Some might hear the chirp of the grasshoppers, the thrum of bees, the splash of trout, the chatter of starlings. Others might hear the slap of sprinklers, the pop of cooking hamburgers, the drone of lawnmowers.
When I hear summer, it’s serene, playful, and nostalgic. There’s little tension. It resolves easily. But I might only be able to describe the structure of these sounds because, recently, I’ve been listening to George Winston play the piano.
Winston’s original recordings of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn have sold millions of copies over the last 30 years. They endure because Winston is able to capture the essence—not only the sound, but the feeling—of each season on 88 keys.
On a Saturday in late May, I heard Winston play at the Wilma Theater in downtown Missoula. He played pieces from Spring and Autumn, In Spring, the notes clattered over each other, you could hear drops of rain bounce off the earth and settle into the ground to bring new growth. In Autumn, the winds from the north arrived and tore the leaves from the trees. Both seasons had change and movement. But later, when I listened to Summer, I heard only a steady, buoyant sound—the sound of celebration.
In Miles City, where Winston grew up, and throughout Montana, summer is cause for celebration. Light and warmth beckon, alongside every other walking, crawling, buzzing creature to emerge from our long hibernation. The qualities of summer that Winston captures in his music have all been present in my Montana summers:
Paddle drip. Cold water between the toes. Humming spokes. The tap and twirl of feet on grass to the sounds of a guitar, or fiddle, or banjo, or all three. The thud of a bocce ball. The spread of laughter around a campfire.
Hearing the kids in front of me talk about the huge pigs at the county fair while I wait in line for a double waffle scoop. Getting a plastic burn from a makeshift, backyard slip ‘n slide.
Standing under a pine after thunder has passed and warm rain tumbles down and pulls the smell of resin and must from the ground. Being up early, before the beat of the day, when the air is cool and a cup of coffee’s unnecessary.
A cool beer at a local watering hole, weeding the garden, and a meal of grilled zucchini and trout at the backyard picnic table—all after work on a Wednesday night. Somehow, there’s always more time during the summer.
And yes, Love and Longing
The inescapable desire to hear that one voice again. The ecstasy of hearing it. The heat and sweat of hands clasped together; a natural, settling comfort in each other’s company.
The sound of summer in Montana could be considered the resolution for all the other seasons, the time when the rest of the year is expressed. When summer arrives, I worry less because somehow, it always seems to carry me along.
I think Winston got the tune right.