“If you could have any power, talent or ability, what would it be?” This was the question asked by friends over dessert one night.
After thinking for a moment, I decided that aside from having the power to time travel (hello, young Elvis) I would like to be able to play the piano like Harry Connick Jr..
It isn’t as if I didn’t try. I took eight years of piano lessons, but in addition to not having the natural talent, I had an issue with my instructor who never smiled and acted like my presence was a complete inconvenience. Every Thursday afternoon, beginning in 2nd grade, I’d ride the school bus to her house, slowly walk up the driveway and timidly knock on her door, hoping she had forgotten about my lesson and had gone to the beauty parlor instead, because Lord knows, she needed it and I wanted to avoid an afternoon of hearing how I did everything wrong.
I never remember a lesson at her house that was fun or rewarding in any way. If I mastered a song, Mrs. L. would never compliment or praise me, but would simply sigh and say, “Let’s move on.”
Since I arrived directly from school, Mrs.L. would always ask if I had to use the restroom before we began. I never did, but soon realized it was an excellent way to kill time in order to shorten the tortuous lesson. To keep up the ruse, I would go to the sink and quietly turn on the water and fill the little porcelain drinking cup, then tip-toe over to the toilet and carefully pour it in, making a realistic “tinkle-tinkle” sound. I’d flush, look around for a while, then thoroughly wash my hands with her bubbly Avon soap – twice, and finally, after examining the flowers on the shower curtain, I’d return to the living room where there was an ominous head of Beethoven staring at me from the window sill.
Mrs. L. had two pianos in her parlor. The older upright that I played, and a beautiful shiny black grand Steinway. She never let anyone play the Steinway until they had perfected their musical piece and although my friends bragged about playing the behemoth, she never let me near it. I would use one wrong finger or I would miss one tiny sharp, and she’d make me start again from the beginning.
One day, when Mrs. L. left the room to answer the phone, I slipped over to the Steinway, figuring she’d never know the difference. As I began to play ever-so-softly, she shrieked, “GET OFF THE STEINWAY!”
After several tortuous years of enduring weekly scoldings, I discovered a natural talent for the flute, which made much more sense because I only had to read one staff at a time (seriously, would anyone be expected to read two books at once?). I put enthusiastic effort into this new instrument because my flute teacher was encouraging, funny and let me play her expensiveÂ silver Gemeinhardt any time I asked.
Back at piano lessons one day, Mrs. L. folded her arms across her bony bosom and declared, “The flute is ruining your ability to read the bass clef. You are going to have to make a decision. It’s either the flute, or the piano.”
Looking back, I guess she thought I would go home and mull it over, but it took no thought at all for me to speak up and say,Â “I choose the flute.” Mrs. L. looked truly surprised and watched in silence as I gathered my books, walked past the Steinway and out the door where I played with a ladybug until my Mother picked me up.
Feeling as if a dark cloud was lifted, I was free of stress and on my way to discovering that sometimes it’s okay to walk away from the oppressive uprights in life in order to find your own kind of fabulous Steinway.
This article first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers and The Sumter Item.