Perhaps you know this, or perhaps you are unaware: I was trained in piano for ten years. The summer I was eight, the four of us climbed into the car and drove to a piano warehouse, where we purchased a repurposed and gorgeous Kawai. That piano has received countless compliments over the years, for its beautiful reddish wood a few shades darker than honey, and its rich sound, much richer than one would expect from an almost upright piano.
I was over the moon to begin learning. Before my sister and my formal lessons began, my mother taught us to play a few nursery rhymes, as well as the inevitable “Heart and Soul.” I picked it up quickly; I’ve always been an a decent mimic. When I was small, I would mimic my mother’s vibrato as she sang, only to be told that “vibrato is not for little girls.” (I would later, upon observing child singers use vibrato, come to the same conclusion.)
I was a good student at first, once lessons began. I hated the theory workbooks I had to complete, though it was probably the area in which I was the most naturally inclined, specifically ear training. It got to the point where my saintly teacher, Miss Gloria, wouldn’t let me move on to a new lesson book without first completing the theory workbook that went along with the previous lesson book. I also loathed counting.
About a year in, maybe less, my excitement abated. I resented my daily requirement of thirty minutes of practice. (For those who don’t know, I have a deep-rooted contrary streak that flares upon meeting authority, specifically when I am told to do something I was intending to do on my own, or when I am not in the mood.) Every day – and I mean every single day – my mother and I would have the “piano fight.” Sometimes it went on for up to an hour, or she’d give up and attack later. In case anyone is wondering, no, I never won that fight. She would also set the timer on the microwave in the kitchen to keep me from skimping. I would slowly close my book, stand, walk to the kitchen, check the time, and slowly make my way back to the piano in the living room and set up for the next piece, pleased that I’d wasted a minute or so.
Eventually the required daily practice increased to an hour. It probably should have continued to increase as I became more knowledgeable and certainly as I began formal voice lessons, joined honors choir and took AP Music Theory in school, but I think my mother was wary of fighting me more than she had to by then. Interestingly, the hour of vocal practice whizzed by every day and frequently bled into a second hour.
I think the true reason I resented piano, besides that contrary streak I have, is that I was a natural singer who had always been praised for my musicianship. The piano was something I had rarely encountered before one entered our home. It was a late addition, and it frustrated me that I wasn’t a natural at this thing that was completely new to me. I also saw four and five-year-olds playing at recitals, and knew that I would have to work harder than they to reach the same milestones, because I had less time to do it. This was not a motivator. I was already frustrated at my lack of natural genius, and resented the fact that I’d begun “late.” So, at eight, I threw in the proverbial towel, and fought for a decade against those who would have me realize what talent I had.
Looking back now, I was not a terrible pianist, though I graduated high school a mediocre one. I needed more practice than I gave, and have no innate metronome whatsoever (despite the fact that my great-grandfather was a successful drummer), but I have a lovely expressiveness on the keys that I believe is wholly my own.
Much to my mother’s satisfaction, every time I’m in her house for an extended amount of time, no matter how small, I am back on the piano bench, picking up where I left off when I left for college at eighteen. And, to tell the truth, I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the skill, such as it is. So, here goes: thanks, Mom.