Childhood Beginnings

My grandfather, Andrew 'Bundy' Lang, and my grandmother, Pauline 'Pepe' Lang, lived in the adjoining twin house nextdoor to ours during my childhood in Philadelphia, PA.

Bundy played violin and harmonica, and dabbled a bit with piano. He was always busy working and doing things, and there was frequently someone playing piano in his house, so he didn't play often ... but when he did I was always impressed.

He also whistled songs all the time, and quite well. And he sang often ... as he was washing dishes or driving or doing a chore. One cool thing he did: He often sang Happy Birthday ... on any day. If asked why, he'd say: 'It's somebody's birthday!'
(This may be a clue as to where some of my playfulness comes from)

Pepe was a piano teacher, and a pretty decent pianist. She had many students, including: Bundy, my mother (Rose Lang Braverman), my sister (Robin Braverman), me, my cousins Michele 'Mickey' Lang, Robert Lang, and Louis Borochaner
(it's Hungarian!).

Their piano was in the front window, just on the other side of the wall between our houses. I would often hear and see her playing or giving lessons. I guess I was inspired to see what I could do ...

Pauline 'Pepe' Hirsch Lang
at the piano I first touched

My grandmother loved to tell this story:
Apparently I approached her when I was 4 ... asked her to teach me. She had a rule: She didn't teach children until after at least 1 year of schooling. She wanted someone else to teach them to sit still and pay attention!

Well ... I insisted ...
So she sat me on the bench, pointed at a page and said: 'Play this note.' I must have guessed, and hit a random key ... and she said 'Right!' After two or three repeats of this, I reportedly said: 'Hey! You're not teaching me anything!' Ha! She gave up and the real lessons began.

I clicked into some kind of musical sponge mode. She'd give me a page of written exercises as 'homework,' I'd be back in an hour asking for more. She'd say 'Do the next page' and I'd say 'I finished the whole book. I need the next one.'

We all had keys to both houses ... free to come and go ... and so I would play my granparents' piano often ... sometimes when they were out, sometimes when my grandmother was sitting in the next room listening as she did things.
If I made a mistake, she'd call in 'Try again!' or 'Nooooo.'
It was like having a full-time piano teacher!

Here's the next great story ... my Mom loved to tell this one:
We didn't have a piano. My Mom, sister and I would play my grandparents' piano when we could. My Mom wanted to buy one, but my Dad was working two jobs and money was a little tight. He also rarely had opportunity to hear me play, and so he didn't know how my need for a piano was progressing.

One night, after the four of us had dinner out, my Mom dragged my Dad with us into a piano store. My sister and I wandered off, as kids do, and my Mom found a $50 piano to show my Dad. This was around 1960 ... when cars cost about $2000.

My Dad, thinking he was being clever, said: 'Hear that kid playing somewhere in the store? When Roy can play that well, I'll buy this piano.' Ha ha ... guess who was playing? And guess who got the piano?

A fascinating musical influence in my early childhood was a great-aunt/cousin named Elsie Blady. She used to play piano in silent movie theatres. She would often visit us, and was always asked play for us (something I later experienced ... it's cool to entertain the family).

Her playing was spectacular and theatric. She had very long fingers and played with a lot of flourish and emotion. My Mom loved to stand next to her and describe some imaginary movie ... and Elsie would provide the soundtrack. How cool is that?

Another cool thing about my grandmother's piano teaching: She had one of the first home tape recorders around. It was a Webcor, with a glowing green eye that pulsed with the incoming sound. She recorded all of us, and all of her students. She would slate every recording with the date and student's name and make a few comments, then introduce them and ... showtime! It was the Pepe Variety Show! I have tapes from the 50's on up, and I'm looking into baking them (to restore their playability) and transferring them. I hope to post some of these early classics soon.

My Grandmother had a Webcor
This ad is from 1957

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