When I was a kid, my mother insisted that my brothers, my sister and I all had to take piano lessons. It was not negotiable, nor were our practice sessions. Music, she told us, would be with us throughout our lives and we’d be forever grateful for having learned to play.
The four of us went every Wednesday taking lessons at our piano teacher’s house, half-hour lessons, one right after the other. Mom would drop us off and the four of us would shuffle in, heads bowed, all of us knowing full-well that we had not quite reached proficiency with the songs we’d been assigned to learn. Mom, meanwhile, had two hours to herself.
Back then, I figured she was getting the best end of the deal. Our piano teacher was stern, and her breath smelled like a cinnamon-laced ashtray. She’d sit next to us on the bench as we played, jutting her bony elbow into our ribs with each missed note.
I dreaded those lessons. I couldn’t wait to stop them. After ten long years, I finally did. Mom, by then, had too many other obligations to juggle and, besides, my sister and brothers were all out of the house. It didn’t make sense to drive one whiny kid across town for a half-hour piano lesson she didn’t appreciate.
Thirty years later, I wish I’d never quit playing. Oh, I can still walk up to a piano and get out the first bars of Moonlight Sonata, the first stanza of the Hungarian Rhapsody. But my fingers have forgotten what my heart now yearns for: the joy of making music, of mastering a song.
Perhaps that’s why I have wanted to own a piano for years. Having grown up with one, our house somehow seems not quite finished without a piano in our living room. I even know the exact spot where I’d put it: there’s an antique secretary desk saving its spot until I find a piano that we can afford.
I want my son to grow up with music as I did. I want him to feel the pride of playing Chopsticks for the first time without help, the Zen-like state that running the scales can produce. But first, I want him to be interested in it — as I was not when I was a child. And so I have decided that, if we ever do get a piano, I’m going to start re-learning everything that I’ve lost.
I have also been surreptitiously saving up to buy an old used upright in case I find one that a church is no longer interested in using, or maybe one at a garage- or estate-sale. Pianos aren’t cheap, even the used ones.
One thing I’m rather certain of: I won’t be the one teaching my son to play. My elbows aren’t bony, but I’m pretty certain I’ve got even less patience than my old piano teacher did.