Classical music has been one of my constant companions since childhood. Piano lessons initially mandated by my parents (but ultimately demanded by me) cemented a love for the timeless sonatas and symphonies of the master composers. I built up a stock of memorized pieces – my very own repertoire. I was “hooked on classics” at an early age.
In 1947, a children’s audio story was created for Capitol Records called “Sparky’s Magic Piano”. Sparky was a little boy who hated to practice the piano but benefited from an active imagination. One day Sparky’s piano starts talking to him, and declares if he simply runs his hands across the keyboard he will make beautiful music. Instantly Sparky is playing with the accomplished skills of a concert pianist, effortlessly churning out Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, and Mendelssohn’s “The Spinning Song”. Sparky’s piano teacher and parents want to show the world this wonder, so they book a series of concerts across the country. But in one of those performances, Sparky suddenly loses his abilities and can’t play a single note. He demands the music from his magic piano but nothing comes. He looks out to his waiting audience in horror… and wakes up from a dream.
Virtually the entire story of “Sparky’s Magic Piano” is in his imagination, but the moral-of-the-story ending has Sparky practicing with renewed focus and hopes of some day becoming a great pianist. Also, the story aged well, as I first heard it twenty-five years after it was created and still loved it.
“Sparky’s Magic Piano” resonates for several reasons. It inspired me with wonderful piano compositions at an age when I wanted to play outside instead of practice. My piano teacher helped me learn “The Spinning Song” and the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata” (alas, the “Bumblebee” is reserved for only the most accomplished of pianists. Watch this performance as proof: http://www.wimp.com/fastgirl/ )
Also, whenever I hear the classical music from Sparky’s story I’m instantly transported back in time to my grandparents’ house. Besides the children’s stories and toys (enjoyed decades earlier by my own father), my grandparents owned a few audio stories. Their copy of “Sparky’s Magic Piano” was on “45’s”: those 7-inch records that contained a single song on each side. Sparky’s story required six or seven 45’s (both sides), which meant you had to flip or change the discs every 3-4 minutes to hear the entire story.
Thanks to Sparky I will always remember childhood time with my grandparents. I can picture myself sitting cross-legged on their floor in front of the living-room “hi-fi” (the size of a small refrigerator back then), listening to Sparky’s story with a focus broken only by the need to flip the discs. Fittingly, that living room also contained an old, out-of-tune, upright piano, which I was allowed to play every now and then.
Remarkably, “Sparky’s Magic Piano” is still available today. You can buy a copy for a couple dollars on Amazon Music or iTunes. Have a listen to a story that was created almost seventy years ago. Thanks to your iPod you won’t even have to get up to change the discs. And if you can endure the corny dialogue, you may find yourself captivated by the repertoire of wonderful piano music – truly “classical”.