This post first appeared on October 21, 2020.
I started piano lessons at five. 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. Mom, though partially deaf, could listen to a song, then play a full-fledged accompaniment in any key.
At five, I also 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.
Mom tried to explain. If only she could’ve taken lessons!
I’d have remained unconvinced — except for strong capitalistic instincts. Mrs. Snyder charged 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 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. I played songs like “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 informed Mom we weren’t destined to play at Carnegie Hall.
She finally let us quit.
Not until college did I realize my loss. There, I met people whose fingers blurred over the keyboard. One blind friend played as if 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 children blossomed with initial interest, but only one persisted into high school. As they plunked through first practices, I wondered if Mom had enjoyed mine as much as she’d claimed.
Still, my kids learned to read music, and piano background fueled interest in 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 piano keys and listen to less-than-perfect love.
Even if nobody gives me a nickel.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How did you feel about piano lessons?