Recently, I heard a very cool story about Clara. Clara was a gifted piano player. As a little girl, she took lessons from a few different teachers in town. But eventually, her musical intuition and improvisational ability led her down her own musical path. And so it was as a teenager, Clara found her way into the movies.

It was the roaring 20′s, and Hamilton was a sleepy town nestled in the mountains of Montana. Clara had seen the Roxy Theater built just a block off main street. Before long, she applied as a musician to play piano with the silent movies that made their way to the early silver screen.

Being a theater musician was a dream come true for Clara. Occasionally, studios would send specific movie scores and she would studio the pages until she was able to perform them in perfect time with the movie. But, more often than not, Clara was left to her own imagination and ability to accompany the film. Glancing between the screen and audience, Clara could feel herself riding the dramatic wave of art, light, and sound. She was made for this.

In 1927, the Jazz Singer made it’s way to theaters, and with it, voices. Talkies had become all the rage and silent films were quickly becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the great stock market crash hit the nation around the same time and musicians were hit doubly hard- most of them devastated to be leaving a job they loved so much. Clara was no exception.

Years went by. Clara grew older and met a local saxophone player named Ben. Ben was happenin’. Ben was cool. The two created a formidable musical union and played for dances all over the Bitterroot Valley. They were soon married. Their 2nd son, was born Casper Jay Oertli in 1939. My dad.

Clara was my grandmother. Unfortunately, she died in 1960, eleven years before I was born. So, I never had the chance to meet her. I never had the chance to hear her play apart from some old reel to reel tapes. But, I’m sure there is still some of her musical DNA running through my veins. There have been nights when everything is going right and I look out at an engaged crowd and smile, thinking. . . I wonder if Grandpa and Grandma had nights like this. I bet they loved it.

My grandpa’s saxophone hangs on the wall in my study. Both Ben and Clara trusted Jesus as their savior. One day, I’ll see them in heaven and maybe we’ll get to play a tune or two.

*You can find the song Clara, on my new record Just Beyond the Door:

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