Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Valerie Ruth Cooper

Some weeks ago, Scalzi did a weekend assignment asking everyone what their pen name would be.  It brought back memories.

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons (on the now-recently-rained-upon piano).  And I did recitals, and tested to pass to different levels, and all that other stuff kids do when they're playing an instrument but have no real talent at it.

And one year, my teacher taught me how to play grace notes.  You hit two keys simultaneous and then quickly lift your finger off one, leaving the other one down.  The first note is only there for a tic, while the other one lingers.  It's a different sound, and I was enamored by it.  I practiced it tons.  Same thing with trills -- when you really quickly alternate between two notes next to each other.  Trills and grace notes over and over again.  Must have driven my parents nuts.  Finally, I put a few grace notes after a few trills and whamm-o, I wrote my first piece of music.  Must've been all of a half-page long, but, hey, there it was.

My piano teacher (and/or my mother) thought I should enter this into some sort of kids' songwriting competition.  They thought my half-page of music might be better if I wrote another song to go with it.  Maybe it would be part of a suite?  Now I had to compose on demand.  I called the grace note/trill piece "School Bus," and then threw something together called, if I recall correctly, "Taxi Cab."

To submit them in the competition, I had to copy them over neatly on blank sheet music.  And I had to put a pen name on them -- as the competition was judged anonymously.  I thought about it really hard and named myself "Valerie Cooper."  No real reason.  I'd always thought Valerie was a pretty name, and Cooper seemed a fairly straightforward last name (that people would have no difficulty pronouncing or spelling, unlike my real name).  My father, upon hearing my nom de plume, commented that it didn't sound particularly Jewish, at which point I threw Ruth in as a middle name.  Valerie Ruth Cooper.  Probably used more ink signing the music than it took writing "Taxi Cab."

Somewhere, in a storage box in the back of my closet, I have the feedback "Ms. Cooper" received from the panel of judges.  Lotsof "Good first try; keep writing!" sorts of things.  And one judge inexplicably singled out "Taxi Cab" for praise, thinking that one had been my quality composition.  (Even though it didn't have any trills or grace notes at all!)


helmswondermom said...

I loved this entry!  

lanurseprn said...

Do you still play? I've always wanted to play the piano.  My plans are to start lessons this year.