George Gershwin


The freight elevator is reserved for Friday between 10 and noon. A member of the maintenance crew has already been to my apartment and removed from a hallway closet two folding doors and wire shelving.

For my part, I've shifted its contents to a different closet in my 582-square-foot studio. Soon, a pre-owned Everett Upright Piano, with bench, will occupy that empty area, which once housed a handful of sweaters, a mat for morning stretches, a pail, broom, and dry mop. Instead of a wave of a hand like some ordinary wizard, I have used wit and brawn to transform a once humble space into a music room.

"How long have you been playing?" the eager salesman had asked as we climbed two flights of stairs to review pianos in my price range.

Catching my breath, I had said, "Oh, I can't really play. I'm a perpetual beginner. All I want is to learn how to play Rogers and Hart." He hesitated, perhaps wondering if I was serious in my search, then shrugged whatever and continued up another flight.

I didn't think he needed the history of my piano quest, but I'll tell you: Neither my first husband nor I played, but because we believed a house filled with music was a bonus, in 1970 we bought an upright and offered lessons to our daughters.

From the moment six-year-old Faith sat down on the bench; she treated the instrument as if it were her long-lost twin. (Her sister, Jill, tried lessons, but quickly decided to leave that particular talent to her sibling.)

My draw to the piano didn't occur during those years; it wasn't until another time and place that I decided to take lessons. It was the '80s, and the upright had been exchanged for an ebony baby grand. I can still see that handsome piece, with its wing-shaped lid, which seemed to send its notes soaring.

I wish I could remember the name of the young man who was my first teacher, and led me through Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course - Level 1. But in 1990, when my first marriage ended, the baby grand and lessons exited, too.

Tommy and I first met in 1996, and we learned we had the same favorite song: Rogers' and Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind." That commonality, plus others, led to marriage and another piano. I was never able to smoothly play our tune, but I could pick my way through George Gershwin's, "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

I can still see -- and hear -- my wannabe crooner standing at the side of our Yamaha, belting out "The way your wear your hat..." Like an aged nightclub duo, I'd I search for the right keys while my sweetheart patiently waited for me to catch up to his lyrics.

After Tommy died in 2012, I sold our house. The piano went, too, as part of an estate sale. Because I was moving to a studio apartment in River North, I believed there'd be no room for the instrument. Or, maybe I thought any images of our schmaltzy showbiz scene would be too hard to bear.

During my nine-month stay in Los Angeles, my roomy one-bedroom apartment could've housed a piano, even a baby grand, but I never desired one. It wasn't until I returned to Chicago, and in a conversation with a friend that the thought came up. I must've been gloomy the day of our lunch, because she advised: "Find something to make you happy."

Happy. Then, clear as day I heard Tommy's tenor: "The way you haunt my dreams,
no, no, they can't take that away from me.
" I saw the two of us in the dining room alcove where the upright stood. I heard us laugh as I struggled with chords.

"A piano," I told my friend. "A piano and lessons; that made me happy."

So, once the pre-owned Everett comes home, and I hang portraits of jazz giants on walls where wire once hung, I plan to host "Sing Along Sundays." By then, I'll have purchased a few songbooks and those who can squeeze in, and are willing to play piano, or sing, will bring alive Rogers, Hart, Gershwin, and others of that era.

During those times, perhaps our chorus will imagine ourselves in a favorite musical. And because my mind's eye knows no limits, I'll see Tommy there, too. Maybe by then, I'll be adept at our favorite song, and I can accompany him as he sings, "And wish that you were there again, to get into my hair again, it never entered my mind."