A Life-Song of Mine 

“My Love Goes Free” by Jon Foreman

The movement comes in slow
It’s a tune we both should know
But the walls are thin
So we keep our voices low

You’re a bird with a pretty mouth
You’re a bird with songs to shout
And the same refrain continues
Singing out

If you love her let her go
She sings beautiful and slow
A tune that only caged birds know

So you’re in nashville on the phone
And I’m back here at home
And the words are new
But I recognize the tone

If you love her let her go
She’s beautifully composed
A tune that only caged birds know

My love goes free
My love goes free
My love goes free

That Ol’ Piano 

Mom at the Piano

I’m visiting my parents for the weekend and couldn’t help but get sentimental as my mom went to the piano to play some old hymns. This is the woman who taught me this beautiful instrument. This is the piano that I grew up playing. It’s more than 20 years old now and it’s all out of tune. Probably sounds awful to the neighbors. But it’s music to my ears.

I remember the first time we got the piano. It was a dream coming true right before my eyes. We had a piano back in Korea, but there was no way to bring that over when we moved to the States. It’s not like we could just go piano shopping. We didn’t even have a couch or a bed, and getting a piano was out of the question. But one of my mom’s friends helped us to purchase this humble upright and when we moved from Los Angeles to an apartment in upstate New York, it came into the room that my sister and I shared. It was exciting.

On this piano, I learned to play Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann… I noodled around with chords I didn’t even know at the time and played songs we sang at church and accompanied my family for family worship every night. Without this piano, would I even have learned how to play?

To my mom, a house wasn’t a home until it had a piano in it. I am grateful for my mom, and for that ol’ piano.

Whatta Mighty Good Man 

On February 8, 1994, Salt-N-Pepa released that very catchy song called, “Whatta Man”.

My dad had just recently bought a Sony dual-cassette deck stereo with a CD player (::gasp::) on the top of it. It was a beauty – in black, sleek form, and it changed my life forever. Every day, I’d come home from school and was glued to the radio, tape-recording each song that caught my attention and then air-punching the DJ if he spoke during the intro or the outro of the song. Even back then R&B/hip-hop drew me in the most and I was listening to a lot of KISS FM while living in NJ.

When “Whatta Man” came out, everyone at school was talking about it and it was on heavy rotation on KISS FM. It’s a great song, a surprisingly positive one about “whatta good man” someone’s significant other was. The thing is, I found it really hard to learn the song because the verses are rapped rather than sung, and so I just couldn’t memorize it no matter how many times I listened to the song. So one day, I was determined to learn the lyrics and sat down with paper and pencil in hand. I listened to the song on repeat, probably about 20 or 30 times, rewinding again and again when I didn’t catch a lyric. I wrote down each word to that rap and I made sure I got every word correctly.

Then I memorized the song in its entirety. I could sing it and rap it at any given moment for the next year. Here are the lyrics (radio version), to bring you back, or if you don’t know the song, to give you a flavor. And here’s the YouTube vid of the song so you can hear it. I know you want to.


“Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa

What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man

I wanna take a minute or two, and give much respect due
To the man that’s made a difference in my world
And although most men are ho’s he flows on the down low
Cuz I never heard about him with another girl
But I don’t sweat it because it’s just pathetic
To let it get me involved in that he said/she said crowd
I know that ain’t nobody perfect, I give props to those who deserve it
And believe me y’all, he’s worth it
So here’s to the future cuz we got through the past
I finally found somebody that can make me laugh
(Ha ha ha) You so crazy
I think I wanna have your baby

My man is smooth like Barry, and his voice got bass
A body like Arnold with a Denzel face
He’s smart like a doctor with a real good rep
And when he comes home he’s relaxed with Pep
He always got a gift for me everytime I see him
A lot of snot-nosed ex-flames couldn’t be him
He never ran a corny line once to me yet
So I give him stuff that he’ll never forget
He keeps me on Cloud Nine just like the Temps
He’s not a fake wannabe tryin’ to be a pimp
He dresses like a dapper don, but even in jeans
He’s a God-sent original, the man of my dreams

