Thursday, May 1, 2014

Black, White and Colors

"The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colors in your mind"    Exactly.

My father was one of those pianists who had a hundred songs (at least) memorized.  If we found ourselves in a home with a piano, more often than not, he would find himself playing it.  Some days, usually on lazy weekend afternoons, he would just sit and play one song after another.   And there I would be, laying on the living room couch with my eyes closed, just listening.   I'm pretty sure he was playing for his own amusement. I was the only one who would stop whatever I was doing and just listen.  The world just revolved around us - the pianist and his audience of one.   Our neighbors had an old player piano in their basement.  The basement was beautifully cool on a hot summer day, and they let me hang out and play around down there with the piano.  I was fascinated with it.  I could easily waste two hours making up my own tunes - and memorizing them.  I had no clue about what key I was in, what notes I was playing, or any other trivial facts.  I remember making one of those childish faces at people whenever they might insinuate that I should be taking lessons.  Dumb.

To this day, I don't know why I didn't want to take piano lessons.  For that matter, I was a complete disappointment when it came to instrumental music.  Not for lack of talent.  Not for lack of a love for music. Psychologically, I rebelled.  I now think that this was my way of sticking it to them for telling me "no" when I asked if I could take dance lessons.   More dumbness, and truly it was like cutting off my leg to save my arm, but in the mind of a grade-school child, I guess it made sense.  What's really stupid about it all is that I don't think I would have ever been more than an average dancer, even if I'd signed up at the age of three.

I never lost my love for the piano.  I also sang a lot. All the time.  Singing really was my first love.   But throughout school, I was always obsessed with the piano accompaniment.   In high school, our chorus had two accompanists (both students).  One was clearly more accomplished than the other, and I would be aggravated to the point of distraction if she weren't accompanying us.  It was at about this point in my life that I started regretting not learning to play.  But I thought that it was too late.  I didn't know of anyone my age or older taking beginner instrumental lessons - I might have even thought that such lessons didn't exist.   More dumbness.

But life goes on.  And when I got back into music as an adult, it was as a singer.  That was all I knew.  But I never forgot my Dad and his piano or how I could waste infinite amounts of time just playing around with a keyboard.    Bill started suggesting that I take lessons quite a few years ago.   What was stopping me...... time resources, for one thing.   Mostly fear, I think.   Fear of failure.  What if I didn't have the natural talent that I and others suspected me to have?   What if the teacher were a drill sergeant who would leave me emotionally scarred for the rest of my life?   I think that this is a big step for an adult. Children take lessons because their parents force them to (most of the time, if we're being honest).  The teacher is an adult who is just like all of the other teachers in their lives - authority figures, people who have all the answers to life (or are at least good at pretending like they do).   It's a whole different matter for one adult to seek out another adult for instrumental music instructions.  I mean, I feel like I'm really putting myself out there.  It's like making yourself vulnerable - especially at the beginning.  Not to sound melodramatic or anything.  My belief is that when both student and teacher are adults there really has to be a different level of trust.   I will practice as often and for as long as my schedule permits, and I will do my best to squeeze it into each day.  I am not gearing up for my NYSSMA solo, Carnegie Hall debut, jazz band jam session or any other similar activity.  I am simply playing for me.

I started lessons a little over two years ago.   It helps that the teacher is a friend, but on the other hand..... I would be less distraught if I were to disappoint a total stranger.   I suppose that's also where the trust comes in.   Some instructors demand trust without being willing to give it back to you.   Others inspire your trust with their total acceptance of you as a human being with your strengths, weaknesses, good days and bad.  I am extraordinarily blessed.   Thanks to my teacher, my perseverance, and my natural gift,  I now feel a connection flowing from me to the piano to my father that I've never known before.  In times of stress or confusion, I instinctively turn to the piano for comfort.  When I play, I feel his presence.   Music makes logical sense to me now, as it never did before.   While I will probably always consider myself to be a singer, piano has become another ingredient in the musical recipe of my life.   I don't know how I've gone this long without it and I don't ever want to be without it again.

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