My piano teacher friend, Michelle, posted pictures of her students the other day. Apparently, they participated in some type of competition/recital, and with pride their teacher shared the results.
They stood smiling into the camera each holding a certificate that announced his or her status in the competition. Seeing them brought back my own memories of piano lessons and recitals. I smiled as I looked into the bright faces of those talented young people.
When I was a kid I wanted nothing more than to learn to play the piano. I had a favorite aunt who played so well and my daddy played by ear better than some folks who read music.
Oh yes, I imagined myself sitting at the keyboard, fingers flying while the family sang along to some favorite hymn or Christmas carol. Daddy would grin with pride and maybe join in playing his harmonica.
It was lovely dream. There was only one little glitch in this plan. I needed lessons in order to make it come true.
So, my parents signed me up with Mrs. Simmons who lived across the street. She was one of the best piano teachers in town and lucky me, all I had to do was cross the street for my lessons.
I’m not sure what I expected, but it was with great disappointment I realized I was not going to produce a beautiful song after only one lesson. Heck, I wasn’t going to produce much more than a repetitive playing of the scales after several lessons.
I recited, Every — Good — Boy — Does — Fine, All — Cars — Eat — Gas, FACE, GBDFA to help me remember the treble and clef lines and spaces. And I played the notes over and over until the sand in the hourglass timer told me it was time to stop. (I’m pretty sure Mother was overjoyed when that last piece of sand fell through the hole.)
When I finally got to the point of making a noise that sounded like something musical, it was, if I remember correctly, a little ditty about a frog — not exactly the moving hymn I imagined playing.
Eventually, I progressed to playing an entire piece of music. That meant I was ready to take part in the annual piano recital. I’d love to say I was excited at the prospect of publicly showing the great strides I’d made in piano playing. In truth, I was more excited about getting to wear an evening gown and lipstick.
For three years, I stuck with the lessons and with the practicing. For three years, I showed up for the recital and played the piece my teacher assigned. I have a picture of myself seated at the piano in my parents’ living room on the night of one of those recitals.
My hair is a perfect flip and I’m wearing a white gown that I imagined made me look like a cross between an angel and a fairy. I have my hands resting on the keys and I’m smiling into the camera like some diva about to launch into a classical masterpiece.
At some point, (probably had something to do with being a teenager and boys) I let go of my dreams of tickling the ivories. I did learn one Christmas carol, which my family heard until they were pretty much sick of it.
As I looked at Michelle’s students holding their certificates, I thought about the dedication it took for them to play so well. I also thought about all those teachers, like my friend and like Mrs. Simmons, who have the calling and the incredible patience it takes to try to teach another human to play a piano, especially when the student is not realistic about what it takes to master the instrument and more interested in evening gowns.