Yes, my man says he loves me, never says he loves me not
Tryin’ to rush me good and touch me in the right spot
See other guys that I’ve had, they tried to play all that mac crap
But every time they tried I said, “That’s not it”
But not this man, he’s got the right potion
Baby, rub it down and make it smooth like lotion
Yeah, the ritual, highway to heaven
From seven to seven he’s got me open like Seven Eleven
And yes, it’s me that he’s always choosin’
With him I’m never losin’, and he knows that my name is not Susan
He always has heavy conversation for the mind
Which means a lot to me cuz good men are hard to find

My man gives real loving that’s why I call him Killer
He’s not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, he’s a thriller
He takes his time and does everything right
Knocks me out with one shot for the rest of the night
He’s a real smooth brother, never in a rush
And he gives me goose pimples with every single touch
Spends quality time with his kids when he can
Secure in his manhood cuz he’s a real man
A lover and a fighter and he’ll knock a knucker out
Don’t take him for a sucker cuz that’s not what he’s about
Every time I need him, he always got my back
Never disrespectful cuz his mama taught him that


In about 2 days, I had it down perfectly. Yes, I knew each line by heart.

Pedal to the Metal 

Photograph by Koo Chung

When my family moved to Ridgefield, NJ in the summer before I started 6th grade, we came to know of a music studio in a neighboring town where we could take lessons. It was called AeKyung Studio. It didn’t take long for my parents to enroll my sister and me for lessons there, in violin and piano, respectively.

By that time, I had been playing the piano for about 6 years already but had never taken lessons from anyone other than my mom. It was a bit nerve-racking walking into my first lesson. It was a small room with a grand piano in it, and my teacher’s name was Mrs. Goltz.

She was a sweet lady; very welcoming, and also very curious about my level of proficiency on the piano. I honestly don’t remember exactly what I played for her, but I’m pretty sure it was a Mozart Sonata and Beethoven’s Fur Elise. That Sonata is still my favorite to this day and I play it when my fingers have an inkling for some classical music. Not a terribly complex piece but nostalgic and hauntingly comforting.

When I played Fur Elise for Mrs. Goltz, she stopped me in the middle of the piece and asked me if I had ever learned to use the pedal. I was using it while I was playing the piece for her, so I wasn’t sure what she meant by the question. Then she walked over, sat down next to me and put her foot on the sustain pedal and told me to play the piece again. While I was playing, she showed me that the pedal is supposed to be pushed down slightly after I press the keys that I want to sustain.

Slightly AFTER? What was this new instruction that I had never known before? I didn’t know how to do that; all along I was pressing it simultaneously with the keys and that’s all I knew to do. I immediately heard the difference though. When I pressed the keys and the pedal simultaneously, all the notes were muddy and jumbled together in one indistinguishable ball of noise. When it was pressed slightly afterwards, the notes rang true and clear in all their glory. I couldn’t quite get it during the lesson and soon it was time to go home.

That week, I practiced for hours using the pedal correctly until I mastered it.

Ten Times 

I don’t remember exactly when I started to play the piano, but it could very well have been around the age of 3 or 4. My mom was a classical piano teacher and she was determined to teach me starting at an early age. I don’t have any memories of actually first learning how to play that beautiful 88-key instrument, but my earliest memory of playing the piano was this one time when I was about 4 years old (I know I was 4 because my sister had not been born yet – she’s 5 years younger than me). My mom would typically go over an exercise with me and then immediately thereafter, I had to practice it. She’d draw ten little dots on top of my piano book and that meant that I had to play the exercise 10 times that day. I’d have to put a circle around the dot after every time I went through the exercise once. And when I was done with all ten, I had ten circles going across with dots in the middle of them. This was the way I practiced for the next 6 years when I was learning the piano from my mom.

This particular day, I didn’t want to practice (or was that every day…). This little 4 year-old wanted to play outside. So I cheated a bit (shhhh, don’t tell my mom). After going over the exercise about four times, I went ahead and circled the rest of the dots to make it look like I had done it ten times. Then I ran downstairs where my mom was hanging out with the neighbor so I could play. As I walked near the door of the neighbor’s apartment, I heard my mom say something along the lines of…”She better practice everything before she comes down here. I taught her a new lesson this morning.”

When I heard that, without hesitation, I jet back upstairs and finished practicing the exercise ten times as I was instructed to do from the beginning.

 (Header Photograph by Allison Mak)
© Catherine Song 2011