Find your Steinway

August 11, 2015

15  comments


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“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..

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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.”

little girl alone at the pianoSince 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.

BeethovenBustMrs. 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!”img_0442

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 expensive  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.”gemeinhardt flute, Leslie Anne Harrison, Fairhope Supply Co.

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,  “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.

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This article first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers and The Sumter Item.

Leave a Reply

  1. Wow, did that bring back memories! Though my piano teacher wasn’t quite as oppressive, I guess I have never been great in structured formal meetings.
    Your details are hilarious.
    Here’s to finding freedom in what we’re made to do!
    Deb

  2. No doubt, decisions are made early in life as well. You know from the get-go you didn’t want to do this. I wanted my sports minded little league football player to take piano lessons. He finally agreed and I set it up. A few weeks into his lessons I could see this wasn’t going to work. Now, he says mom, “I wish I’d learn to play the piano”…………

    1. I have a son who didn’t want to take “piano,” but he agreed to take “keyboard” lessons. It’s all in the packaging! And now after only one year of lessons, he grew up to be able to play by ear. No fair.

  3. The same thing happened to me. I can’t really read the bass clef anymore, either. My own silver flute is buried somewhere in the attic, and it needs to be reconditioned. I keep thinking I will dig it up and get that done. Playing music is supposed to stave off Alzheimer’s, and I have arrived at the age where I should probably start thinking about it. Do you still play?

    1. I actually played up until a few years ago, then put it away in the closet, and like you, need to get it out and brush up. You definitely loose the skill if you don’t keep it up. I’ve always thought I’d like to take lessons and get good enough to play with the Baldwin Pops someday.

  4. Our piano teachers must have channeled one another back in the day because my experience was similar. I never thought about the restroom trick, good idea. I did pretend to ring the doorbell once and just stand on the porch for about 10 minutes. Early on I was able to master several songs including a couple of Beethoven and Mozart, but the Christmas songs were my favorite. I played them all year long. In 6th grade I made my school’s basketball team and my mother gave me the ultimatum…piano or basketball. I chose basketball. I would love to get back on the piano…once and a while I tickle the keys on the piano at school. Definitely need practice.

    1. I don’t know why piano teachers were always so scary, but imagine the musicians we’d have today if more of them were joyful and fun. Finding a pianist and especially an organist for a church these days is terribly difficult!

  5. This brought sweet smiles to my face. One of my daughter’s is always referred to very lovingly, as our “ballet dropout”. As soon as they waltzed in with a rack of Nutcracker Suite costumes, she quit. The next year when she asked to take Jazz dance, I reminded her, there would be a recital at the end and she had to complete the full year of classes. Boy oh boy, was she ever so cute in those costumes!

    1. There’s an adult ballet class here in Fairhope that I’ve always wanted to join, but alas . . . you have to be in the recital, and even though they wear masks and costumes to conceal their identity, there’s no way in the world I would get up on stage in front of the whole town! Your daughter is very brave indeed!

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