First Glimmer

By Gregory Nuber

I have a water colored memory of a particular summer day when I was eight or nine years old. It was probably very hot and I must have spent the morning swimming and fighting and playing with my younger sister. On a typical day lunch might be followed by an afternoon of errands with Mom- my hair damp and smelling of chlorine, the air conditioned car a cool refuge from the oppressive, baking heat. This day was not typical. Lunch was followed by a bath, fresh, damp hair was neatly combed and we were chauffeured by Mom (for this was to become her major, practical function in my life) across town to the home of an elderly lady named Flossie McCoy. She was the organist at our church and although I did not know her well, I knew that sometimes the music she played before and after services brought a strange feeling to my gut.

We walked from the cool of Mother’s car through the heat of the afternoon into Ms. Flossie’s serene and welcoming home. We were probably offered a glass of water – perhaps iced tea or lemonade. Mother and Sister settled comfortably into a sofa, Flossie into her familiar hard-backed chair and I, with only slight trepidation, took my place on the smooth, black lacquered bench that felt good on my sun-drenched legs.

“This is a piano,” began Ms. Flossie. “It has eighty-eight keys, fifty-two white and thirty-six black.” My large, hazel eyes probably became even bigger at this point and I began to feel that strange feeling in my gut. I still didn’t know what this feeling was all about. It was an intense pang of yearning, excitement, possibility, fear – a dense composite of thoughts and feelings that moved around inside me like a swarm of bees. I knew what a piano was – we had one at home and I had often pounded out discordant rhythms with passionate abandon, or meticulously picked out simple, familiar tunes. I also knew that some people had the magical ability to draw forth real music from the piano and some of that music made my gut feel strange.

“Right in front of you heart is a key we call ‘middle-C’”. My heart. “It is a home- a safe place and a point of references with a world of possibilities on either side. Is home. “Let’s begin by placing the thumb of your right hand on ‘middle-C’. Your thumb is one and the other four fingers are two, three, four and five. That is all you need to create music.” I was intrigued. Flossie began calling out finger numbers, I began to play, and my Mother sat on the sofa and beamed at my crude rendition of the holiday standard “Jingle Bells”. I was concentrating so hard that when I was through I had no idea what I had just played. Mother commented that it made her think of cold winter days, and what a nice thought that was on a hot summer day. Flossie laughed in agreement, and I became impatient because I still didn’t know what I had played.

“Tell me the numbers again,” I demanded. I needed to know what I was playing. I needed to recognize it and at the same time be cognizant of what I was doing. I wanted the ability to create the music independently without the numeric prompting of my teacher. I was less than five minutes into my first piano lesson and already filled with an intense desire that I had always possessed but had just accessed. I was beginning to understand what the strange sensation in my gut was all about. This was perhaps the first cathartic moment of my young life. I knew that I was given a gift- the chance to learn something that would make me feel special and whole. Although I did not know it at the time, I had just stepped on the path that led toward my future.

Gregory Nuber moved to NYC in July of 1992 from Arizona State University where he was pursuing his MFA in Modern Dance. He immediately began studying on scholarship at the David Howard Dance Center and soon landed his first professional contract with Michael Mao Dance. Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre (now RIOULT (re-you) and finally the world-renown Mark Morris Dance Group. Gregory also played Lord Capulet in Frances Patrele’s full length Romeo and Juliet and danced in the pick-up companies Matthew Nash Music and Dance and Jonathan Appels. A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Mr. Nuber has performed professionally in regional productions of West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Cinderella.

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