My best friend had taken piano lessons every week until she turned eighteen, an obligation she didn’t always enjoy. Maybe that fact helped me accept that I didn’t play an instrument – or maybe it was having grown up being told that I didn’t have rhythm and was tone deaf. Regardless, I never thought much about it until I had a son. Back to the aforementioned Casio. If my grandfather had bought it, we would have found a spot in the house and replaced the broken keyboard my son played on. But it wasn’t a priority for our three-year old (as bedtime and potty training took precedence).
I did have music on my mind when we visited elementary schools in the neighborhood. At our local school, we loved the energy of the music teacher, Leslie Dawe, the moment we observed her class. When she serendipitously joined the same new book club I did, our story began.
A few months later, I couldn’t wait to tell Leslie that our son would be in her music class as a Kindergartner. That night, she shared her career news of becoming a full-time piano teacher. I was happy for her! But piano wasn’t something my family did or had. My grandfather still hadn’t gotten us that Casio and my son was showing interest in other activities.
Then, in my son’s Kindergarten year, my grandfather unexpectedly passed away. Now he wasn’t going to take my son to the symphony every year as we had planned. And the Beethoven CDs he had gifted at Christmas took on a much bigger meaning. That summer, my neighbors had a piano delivered. But instead of being happy for them, I was jealous. A flood of thoughts around how I wanted a piano kept surfacing and overtook my neighborly excitement. I did. I wanted a piano. A real piano. Old. Wooden. With pedals below and pictures on top.
When I shared this strange sentiment with a dear friend who had recently moved her family’s piano into their new house, she responded, “I have one for you. And it’s gorgeous! And would look perfect in your house!” Her boyfriend was not having success giving it away (as my piano tuner says, it did spend the last five of its hundred years sitting in a garage). Yet, when I saw the picture, I knew immediately where it would go in our house and had had just enough wine to commit. I came home and told my husband, “We’re getting a piano!”
We put my son on Leslie’s piano lesson waiting list. And then I put myself on the list. Before long, a spot opened up. My hesitation around another weekly commitment - practicing with two kids would be challenging - was quelled when Leslie told me exactly what I needed to hear at that time: piano would help me slow down when life is hectic, and there’s no expectation of practicing or performing at recitals as an adult. It would just be fun!!
So I signed up and starting going every Friday for forty-five minutes right before picking up my son from first grade. Sometimes we would chat first, sometimes play seriously, and sometimes just mess around. It was fun! I found my brain learning a whole new language. I went from knowing basic middle C to how to play a scale to a chord to all of those - with both hands together. I discovered my mother-in-law had taken lessons as a kid and she and my father-in-law could play a few beautiful duets. During one of their visits, we all practiced Amazing Grace (the introductory beginner version). I learned basic Christmas songs and brought music into our home in a way no radio or Sonos could. I was committed to doing my best and to not missing a lesson. Sometimes, that was tricky, with a sick kid or an unexpected event, or just the overall busyness of life.
Yet, I found as the year went on that when I didn’t have a lesson, my weekend was missing something. I didn’t switch from work-mode to family-mode as easily. And I missed my friend and teacher – the brief moments of sharing the week’s events through the language of music. There are lessons when it’s apparent I have not practiced. There are days when I don’t really want to go, and yet, those are the days I leave feeling the most inspired and joyful. There are days when pent up frustration I didn’t know I had comes out in the challenge of an exercise. But mostly, it is fun! Fun to learn something new every week from someone who loves her work. Leslie sings and plays original songs and sometimes walks around the studio reviewing basic rhythms. No one has ever really taught me these things – certainly not since my ballet days so long ago. And that was not fun in the way being an adult student has become!
A few weeks ago, a spot opened up for my son to take piano lessons. The first day he was nervous, but now he takes it in stride, has fun, challenges me, and is already reviewing melody combinations beyond my limited adult-learning brain.
While I may not stay in piano lessons as long as I hope he does, I am not yet ready to give them up, either. During one lesson, we arranged a version of the song “Let Her Go” which I love not only for the melody, but for the lyric, “you only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low.” That song was popular during the time my grandmother and grandfather passed away. Its melody is beautiful and inspires my current dream project of writing a song of my own. But I will take that project one note at a time...
In the meantime, I continue to enjoy the response from others when I tell them I’m taking piano lessons. Upon reconnecting with an old friend last year, she said, “Me too! My daughter and I practice together, unless I have a glass of red wine. Then my family knows it’s just time for me.” I recently met a dad on the playground who was missing his piano - he said my story inspired him to sit down and play a little. My grandfather’s fiancé shared that she might start lessons again. If she does, we will have to hold a generational recital (even if it’s just in our house with an audience of family members only). And as I write this, a dear, dear family friend is very ill. In the last year, she bought a piano for her retirement home. I don’t know where her piano will eventually live, but I will always think of her while playing the piano, our latest of many connections over the last three decades. She knows me so well and her loving support of my lessons might just mean I continue with them for a long time.