Monday, August 4, 2008

The Piano

As a little girl, I wasn't naturally athletic. Maybe this was due to the fact that my dad died when I was 7, leaving my mother to navigate the world of t-ball and such, or more likely, it's because I have zero athletic genes in my body.

What I did long to do was play the piano and dance. For many years, I took lessons for both. Once my mom married my step-father and we moved to Smalltown USA where the nearest dance studio was 30 minutes away, I had to quit. I still kept up with piano and loved it.

I wasn't the type that needed to be hounded to practice. I love to practice and I love to play. Then one day in my junior year of high school, my parents decided I needed to be more challenged and sought out to find me a teacher who would groom me into the piano virtuoso they wanted me to be.

Yes, I said that THEY wanted me to be because while I loved to play and learn something new, I didn't really enjoy performing all that much. This was the source of much contention between my parents and me. They couldn't understand how someone who had this talent wouldn't want to show everyone, and I couldn't understand why I just couldn't play for my enjoyment. At any rate, I was signed up to take piano lessons from a man in our nearest big town who was interesting to say the least.

First of all, he was an excellent pianist. He played with a local symphony, played with well known musicians from around the world, and had an overwhelming desire to share his knowledge with his students. Because he was such a busy man, he had six only six or seven students at a time. Three were always adults that were his friends that had begged him to teach them and the other four were hand picked, fully auditioned, high school students.

I couldn't believe I had to audition for a piano teacher to see if I was "worthy" enough to learn from him, but I did it. His life was consumed by piano, his living room contained two grand pianos and an enormous stereo system on which to listen to various pieces of music during lessons. I sat down at this audition and played an entire movement of a Mozart sonata, a Beethoven sonata, and the ever popular Fur Elise. As I was playing, he was typing on his word processor notes and comments of what I was doing while I played. At the end of my audition he hit PRINT and the machine vomited out his thoughts on me.

My fingernails were too long and painted. That was a no-no.

I didn't "feel" the music as much as I should. I needed to work on being a performer and not just a player. (Duh, I didn't want to be a performer.)

My fingering was off in certain places.

There were other suggestions and things he didn't like, but you get the drift. I realized then that I didn't want to do this any more. It wasn't fun, but considering he didn't really seem to like me, I figured I was in the clear. Imagine my surprise when he told me, "I would pleased to have you as a student. Please come on Wednesdays at 5:00."


And so it was for the next two years, I sat in his living room at a piano with my now short, unpainted fingernails while he sat at another with his trusty word processor at his side. I began hating piano. I would still play at home, but I tried to avoid the pieces he had given me to do. Finally, they would call to me and the thought of disappointing this man was too much for me to bear, so I would practice and practice and practice.

He began talking to my parents about setting up auditions for me at various universities into their music departments. I felt like throwing up. Still, I never said anything to my parents.

Then I became a senior and it all changed.

I broke up with my long time boyfriend that my parents loved and started dating around before finally beginning to seriously date a guy that they would've loved to run over. I wanted more freedom. I wanted to make my own decisions. Most of all, I wanted to stop playing the piano.

It was spring of 1991, and it was time for solo and ensemble contest at my school. I always did a piano solo and this year I was playing something by Grieg. I had practiced and was prepared and there was no reason why I shouldn't have received a first, but I tanked it. I didn't prepare my music with the measure numbers as was required. I rushed through the piece. I didn't perform, I just played--and not very well I might add. I literally hit wrong notes on purpose. It was embarrassing and I received a 4th.

I did all of this to prove a point. I wanted my parents to finally know that I didn't want to be a performer. I didn't want to major in music in college. My mom finally told me I could quit, but I had to be the one to tell my teacher. Not thinking twice about it, I called him up and told him I was done. He responded by sending me a 2 page letter on the many way I had wasted his time the past two years and how I was making the biggest mistake of my life by not continuing to persue my life with the piano.

I didn't feel any remorse about this decision until last night. My piano is still at my parents' house due to the act that we never have enough able bodied men around to move the crazy thing to our house, so last night I decided to play when we were at my parents' house. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but it seemed really hard. Like an aging athlete, what was once so easy, was now difficult and I realized now, 18 years later, that I made a terrible mistake. I know I made a good decision to quit the lessons that I so hated, but I shouldn't have turned by back on the piano entirely. So, I told Mike last night that next weekend the piano is coming to our house. I will start playing again and I will teach my children to play the piano...but only on their terms.


Colleen said...

Wow! I had NO idea!! Perhaps it's like riding a bike. Once you start, your flow will come back. That's fabulous. I mean, I played a bugle, twirled a baton and rifle. Sheesh, can ya' picture me trying to do THAT now???

june clever said...


I would pay lots of money to see you blow a bugle. I've never known anyone who could play the bugle. However, I bet you could still twirl a baton if you tried.It's probably ingrained in you.