I wanted to take piano so badly as a kid. My friends who’s parents “forced” them to take music lessons were, in my opinion, the children of indulgent, wonderful parents, while I was clearly being abused by the witholding of musical education. Every year I asked for two things for Christmas: a dog and piano lessons. “You’re allergic to dogs,” my mother would say, “and you’ll hate piano lessons.” Of course, she was talking about herself. I never quite lost my fascination with the piano. My favorite music is keyboard-driven, from perky harpsichord Baroque to Tori Amos and her beloved Bosendorfers. as is always has been.
My best friend from birth until about the second grade had a baby grand piano in her family living room. A baby grand! Her mother was an opera singer. This sort of friendship repeated itself in junior high when my other best friend’s mother played piano, organ, and cello, plus she sang in a barbershop quartet. I learned “Heart and Soul” in about the fourth grade and still have never tired of plonking it out. I could sing pretty well but I had to have an accompanist for every talent show or church hymn performance. How I wished to play and sing at the same time! My parents had friends whose daughter took lessons on a baby grand outfitted with a peculiar old-fashioned wooden metronome and I was always sneaking in and sitting at the keyboard, just to test drive. I wanted to unlock the secrets of the white keys so badly.
In the fifth grade my mother started countering my “please can I play piano” begging with something along the lines of, “You know, I knew this girl once who brought her guitar on a camp out. We all sang along, and she played. You can’t bring a piano into the woods.” Or, “You can play all those cool songs on a guitar. I think I’d like to learn to play guitar.” I finally blurted out, “Well then why don’t you just TAKE the stupid guitar and let me play the piano?” which went over like a screen door on a submarine.
Can you guess what I got for Christmas that year?
A used guitar, complete with ancient picks and a beat-up case. I can still remember how it smelled – of damp plywood and rotted sheet music. “And what’s more,” my mother burbled, “I’ve arranged lessons for you.” In exchange for my mother’s babysitting services, her friend agreed to give me private lessons. The woman was sweet, and a wonderful guitar musician, but how could I tell her I’d rather be learning chopsticks on the Baldwin upstairs than picking out “Twinkle Twinkle” on a crummy old guitar?
Practicing at home was a nightmare. I spent most of the time crying that I didn’t want to take lessons anyway so why should I practice? I don’t remember how long I took lessons with my mother’s friend but I finally (crying, and with much hand-wringing) told my mother, “No more.” Shortly after, the guitar-teacher friend moved to Tennessee which made me feel better about my musicide.
Because a Catholic mother’s guilt is rivaled only closely by a Jewish mother’s, I started taking lessons about six months later at a music store near our house. That summer, I could walk there after swim practice in the mornings. We had our lessons in closet-sized practice rooms. My teacher had long frizzy hair that had pulled his hairline back beyond his ears, and a mustache/beard combo to match. He told me that he really wanted to change his name. Not to something normal like “Joe” but something cool, with letters and numbers. “Like…X-14 or something,” he said. One lesson he told me he liked to write short stories and quickly detailed a story he’d written about a boy who eats his whole family, including the dog. “But it’s a satire, right?” In sixth grade I indeed did know what a satire was. Maybe he was being sarcastic or ironic, but I’d had enough of X-14 so when he went on vacation and told me to call in two weeks for a lesson, I just never did.
Finally, in college (college!) my mother relented. Not only did she buy the neighbor’s ancient piano for me as a birthday gift, she paid the $100 for me to take lessons at school. Not just piano, voice too. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, sitting alone in the college practice room with a baby grand and my electric metronome keeping time. Practice piano for a while, practice voice for a while. Recitals! I finally had recitals! They weren’t called recitals, they were called something else like “juries” or something, but they were recitals. And I had them.
I still have my $200 birthday piano. It is the bane of Husband’s existance because we have moved it three times already. Husband played the saxophone in middle and high school. He didn’t dream about playing the saxophone when he was a kid. He didn’t imagine himself playing every sax part in every pop song on the radio whenever he was in the car. He didn’t go over to people’s homes and ask them to play “Heart and Soul” on their saxophones with him. (And if he had, that’d be weird.) So I’m going to keep my piano, just in case I ever have kids who want to take lessons. If not, I will buy them a stinky guitar and we can have a singalong in the woods.