The Elephant in the Music

If I ever write it, my memoir will be called The Elephant in the Music.

Here’s why.

When I was a little girl taking piano lessons, for some reason the pedal sign 

Pedal sign

looked like an elephant to me.

Perhaps I first saw that pedal marking very soon after seeing the movie Dumbo. I was fixated on the baby elephant’s huge ears — and so I saw the huge “ears” on the pedal sign and naturally thought “elephant!”

Huge ears, long back, massive legs. Elephant.

That’s the story to which I shall be sticking, anyway.

I have no explanation at all for my willingness to overlook the missing trunk!

Seven-year-old me decided that the pedal sign was an elephant. There were elephants all over my music. I rather liked that.

I knew perfectly well that seeing an elephant in the music meant to depress the damper pedal. It never occurred to me to wonder — or ask — why an elephant was used for the pedal sign. Written music was so full of odd symbols, surely there was room for an elephant. (I still think that!) The same ancient anonymous folks who decreed

music symbols

must also have decreed that a picture of an elephant meant “use the pedal.”

Or maybe: “Time for a heavy foot!”

Anyway — here’s the embarrassing part — I was in graduate school before I looked at a page of music and saw that the pedal sign is merely a fancy italicized capitalized Ped. For Pedal.

Pedal sign

Some Rorschach moment! I was so glad I had only ever talked about the Pedal sign, and not about the (obvious-to-me) elephant. That wasn’t there. And had no trunk.

(You know that phrase the “elephant in the room?” The elephant in my room was that there were elephants in my music.)

I don’t have a neat moral for this story. I was just a goofy little kid who leapt to conclusions (or was too easily entrained) but kept her mouth shut.

Do I still leap to conclusions? Alas, probably I do. What keeps me composing is that I have to discover the music; I can’t assume it. Conclusions I create about the music may not coincide with the conclusions the music creates for itself. I have to listen innocently and openly to learn where the music truly goes.

I hope that now I truly see innocently; that I can see what is really there (Ped ) and that I can also see imaginatively, like a child.

I also hope that somewhere there’s a little girl who sees elephants in her music. And rather likes that.

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