Posts Tagged With: Piano Lessons

Piano Lessons


There are pictures of me in every album, at every age: fluffy white-blonde hair sprayed into submission, floral dress over white tights or frilly socks and black mary janes, smiling at the camera with the black and white keys of a piano stretching to my left.  In some, I bow with my knees locked straight.  In others, my face is in profile while my hands lay static on the keys.  Sometimes there’s a patient smile on my face as I look up from the bench, that my song has been interrupted by someone I’m fond of for pictures.

Piano was a religion for me.  3 hours a day, waking up in the mornings before school to sit and force my muscles to remember that tight, fast fingering on the right hand in in Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka; or stretch my left palm a little farther to get a cleaner octave in Joplin’s Entertainer.  I spent hours poring over theory books and listening to intervals.

It centered me.

And then I was doing it less.  And then I wasn’t doing it at all anymore, my fingers putting up a revolt when I tried to pick up a piece after six, maybe eight months absence.

I missed it less than I thought I would, though I still missed it.

“Do you remember?” Brian asked me about a month ago.  “You once showed me a few chords on the piano.  It seemed like it made sense.  It seemed easy.”

It is both easy and hard.

“Would you teach me?” he asked.

I remembered, fifteen years ago, when I was thinking of giving lessons for extra cash.  “Just get a book,” Christine, who had been teaching me since I was 4, said.  “Work through it in order.  Someone who wanted to be a serious musician would eventually need more, yeah, but you could definitely start someone off.  And a lot of experienced teachers don’t take anyone who can’t read music.  You’d be a great in-between.”

So I said “Sure,” to Brian.

We walked to a practice room at the college where Brian works.  The music building is one of their oldest.  It’s at the end of a tree-lined lawn, frescoes in the eaves of violins and flowers in a vase.  Inside a tiny room on the second floor was a beat-up Steinway upright that was still mostly black.  A grimy window looked out onto the quad beyond, the fronds of an evergreen brushing the panes.  There was no place for a teacher to sit.

I stood.

Our lesson went so quickly, I couldn’t believe it had been more than an hour.

I have never seen myself in someone I wasn’t related to.  But last night it struck me with a vengeance, the way Brian gravitates towards foreign pianos even in public places now, wanting to feel the slick white keys under his fingers, to fool around with the notes for just a moment.  The way he taps his hands on the table, a look of concentration on his face, both hands crossing at different times like they should.  “I had a bad day, but I practiced tonight and I feel fine again,” he said last week.

I don’t know what changed, but I watched him sit there, the negative of the image I used to be: long denim-clad legs tucked over the pedals, the cowlick in his dark brown hair standing tall, the black and white keyboard stretching before him, look of concentration on his face.  Somehow the universe seemed to re-orient itself into new tiers of importance.  This was at the top.  Not Brian, exactly, or even the piano, but the knowledge, the sharing we give to each other as we move through existence.

I grinned.

“What are you smiling about?” Brian asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

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From the Music School Halloween Recital. Left to right: Jennifer, Taylor, my sister, me.  I’m about 12.


It is strange how moments from your childhood can engulf you, and suddenly you are fifteen again.

When I was fifteen, I babysat for Taylor and Anne every Tuesday night.  Christine, their mother, had been my piano teacher since I was four and was also one of my mother’s best friends.  Tuesdays were full of board games, homework, amateur cooking exploits, movies.  I cooked dinner from the hall bedroom for months when Christine had the kitchen redone.  I typed out Taylor’s handwritten English assignments so she could complete her math homework and get to bed at a decent time.  I played endless games of Harry Potter Clue with Anne.  The night usually wound up with a fight over whose book I would read aloud from.  If I did voices, we laughed so much that my breath evaporated and I couldn’t continue.

When I was fifteen, my mother had trombone students.  My sister and I would hibernate in the back of the house and try to ignore the loud hoots of sound coming from the living room.  “How can you stand it?” asked a boyfriend of my sister’s, long after.  We just did, it had always been a part of our life.  When Claremont Community School of Music had events, my mother would drag us along.  The school rented space from a small and low concrete strip mall.  Sandy, another good friend of my mother’s, would always be there, and so would Christine.  Sandy would bring her daughter Jennifer, who was fast friends with my sister.  Inevitably, we were the only children at the event.  There was a small and pink Baskin Robbins at the front of the strip mall.  The five of us would eat ice cream, sip water, and laugh in the middle of that pink island in the night while we waited for our parents to bring us home.

My parents liked having parties at our sprawling tract house.  Summer nights, Sandy and her husband Art, Christine, Taylor and Anne, sometimes Jennifer, would come over to the house.  My father would cook something fancy and we would eat in the backyard under the stars.  Mass quantities of wine was consumed by the adults.

Taylor graduated from college last weekend, and yesterday was the party.  It was a backyard barbeque of epic proportions.  Round folding tables and chairs were spread with purple and yellow tablecloths for the school colors.  The event was catered by her father’s gourmet restaurant.  There was even a bearded man with a microphone in the corner playing guitar.  A lemon tree dangled yellow fruit over the tables.  Lush plants overflowed their field rock walls, spilling onto the island of grass in the middle of the yard.  It was just as it had been when I was fifteen, only more so.

I joined my mother and stepdad at a table in the corner next to the glossy leaves of a camellia bush.  Sandy and Art sat with them.  Jennifer pulled a chair over, and then Anne.  Christine was next, and Taylor migrated our direction for a while.  We ate beef brisket and cupcakes with metallic sprinkles.  The afternoon turned to dusk around us.  I hadn’t had an afternoon with these people in years, and it was just like it had always been.  I was not turning thirty one in a week and a half.  I forgot that I had a husband at home in the middle of a kitchen re-do.  I was a daughter, a babysitter, a piano student, a teenager.  For a brief four hours, I was fifteen again.

Too bad it didn’t last any longer than that.

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