Give 'Em Tunes, Harry!
TO the legend of Lincoln's log cabin must be added the story of President Truman's upright piano. That tinkly little parlor instrument was a friend to young Harry as he grew up near Independence, Missouri. On it he first played his favorite little pieces by Mozart, Muzio Clementi, and some of those new ``ragtime'' composers. He played it when he courted his wife-to-be, Bess. And even if he never grew very accomplished as a musician - sometimes ``his fingers wouldn't work,'' as his daughter Bess put it - its music stayed with him for the rest of his life. ``Music occupied a place of importance in his private and public lives,'' wrote Brian Lingham in his book, ``Harry Truman - The Man, His Music.'' ``He involved his family, his friends, his political cronies, and finally the nation in his music.''
I have visited that old upright piano many times in the basement of the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. It's difficult to resist picking out a few notes of ``The Missouri Waltz'' on the brittle keyboard. The instrument is like Truman in his later years - small, a bit battered, but still standing its ground. If you sit at the bench and listen carefully, you can almost hear Harry as a child, his stubby fingers scrambling across the keys.
``There are eight pianos here in all,'' says Dr. Benedict Zobrist, the library's director. ``We have a full range of them. They go from this upright that President Truman played when he was a boy - all the way up to the presidential piano he played in the White House, which was a gift from President Nixon. We have a number of other pianos that he had at home and which were gifts to the president.''
Dr. Zobrist tells me young Truman was very serious about music. In 1891 while a young piano student, Truman went with Mrs. E.C. White, a Kansas City teacher who had studied with Theodor Leschetizky, to the Shubert Theatre to hear the legendary virtuoso, Ignaz Paderewski. Backstage after the concert, the legend goes, Paderewski gave Harry a brief lesson in the performance of his famous ``Menuet in G.'' There they were, fussing over the keyboard, two future statesmen - Truman a president of the United States and Paderewski a prime minister of Poland!
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