Besides informing me on an almost weekly basis that I have no sense of humor, my father regularly tells me he wished he’d had my sisters and me study a musical instrument. Quite honestly, I don’t know where we would have fit in time to practice. We all played sports nearly year-round and by the time I was in high school, I was involved in quite a few extracurricular activities, besides carrying a pretty challenging academic load.
A few years ago, my mother-in-law was downsizing and we had an upright piano that my husband had practiced on when he was young shipped up to us. My daughter began lessons that fall, and my son started a year later. Their piano teacher is kind, clever and generous. a close childhood friend of mine had taken lessons in elementary school; the teacher was a nun and my friend would dutifully go to the convent every week and to reinforce the correct hand positioning, would dig her hands and nails over my friend’s. My kids’ piano teacher doesn’t even raise her voice, and let me tell you, there have been times where I’ve had to end lessons early or take a kid out and sit in the car because of tantrums and tears.
So when the teacher shared that she’d be offering lessons to adults, I got really excited. I’d tried to follow along with my kids’ piano books but it became cumbersome, and I was too focused on the child who wasn’t taking lessons to pay attention. I enrolled in a seven-week course and I’m in a class with three other ladies. Here’s my book:
The first class went great and I totally let it get to my head. I had visions of being able to play most of Tapestry, Carole King’s seminal album, by mid-summer. (Selections from the book include Scarborough Fair and Walk the Line. I didn’t think Where You Lead was that much of a stretch.) Then during the second class we had to play Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof and Amazing Grace, using only black keys, and then I got a clear picture of just how difficult this was going to be.
As the teacher explained, there are different layers of knowledge required to understand and play music: hand positioning, the musical notes and the rhythm. For someone like me, who has no musical knowledge whatsoever, assimilating these layers–even two of them, I don’t know notes yet–is extraordinarily difficult. That my children were able to do this (on a rudimentary basis) in a few months was amazing to me.
I have to practice much, much longer than they do, even though I’m not sitting for exams or participating in a recital. After 40 minutes last night trying to master Amazing Grace, my daughter wordlessly came into the room, deposited our family’s swear jar on the piano, and walked back out. (To my credit, I only say shit. But I said it loudly. And often. During a religious song. The nun from the convent would have kicked me out.)
I eventually was able to play through twice with no mistakes, but here is what the swear jar looks like now: