"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
I stood there reading the opening of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities". I owned a very old copy (circa 1859) of this story purchased from an Antiquarian Book dealer many years ago. I closed the book and placed it in some wrapping before putting it in the shipping case. I was packing up my library for shipment to my new home in California.
My kids were both adults now. That's one of the reasons I sold the farm house outside of Rochester. The other was the fact that I was finished with the cold weather this area of the country could and did produce. There was no longer any reason to live here. I wanted to live out my years in the warmth of the sun and the arms of a beautiful woman. Now that a goal!
My son was a school teacher in North Carolina. My daughter was married and going to make me a grandfather after Christmas. She and her husband had moved to California last year. I guess the warmer weather must have lead to her pregnancy. (Well OK, maybe her husband helped too.)
I had sold the "farm" and was packing up the items that made up my life here. The movers would see to it that my "stuff" arrived in California. All I had to do is mark what I wanted to go and pack the special items.
Most of the furniture went to the new owners. They were a young couple and this was going to be their first real home. I was only taking the stuff in my library and the original artwork on the walls.
The "farm" consisted of about 20 acres of land. It had a large old house, two barns, a detached four car garage, and miles and miles of fencing for the horses. Well maybe not "miles and miles" but when you were the one painting them, they seemed like it!
The place held a lot of memories for me. It was the first place I bought for the kids after my wife ran off with her lover to escape a "boring" life with me. I watched my two kids, the twins; Jackie and Paul Jr. grow to adulthood here. There were the minor injuries, family disputes, along with the many fun times we had while they were growing.
That was over 20 years ago. I guess I'd better take the time to explain. So let's go back to the beginning.
First there was Adam and Eve. (Oops too far back! Lets try again.)
I'm Paul Kohler. I was born in New York State near the southern border. It was a small town where you didn't have to lock your doors and everybody went to their respective churches on Sunday. You know the type of place where the most excitement came from watching paint dry.
My mother was college educated (liberal arts) and I received the benefit of her studies. My father was a shop keeper. He worked hard and supplied us with a full life.
As soon as I was physically big enough she talked my father into music lessons. Now neither of my parents played any musical instrument, so they didn't understand any reason for a woodwind or string instrument, instead they walked into a piano store.
My first thought as a kid was, "How was I going to push one of those things in the annual Memorial Day Parade?" I was very concerned. You need remember I was only 11 years at the time and the electronic age of keyboards was still in the future.
Well the salesman was very good. We went in there to buy a small piano and walked out with an organ. Actually we didn't walk out with it; it was scheduled to be delivered in two weeks. It was "used". A family had purchased it last year but the husband was transferred to another state and didn't want to pay the cost of shipping it half way across the country.
I guess that was the reason we bought it. It was cheap. The store had already made a profit on the first sale so there wasn't the need to make as much the second time around.
I took lessons once a week until I graduated from High School. Plus one hour a day sitting at the keyboards practicing. At first my Mother wanted me to practice right after school, but that cut into my fun time with my friends. My Dad came up with a compromise. If I practiced right after dinner, he would take over my duty to dry the dishes.
I could stop practicing when the dishes were done. Now I wasn't the sharpest stick in the box at that time, but it sounded like a good deal to me because I hated drying the dishes. You see drying the dishes took about 15 minutes, but somehow my father managed to stretch it out to an hour.
It was years before I caught on. By then I liked playing so it was no longer a chore to me.
When I hit my teenage years, I started loving the music played by my contemporaries. I discovered Rock-n-Roll. The only problem is that none of the bands used an organ back then. They basically were nothing more than a few guitars and a drum set. So I had to learn how to duplicate the "sound" with my hands and feet. I got to be pretty good at imitating the various group's sounds.
In my senior year at high school, I was talked into applying to a music school instead of the regular colleges by my guidance counselor. Much to my surprise I was invited to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY to audition for entrance. My organ teacher worked with me on some classical pieces and my technique until it was time to leave for the "test."
By time I arrived in Rochester for my audition I was a wreck. I couldn't sleep, or eat. My hands trembled. I sat on a bench in the hall outside one of the practice rooms where I would either succeed or fail. I sat on that bench with the other applicants. None of us talked to each other because we didn't know who our completion was. We just sat and worried.
When my turn arrived, I walked into the audition room and found three very nice ladies and a PIANO! I didn't play a piano; they require a completely different "touch" from an organ. My hands never developed that "touch".
I looked at that evil instrument and almost started crying. But I was a 17 year old guy and guys didn't cry. I guess I just froze there because the next thing I remember is one of the women saying "Is there a problem, Mr. Kohler?"
I just nodded my head, "Yes",
"Please elaborate. We don't have all afternoon."
"I sorry, but I don't play piano. I'm an organist."
"Am I correct in assuming that you never learned on a piano?" I was asked.
"Yes Madam. I never have played a piano. I started learning on the organ when I was a little kid. I didn't know piano was required for my audition, or I would have stayed home."
The three of them put their heads together and started whispering. Soon one of them left the room and was gone about 5 minutes. When she returned she was all smiles and started whispering with the other two.
"Mr. Kohler Please bring your things and follow us. We have found an organ that is not in use at present."
So the four of us traipsed off to complete my audition. As we walked down the marble halls. I was impressed. The building had been constructed in the early 1900's. That was the period when people built very elaborate structures. Today a corridor would have drop ceilings with florescent lighting replacing some tiles.
But this hall had marble walls, floors, and ceiling. The lighting was provided by antique brass fixtures attached to the walls. The doors were all oak with fancy engraved oak trim. The hardware on the doors was very impressive.
I heard the sounds of music coming down the hall in front of us. We reached a set of oversized double doors which one of the ladies opened. The music increased tenfold. When I walked through the doors I realized we were in an auditorium.
It was beautiful. The seats were all red velvet. There was a huge chandelier hanging from a very ornate ceiling. I later found out that George Eastman, founder of Kodak, donated this theater to the school in the early 1900's.
"The Philharmonic is just finishing up their practice session," one of the ladies commented to me.
Another one added, "It's the jazz ensemble. They play more modern music."
The conductor brought the group to a magnificent crescendo as we stood in a little group at the rear. He added a few words to them about the areas they needed to work on and when the next practice would be. He turned to leave then he spotted our little group heading toward the orchestra pit.
He turned back to his musicians and said, "The school is holding an audition on our organ for a prospective student. We all know how difficult these trials are, so it would be appreciated if you exited quietly."
I looked around and all eyes were on me. A lot of the members were smiling at me and nodding. These great musicians were acknowledging me, a 17 year old kid from the sticks. There wasn't time to bask in their glory. One of the ladies was hustling me into the pit and starting up the great big concert organ.
She got me seated and explained what was where on this monster console. I had never seen something as large as this instrument was. My heart started pounding in my chest. I knew that I would probably fail.
"It's a pipe organ. There will be a small lag from when you press a key until you hear the sound. I hope this doesn't bother you," she stated. "I would like you to warm up first by playing a few scales."
.... There is more of this story ...