Lunch with Marjorie: Kids and music—It started with ‘Hail to the Chief’

Nola Carnine teaches music at Kinnikinnick School. She’s come full circle: This is where she went to middle school.

“I’m about fourth generation Roscoe person,” she said.

The cappuccino machine at Meg’s Daily Grind in Roscoe was loud this Saturday. The aroma was heavenly.

I’ve known Nola for 10 years. She’s our church organist. We became fast friends, but I hadn’t asked her about her music.

“When I was a preschooler, there was a piano in my folks’ garage, an old upright. I would go out there and make up songs. (There was) the funeral for…J.F.K..then the inauguration for Johnson. They were playing ‘Hail to the Chief’ over and over. So I went out and played ‘Hail to the Chief.’ That was my first tune. I was playing by ear.”

Her parents listened to her church organist, Florence Sugars.

“Get the kid piano lessons and get the piano tuned so you don’t ruin her ear. You want to have her listening to things that are in tune.”

“Thank you, Mom. I don’t think I would have gone as far as I did without the encouragement of my mom and without the encouragement of the church.”

“Did they upgrade your piano?”

“I had my first lesson during the week. We went on the weekend and bought a piano. Of course, I could only play my two greatest hits: ‘Hail to the Chief’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ my special with two hands. I had made up accompaniment with a harmony part with my left hand for ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ because that was on the radio all the time (then).”

“Sounds like you were a close family.”

“They were very supportive…always interested in finding music for me. By the same token, I kind of monopolized the piano away from my sisters. If they had had any ability, I was too selfish. I wasn’t able to share.”

“You’re the oldest?”

“And I was very bossy to them.”

In high school, Nola decided to become a high school band director.

“I couldn’t think of anything else I was interested enough in to pursue.”

Meg’s cappuccino machine was roaring again. I wanted a refill.

“Teaching kids is a big responsibility.”

“I think it’s really big. I’ve had adults come back and tell me, when they’re at conferences, and they’re supposed to be talking about their kids—they all have this baggage about some teacher who has told them that they couldn’t sing when they were little. I don’t think some teachers realize that if you’re so picky—like I was to my sisters—you can hurt people more than you know. I’ve had many, many adults, especially men, say, ‘My teacher said I couldn’t sing, and I never sang again.’ They just turned off that part of their brain.”

“But you encourage and inspire your students.”

“That’s what I hope.”

“How did you start playing the organ?”

“We had an organ at church…I really didn’t like the sound of…didn’t even have it played at my wedding. I went to Arizona…and visited Organ Stop Pizza. They had a Wurlitzer theater organ connected to a grand piano…a train, car horns, and cymbals…everything you could think of. You could sit and eat pizza, and this person would play the organ. We were just thrilled. We bought all of their records. It was hilarious. After the Arizona trip…I found out I liked the sound of the instrument itself because it was a pipe organ. All I’d ever heard was electronic organs. Hearing a pipe organ doing the Bach ‘D Minor Toccata,’ da-na-na,” she mimicked the scary movie sound. “It’s not going to inspire you unless you want to be creepy on Halloween.”

We talked about budget cuts, cutting music from the curriculum.

“It’s like cutting out part of my heart. I don’t know enough about politics to be able to fix it, so it just aches. There are so many studies…about the brain. It’s not just opinion. Listening to music, playing…performing music, helps your brain. Doing music, you’re actually increasing neuro-pathways.”

“Some people say music doesn’t do much for them,” I said.

Nola had wisdom for this.

“If you turned all the music off their TV…just had the words, and if you turned off their movies, and just had the actions, and had only news on the radio, and didn’t have the music, didn’t have the music when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re cleaning your garage, or when you want to exercise, I think, then, you would realize that something is missing.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the June 22-28, 2005, issue

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