December 03, 2010

Til morning is nigh

“I thought of you when I saw this,” Piano Teacher said, handing me a page from a brochure.

The words read: “I always get up from the piano feeling so much better than when I sat down.” I took the page from her and slid into the protective covering on my piano binder, where I’d see it every time I took out my music.

I’ve been playing the piano for almost a year now. I can’t say that learning the piano has come easily. Many times this year I find myself wishing I’d started maybe forty years sooner.

When it comes to music, the one thing I’ve got on my side is stubbornness. I’ll play a piece over and over again until I finally have it. The other thing I’ve got on my side is a piano teacher who isn’t afraid to challenge me and who has complete confidence that I’ll learn.

In October when I told Piano Teacher I wanted to learn a Christmas song, she brought me a version of Away in the Manger, arranged by Martha Mier. It’s the hardest thing I’ve learned yet. I have to play with both hands — and each hand is doing something different. And both hands keep changing position on the keys. And on top of that, I have to use the pedal.

It’s a beautiful song, but it was a big challenge for me. Piano Teacher kept telling me I could do it. She taught me the song just one piece at a time, and then I’d go home and practice it. I struggled so much that at one time I was calling the song, “Away in the Fucking Manger.” I honestly wasn’t sure if I could ever learn it.

But of course, she was right. I did learn the song. For these last few weeks, every time I’ve felt worried or anxious, I’ve sat down at the piano, picked just a piece of the song, and played it over and over again. When I’ve been worried about the little neighbor kids — and frustrated at how little I can do to help them — I’ve sat down at the piano and focused on the pattern, the steps and skips and jumps my fingers needed to do to make the tune. Soon I was able to play the whole song, more or less without mistakes, and eventually, relax enough to let myself hear the music. I’ve played that song over and over again: first thing in the morning, first thing when I come home, and last thing before I got to bed.

And every time, as I get up from the piano, shutting my binder of music to make room for Shaggy Hair Boy or With-a-Why’s music, I glanced at the cover of the binder and think to myself, “It’s true.”


Lilian said...

I'm glad you're learning! I'm still frustrated at my incipient piano playing after 17 years of having lessons every week. I DEFINITELY don't have the necessary stubbornness (although I was stubborn enough to finish my conservatory music "degree"). Worse yet, I don't have much talent...

In any case, now my sons are studying the piano, and I'm thrilled that they're making lots of progress and, most importantly, that the piano methods they're using are FANTASTIC! I think I'd be a much better piano player if I'd learned with these new books.

For now, my dream is to have both boys play way better than I do (this week I was accompanying Kelvin and he said that I'm the best piano player in the world -- little does he know how bad I am ;-).

For some reason I hardly ever play now, it's pretty sad... I have this strange relationship with music.

OK, gotta go now. It's late, I should be in bed, but I slept in this morning (I know! lucky me!)

Terminal Degree said...

I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying playing. For me, practice is never easy, but it's often very, very satisfying.

patti said...

I admire you, you've found a productive way to deal with stress. I'm gonna try to find one, too. (Maybe yoga.)

liz said...


Rev Dr Mom said...

Like, like, like.

immersion said...

Play on! I read this and smile. I've made it to book three with Alfred's Basic Adult lessons. For whatever reason I struggle to move on. Practice would be key, no? You've inspired me to continue.