“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.”