Orpheus was a great musician in Greek mythology. The son of one of the Muses, Calliope, he was said to be able to charm all living things (and even rocks) with his music. He was one of Jason’s heroes in the quest for the Golden Fleece; by playing his music, he overcame the Sirens’ song and kept the Argonauts from crashing their ship on the rocky shore.
Orpheus is also credited with writing the Orphic Hymns, a collection of poems invoking the Greek gods and goddesses. To his aunts and mother, the nine Muses, he writes, “Clio, and Erato, who charms the sight,?With thee Euterpe minist’ring delight/Thalia flourishing, Polymina fam’d/ Melpomene from skill in music nam’d/Terpischore, Urania heav’nly bright,/With thee who gav’st me to behold the light/Come, venerable, various, pow’rs divine/ With fav’ring aspect on your mystics shine/?Bring glorious, ardent, lovely, fam’d desire/ And warm my bosom with your sacred fire” (75, lines 13-23).
I wish I’d heard of Orpheus and his hymns when I was seven years old. I could have used Euterpe’s help in ministering a little delight.
My mom signed me up for piano lessons when I was seven. Back then, school principals still paddled wayward students, and piano teachers gave a real grade for every lesson. My teacher didn’t reward students with M&Ms for knowing where G flat is on a keyboard. Students who didn’t practice their lessons got kicked to the curb.
I know this because I got kicked out of piano lessons. The teacher was the pianist at my dad’s church, and my parents were embarrassed by this failure. Not only that, they were probably terrified for my future, since the conventional wisdom back then was that every girl should know how to play the piano so that she could one day supplement her husband’s income by playing in church or teaching piano lessons.
I was in big trouble, but I didn’t know that Euterpe, the Muse of Music, was available to help me. All I knew was that I went through four more teachers before receiving the inspiration I needed.
It came in the form of a teenage crush. When I was about thirteen, a senior at the local public high school became the church pianist. He was six years older, and he was Schroeder to my Lucy. All I wanted to do was hang on the piano and listen to him play. Practically overnight, I became a piano prodigy, if one may use that term loosely to mean a teenage girl who practices her piano prodigiously.
I began practicing my piano every morning from 6:30 to 7:30. I became our household alarm clock. Even though my brother and sister complained about waking every morning to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” my parents didn’t dare tell me to lay off the piano in the morning. They didn’t care when, how, or why I was suddenly practicing my little pinkies off. They were just happy that I was finally practicing my piano. I like to think I was ministering delight in the preacher’s house every morning.
When my inspiration got married and moved away, I quit piano for good. Today, I can still find G flat, and I can drive my brother and sister wild by playing the first nine notes of “Fur Elise.” But that’s it. Those nine notes are all I know of any song.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Euterpe has left the building.