I grew up in a church in North Carolina. I’m not a particularly religious person, but have always found spiritual connection through music. In one of rooms at my childhood church sits a Baldwin concert grand piano. It’s a beautiful instrument. Some of the keys are yellowed and chipped. The wooden body is covered in dents and scratches. Even still, it’s one of my favorite pianos I’ve ever played. I first played this piano when I was only five years old.
My mom worked at the church when I was growing up. I would often spend hours seated at this piano, banging out my little songs. As the years passed I played this piano for various church functions and even the funeral reception for my adopted grandmother Edith Collins. When I return to North Carolina I always make time to swing by and sit at the piano one more time.
This past Christmas Eve, I was killing time before my show and decided to stop by and spend some time with the Baldwin. The piano sits in what the church used to call ‘’the great hall.” It’s a big circular room filled with lots of memories and reverb. I played nonstop for about two hours. When I finally finished, I noticed an older couple had been sitting in the wings listening.
I walked over and introduced myself. Immediately the gentleman began to praise my playing. I was a little surprised as I had really just been playing rather aimlessly. He compared my playing to a high performing basketball team. It was certainly an analogy I had never heard. His wife asked if I had a card with my information on it so I quickly ran to my car to get one for her.
When I came back I found the wife standing alone with tears in her eyes. She told me that her husband had Alzheimer's and the first time he had been calm lately was when he sat and listened to me play. She also explained that he was a former NBA and collegiate basketball coach. Suddenly his words of praise made sense. I hugged her as we walked back to find her husband. I shook his hand and thanked him one more time before they went on their way.
In the weeks since then I’ve thought about the moment with the coach and his wife often. It’s not the first time somebody has come up to me after I finished playing that piano and offered kind words. Growing up I used to sit at the piano and play before church on Sundays. Folks would always sit and listen. 23 years later, the piano is still bringing me and others joy. I think it’s a special instrument indeed.