The spring when I turned ten, my mom worked as a waitress at a retirement home close by. I used to go every night after the residents had finished dinner and change the menu board for the next day. In exchange the kitchen staff always gave me free dessert, and Mom and I would walk home together when she was done cleaning up.
There was a baby grand piano in the dining room of the retirement home that I loved to play when they'd let me. I'd never had piano lessons, but I had a keyboard at home. Mostly I played long arpeggios up and down the piano, back and forth, until someone told me to stop.
Most of the waiters and waitresses besides Mom were high school students. There was one waiter in particular, Bill Richards, who was a musician and composer. One night after the vacuuming was done, he sat down at the piano and played a piece he'd written. It was just about the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. I was completely mesmerized. When I got home, I went straight to the keyboard and tried to remember what Bill had played. The beginning was a simple pattern of upward-leading broken chords that sounded to me like the words "open up" being spoken. The piece was also in the key of C# major, which was a new challenge for me — I'd never tried playing in such an exotic key before. Eventually, as the days and weeks went by, I developed my own version of the piece, based on what Bill had played but adapted to my own ability and with some of my own material filling the gaps where I couldn't remember Bill's chord progressions.
Summer came and Bill went away to college. I never heard him play his unnamed piece again, although I played it endlessly over and over myself. I added violin, glockenspiel, and synthesizers, composed a melody to soar over its ostinato pattern, and made several recordings of it on cassette tape. Three years later, Bill came to town to visit, and I was excited to show him what I had done with his piece. For some reason, though, we never managed to get together. As time passed, I played the piece less and less, although its simple beauty had left a mark on my musical sensibilities.
Late one night over a decade later, in a music room up at the university, I played the piece on a real piano. It had been refined over the years; seasoned; re-adapted to a more mature style, but its freshness was still there. I decided to try to track Bill down on the internet.
It was then that I discovered that, after an amazingly successful career in computer programming, Bill had tragically drowned in a boating accident. He would never know the impact his song had had.
Later, I arranged "Bill's Song" for Frontier Academy charter school's elementary choir (see other listing for the piano-only arrangement). After realizing that there could be no appropriate words to fit the existing melody, I chose to use solfège syllables. The first four bars of the piano part have remained intact, a verbatim copy of Bill's original "open up" introduction from so long ago.
Bill's mother still lives in my town. I found her on the internet and brought her a recording of "Bill's Song," complete with the children's voices, one August afternoon. She recognized it right away, and showed me a picture of Bill from high school. After leaving town, he had gone on to travel the world, working odd jobs and playing music for people, before becoming a computer programmer and entrepreneur. His short life had been quite an adventure.
I hope this arrangement does justice to Bill, one of my greatest musical influences.