News Story  

Piano man adds magic to Yosemite

Filed: 03/21/2000


By Herb Benham

Last weekend, Yosemite, the Wawona Hotel and a piano player named Tom Bopp.

I don't think you want to go to Yosemite in the summer.  People say it's a mess.  It's Disneyland.  If I want to go to Disneyland, I'll go -- and I'm not sure I want to go.

Yosemite with snow.  Yosemite with cold, clean air.  Yosemite with people, but fewer.  That's Yosemite in the winter.

We stayed at the Wawona.  Built in 1879, you could have pictured Teddy Roosevelt bounding down the steps on his way to track mountain lions.

Accommodations were spare, but neat.  Bathrooms are downstairs and communal for those who don't have them in their rooms, like we did.

Friday night we had a room supper of pate, mushroom brie, summer sausage and French bread from Trader Joe's.  After supper, we walked to the main lodge, where people were sitting in the great room in front of the fire playing cards, reading and listening to a man named Tom Bopp play the piano.

Before motels started building little bitty lobbies -- or big sterile ones -- and travelers holed up in their rooms, the grand hotels and National Parks had sitting rooms where people gathered.

This was before TV.  People met.  Visited.  Played cards, read, listened to the piano.  The same kinds of things people were doing Friday night at the Wawona.

TV is not sociable.  It forces people inside.  Inside their rooms.  Inside themselves.

Live music brings people together.  We sat 15 feet away from Bopp and his Knabe parlor-grand piano.  A mason jar rested on top of the piano.

A dozen people were scattered around the room.  A mother holding her daughter.  A young couple with valentines in their eyes.  A European traveler or two.

Bopp played Irish songs.  Not only "Danny Boy," but songs by the poet Robert Burns like "Ca' The Yowes" and "A Red, Red Rose."  The more he played, the quieter the room became.  Those who weren't paying attention, started to.

Each song rolled through the room like a Mercedes off an assembly line.  The songs were masterpieces any way you looked at them.

Serendipity.  It's better than money.  It's being there when something good happens.  In this case, Irish music.

If heaven is worth its swirly clouds, then there has to be a place for the artists who play their hearts out for a dozen people and a waiter who's just hoping to get another cappuccino order.

Without people like Bopp, some music would never be heard, books would never be read and paintings would never be seen.

Music did what music does.  For a minute, a dozen people stopped chasing their tails.  Tucked their tails underneath them, sat and listened.

Unconcerned about the past, unworried about the future, the audience finally kept its date with the present.

Monday morning before school, Thomas stubbed his middle toe on the refrigerator.  Those things hurt so bad you can't talk them down.

Not his mom, not his dad, not even chocolate muffins could stop the flow of tears.  I put on "A Red, Red Rose," the second song on Bopp's CD.  Within a few seconds the tears stopped and Thomas became still.

Art is not only capable of stopping time.  It can ease the pain, too.  Without it, more than our middle toes would hurt.

Copyrightę 2001, The Bakersfield Californian