4. Learn to Play a Song on the Piano

My grandma was the pianist in a popular dance band in the 1930s. She was amazingly talented, and because of this, I had every belief that this natural talent could be passed down to me through the generations. I began taking piano lessons when I was 6 and quit taking lessons when I was 12. However, having learned to sight read and with some theory and technique under my belt, I still played a lot of my favorite songs well into my twenties. Mostly from the Billy Joel collection, balanced with a healthy dose of show tunes. I never loved playing the piano, especially not like I loved dancing, but I was proud to have the ability.

At my first piano recital when I was 6, I had worked hard on the little known tune, Grasshopper Green. We had been asked to memorize our pieces, I don't know why. Perhaps so that we could look like fools if something like this happened: Suddenly, hit with the stage fright of my first piano recital, I could remember nothing but the first four measures of Grasshopper Green. No matter how many times I played those first four measures, I could not possibly make my fingers play what came next. I sounded like a broken record. At one point I sat in silence, looking at the piano. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was approximately four minutes of silence. I know this because my dad had videotaped the recital. During this comatose episode, he had stopped the tape, and when I faked him out and looked like I might start the whole thing over again, he started recording again. When you watch the video, the silence lasts three and a half minutes. I can only imagine what was going through my little 6-year-old mind. Eventually I made something up and finished the piece. It likely sounded nothing like the Grasshopper Green I had worked so hard to memorize, but eventually, after about 10 minutes, I left the stage. Much to the relief of... everyone, really. Naturally, I wonder about why on earth I was tortured so. Why my piano teacher (Ms. Weber) didn't rescue me from this humiliation?

So, you see, while I can read music, and generally know where to put my fingers on the piano keys, I am no great musician. Musicians interpret the notes. They infuse emotion and and energy into the piano keys and what comes out is nothing short of heavenly. I have the ability to play the piano... sometimes.

I have standards when picking out sheet music. The first rule is that the piece cannot have more than 2 sharps or flats. I cannot be bothered with remembering more than 2 sharps or flats. I know my limits. The second rule is that it has to be filed in the easy section. In addition to knowing my limits, I also am aware of my abilities. Playing at all is challenge enough. I selected a song that I have dreamed of playing for quite a while, Songbird by Fleetwood Mac which seemed to fall well within these guidelines. Honestly, I have a fantasy of playing this song on the piano and singing it to my husband... but as you'll see, this may have to remain a fantasy.

The good news is I can play the first page, the bad news is I can only play the first page. The piece is four pages long. I can play the first page. Again, because I dislike the word "failure," I will not classify this a failure, instead I frame it as a moderate success. Perhaps learning to play the entire song in one week was a lofty goal. The truth is, I had time. I had ample time to sit and play and learn. I have never liked practicing. When I was young my mother would set the egg timer for the required half hour a day, and I would play as quickly as my little fingers would go. My mom would yell from her post in the kitchen, "SLOW DOWN, COLLEEN." You see, I thought if I played very fast, it would be over quickly. So, while I had the time to practice this week, I did not take advantage of it. Because while I love the music that comes out of the piano (specifically when other people play), and I enjoy the feeling of sitting at the keys, I do not love to practice playing the piano. I never have, this must be why I quit taking lessons when I was 12.

Not everything that you used to do at one point in your life is a passion. I was actually pretty good at playing the piano when I was young, I even played on stage at Northrop Auditorium in front of a packed house once (with about 49 other miniature pianists like myself). Even when I was good at it, it wasn't a passion of mine. I remember going to the senior concert of a longtime family friend of mine, Kerry. She made music. Kerry made beautiful music. (I wonder if she still plays, because she had a gift, and a passion.) I was proud to have had the privilege of appreciating her gift, and very aware of how much work that took her, and consequently aware that I did not have that gift nor the passion.

Now I understand why 6-year-old Colleen was not "saved" by the "evil" Ms. Weber at that first piano recital. Even those early experiences inform us of who we are. Despite the fact that 6-year-old Colleen lost her way entirely in the midst of Grasshopper Green if she were ever going to play on the stage of Northrup Auditorium, she was going to have to have these experiences of faltering. When you falter, you discover your passion for something. Does this experience mean enough to you to get back it and keep trying? At the time, the "wise" Ms. Weber allowed me to make that decision for myself. At the time, it was important enought to me to try again. As an adult, maybe it isn't that important to me. Part of discovering your passions, is identifying what you are passionate about. I can tell you right now that I am passionate about dance, since week one of this blog, I have been faithfully attending my dance class and am loving it more and more each week. I am passionate about yoga, I look forward to my Saturday mornings at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis and am still going each week. I am very passionate about sushi, since I tried making it last week, I have made it three times. I am not passionate about playing piano. The sheet music will stay where it is on the piano, and it's possible that I'll pass by from time to time and see what I can do, but I'm not planning a comeback. Not at all. And that's okay. Maybe a more appropriate word for "fail" is "discovery." I had a discovery about playing the piano. I like that.

Next week, it will probably take a few chardonnays, but I am going to sing Karaoke.

1 comment:

  1. I really think you should take this opportunity to add a video to your blog so we can all experience the karaoke. Let me guess...Tom Jones? Neil Diamond? Raffi?


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