I started piano lessons at five. I stopped at the ripe old age of nine.
Statistics indicate I’m not alone; 6,761,141,370 of the world’s 6,761,141,379 people have taken — and quit — piano lessons.
I blame my parents. Neither had musical training, yet Dad’s big hands overran the keyboard like a spring storm. Mom, though partially deaf, could listen to a song, then play a full-fledged accompaniment in any key.
At five, I, too, picked out tunes. Why bother with notes? Neither did I (shudder) count beats. Mixing music, God’s gift, with arithmetic (eww), appeared one more weird complication adults demanded. My brother also deemed piano lessons unnecessary.
Mom tried to explain. If only she could have taken lessons as a child!
I would have remained unconvinced — except for strong capitalistic instincts. Mom paid Mrs. Snyder 50 cents a lesson, but she always refunded a nickel to me. With yellowed books and sheet music piled everywhere, her musty house smelled mysterious and musical. Thousands of former students’ photos adorned her walls, as Mrs. Snyder had been teaching 200 years.
I played my first piece using three keys, then colored the page’s fun pictures. I liked Mrs. Snyder, I liked nickels and I liked Mom’s shining eyes when I practiced.
Sadly, Mrs. Snyder passed away. My new teacher handed me practice sheets instead of nickels. No pictures. I played songs like “Gavotte in G” and “Requiem for a Student Who Didn’t Practice.” Mrs. Mozart made me (choke!) play duets with my brother. We bowed and curtsied at stiff, scary recitals. The longsuffering teacher assured our reluctant mother we weren’t destined to play at Carnegie Hall.
Mom finally let us quit. Free at last!
Not until I attended college did I realize my loss. There, I met people whose fingers blurred over the keyboard. One blind friend played as if a single organism — part instrument, part human. Her music rippled up and down my backbone, joy unleashed.
Why are mothers always right? Especially when they preach, “What goes around comes around.” My own children blossomed with initial interest, but only one persisted into high school. As they plinked and plunked their first practices, I wondered, for the first time, if Mom had enjoyed mine as much as she’d claimed.
Still, my kids learned to read music, and piano background fueled interest in many other song forms.
Our piano — the first purchase my husband made after medical school graduation — often sits silent now, though I try to play daily. My fingers itch to exchange my laptop’s tippity-taps for music. Soon, I’ll touch the piano keys and listen to less-than-perfect love.
Even if nobody gives me a nickel.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you taken piano lessons?