Wilander in four sets.

It was almost dark in Paris when the tape-delayed tennis match ended, and it was into afternoon here.

"We don't want to be late for the recital," my wife reminded me.

It was to be at 2:30 in the Westwood Presbyterian Church. Having a hunch that it might be a rather dressy affair, I put on my maroon suede jacket, a white shirt, a striped red and blue necktie, and blue loafers.

My instincts were correct. It was a dressy affair.

When we arrived several of the principals were gathered in front of the church. Their parents were taking pictures. It looked like Easter. The little girls were as fresh as flowers in their party frocks and the boys looked smart if somewhat uncomfortable in blazers, slacks, shirts and neckties.

We all filed into a community room of the church and sat in folding chairs in a semicircle around a Baldwin baby grand. Beside it stood a period table covered with bouquets of pink carnations and yellow chrysanthemums and other gifts for Frances Himes, the teacher.

There were 28 pianists on the program, all of them pupils of Mrs. Himes, who appeared before us in a flowered silky dress with draped sleeves.

"Where's her studio?" I asked my daughter-in-law Gail.

"She doesn't have one," she said. "She makes house calls. In a mauve Camaro."

The pupils were seated in the front row to the left. The recital began without ado. The first performer was a girl named Sammy Milner. She appeared to be about 6.

"Her name's Samantha," my daughter-in-law whispered, explaining the Sammy . Sammy wore a long white dress with tiny roses on it.

She marched to the piano, lifted herself up on the stool, and began to play the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. With one finger. She also played a little ballet piece with both hands. Then she slid off the stool, bowed from the waist, and marched back to her chair.

The children got older and larger as the recital went on.

My grandson Casey, who is 8, and a promising baseball player, was third. Sartorially, he was a thing of splendor: navy blue blazer with brass buttons, dark gray slacks, red and white striped shirt with red and black striped tie, brown loafers.

He marched to the stool and played two pieces, the second being "My Koala Bear." I do not know the piece, and am not sure how faithfully he played it, but he played it with alacrity. If he had a fault it was that he seemed to be rather in a hurry to get through with it, as if he were running the bases; but then I've heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic play that way.

My granddaughter Alison, being 10, was seventh. She was a picture. Her white dress was covered with pale blue polka dots and had a white collar and a pale blue band above the hem with a bow at one side. She played "Fairy Court" and "Loop the Loop."

Like most of the other pupils, she may have missed a note or two, and once or twice she made tiny but agonizing pauses, as if poised uncertainly on a high diving board, while we all held our breaths; but in each case she collected herself and plunged pluckily on; at one point she ran an ascending rill with panache, and she finished in style.

Her bow was properly demure, though I noticed that her smile was characteristically mischievous.

As the pupils grew larger, their pieces became more intricate. The Misses Laura and Eileen Kaspar, who appeared to be twins, played a minuetto by Weber. They wore identically styled long satin Jacquard dresses, one pale blue, one mauve, with long strands of pearls, and identically coiffed long blond hair.

Neither their aplomb nor their performance was affected, as far as I could tell, by the fact that the stool was not wide enough for both of them, and one of them, I don't know which, sat half on, half off.

The smaller children were beginning to squirm. Their deportment had been exemplary. But I noticed that my grandson had shucked his jacket and was making faces.

The more difficult pieces were yet to come.

Adrienne Smith played a Haydn sonata, Elizabeth McCann played the beautiful Schubert "Ave Maria," and Patty Foudy played two pieces by Mozart.

When it was over Mrs. Himes presented trophies to each of her pupils and told them, "I want to give you something to remember this day even if you don't want to remember it."

"How did they do?" I asked her later.

"They did beautifully," she said. "A few mistakes don't matter. We're not machines. We're human beings."

I thought it was a lesson the Lakers might profit from.

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