This is Saralee Halprin at 91. My mother, Lyra Halprin, recorded this video on her phone in February 2014. On June 21, 2014, I walked down the aisle to this same recording. I can’t express how much it meant to me to know that my grandmother’s hands played such a vital part of our special day.
To say she was a force of nature doesn’t quite cut it. Saralee was born in 1922 in Cleveland, one of ten children. I could repeat what I know of her childhood, growing up in a house with two (or was it one?) bathrooms, always playing, endlessly performing on the piano. But the stories I know best are the ones of my own childhood, the warm afternoons my brother Josh and cousin Jeff would spend lying on the white shag rug underneath her Steinway, watching the hammers pound as she played Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Schubert–all her old friends. I remember her thrift store escapades, and her insane knack for finding treasures in Santa Monica alleys, and her dog Mia, who she used to make dance at the kitchen table for chicken, and her cat Suzuki, and all of the subsequent dogs and cats. I remember that whenever we went out walking she would grab me very hard by the hand, and I was always amazed by the strength in those fingers–piano hands. I remember the rhythm and pace of the way she talked; how it seemed that the serious and the absurd were so often one and the same. I remember the year I spent in college trying to sneak her into almost everything I wrote, and how when she’d appear, my teacher would always write in the margins, “Who is this character? I like her.” It was hard not to.
These are excerpts of the Saralee I knew. But if I learned anything from her, it is that our lives are multidimensional, multifaceted adventures to be shared with the ones we love. Many people loved her and still do.
Which brings me to the purpose of this website. Saralee made friends around the world; she knew and performed with countless talented musicians; she had many siblings, nephews and nieces. She volunteered with a number of progressive groups, including KCRW, Santa Monica’s classical radio station; the Santa Monica Library Book Store; Hosteling International in Santa Monica; and Santa Monica Hospital. Over the years I have met many of her friends and colleagues, and I’m certain that they have their own Saralee stories, stories we’d love to share. In my last visit to her home, my husband and I found a few books of her performance photographs from the 1950s and ’60s. Together my grandmother and I thumbed through a few of them, and she startled us all by rattling off the names of performers, actors and singers with whom she collaborated early in her career. These were experiences that meant a great deal to her.
If you are reading this and you have a Saralee story you’d like to share, or an image or video you’d like to post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post it on the site.
Amah, I love you and always will. You are, without doubt, a true original.