Monday, April 28, 2008

88 keys to my life

My mom is a piano teacher and has been one for as long as I can remember. I started piano lessons around age 5 and so I have some great piano-related memories. Our house was always filled with music and/or noise, depending on what student was playing at the time. I can still remember the day we got the grand piano - I was only about 5 and I was mesmerized by the piano movers and their ability to carry this giant piano. My mom tells me that when I was really young, I would sit by the fireplace in our old house, peering around the piano to watch her students during their lessons. I recall once, some kid and his parents came over for dinner or something, and my brother and I were playing with this kid when he hurled a toy car at the piano. The dent is still there. I remember that my brother used to play piano too, that is, until it turned out he completely sucked at piano, and hated it too. He once said that he wouldn't mind inheriting one of the pianos, so he could burn it. Some of my closest friends were my mom's students and we used to play every Saturday - I was always the leader, of course.

I was the one who insisted on taking piano lessons, and what's even crazier, I insisted on continuing them. My mom used to say to me all the time, "If you aren't going to practice, why don't you just quit?" and instead of taking the opportunity to quit like most kids might, I would say "No! I don't want to quit!" and then I would step up the practicing. You see, my mom wasn't my piano teacher. Instead, I had a very frightening piano teacher. I'll call her Mrs. T. She was all sorts of awesome, but so, so scary. I never cried in front of her although I recall many occasions when I would get into the car and start crying right away. (Never one to reveal my vulnerabilities, of course!) Mrs. T told me stories about how when she was a student in Hong Kong, she took lessons in her teacher's 5th floor apartment, and when she didn't play well, he would throw the books out the window and she would have to retrieve them and walk back up the stairs each time. I suppose she was trying to say that no matter how much she yelled, at least I wasn't climbing 5 flights of stairs several times each lesson. Sometimes Mrs. T didn't yell, she just got quiet - which was even scarier. She wasn't the type of teacher to give out trophies or plaques or even smiley face stickers - but she was an excellent teacher. She didn't have a lot of students, and the ones she did have - let's just say I felt completely inferior compared to them. We used to have master classes, where we would have to play a song in front of several peers and then critique each other. Nerve-wracking. And let's not even get into piano competitions. Even today, the mention of "Kiwanis" makes me a little nervous.

When I was young, I was very diligent about practicing. Okay - maybe not "very" - but definitely diligent. When I was preparing for my Grade 10 piano exam, I practiced about 3 hours a day. Of course, I was only about 11 or 12, and had nothing better to do anyway.... I always told my mom that my ultimate goal was to get my A.R.C.T. diploma and have it hanging on the wall. I was prepared to do everything I could to get my hands on that diploma. This included taking every theory exam known to mankind. Have I told you about me and music theory? We don't get along. My poor mom taught me most of my music theory in group classes and I admit, I was terribly lazy. On Saturday mornings, about 15 minutes before class, you would find me holed up in my room, hastily finishing (or pretending to finish) the week's homework. I would skip portions that I didn't think I could do in time, and sometimes, SOMETIMES, I would feign total surprise that I hadn't finished my work. What do you mean there were 10 pages assigned? I clearly heard you say there were only 2 pages of homework. I knew that my mom wouldn't yell at me in front of the other students, and since I was the youngest, the other students couldn't really criticize me either. I aimed for a bare pass on every exam starting from Grade 4 Harmony and up. My crowning moment was when I achieved a 63 in Grade 5 History after having barely cracked open the textbook for Grade 5 History, and studying only from another girl's meticulous notes.

I finished my A.R.C.T. around age 14 or 15 in school... and my teacher gave me the option to continue lessons. She talked about how I could expand my repertoire now that I was finished with exams. For a little while, I did continue with lessons. But I fell into the teenage trap of comparing myself to friends who had given up piano long ago, who didn't have to spend their evenings and weekends practicing piano ... and so I gave it up. At the time, I was still involved in church worship team ministry, and figured I could keep up piano to some degree through worship.

I never really wanted to lead worship, preferring to play piano instead. One day, however, I was encouraged by my team leader to take over the reins of leading for at least a few occasions.
I never felt comfortable leading - I'm pretty sure I was extremely nervous... I don't remember all of the details, but I recall specifically that after one occasion, someone told me that my worship leading was not bad, but I had forgotten to include an opening prayer or a closing prayer, and that really was a big negative. I probably took his comments more personally than they were intended, but from that time on I lost my passion for worship team. I didn't want to lead, and I wasn't even that interested in playing piano any more. I felt like I was a terrible worship leader and so really, why bother leading or participating at all. (I know, I know - oversensitive much?)

Eventually, I became a youth group sponsor and didn't have time to be on worship team any more, so I took the opportunity to leave. I rarely played piano after quitting worship team - I only really played when I felt a whim to do so (again, rare) or when I was asked to play for a wedding. And then I got married and moved out, and didn't even have a piano after that. (Which made practicing for weddings somewhat challenging.)

Now that we are moving to a house that could actually accommodate a piano, I find myself wondering if maybe one day, I'll have a piano again. I miss being able to play and I worry that my skills have declined past the point of no return. I miss being able to play well. I don't think it's in the budget to spend several thousand on a piano right now (since I would *never* just buy some cheapy piano) nor do I really have the time to practice. Certainly not three hours a day! You might suggest that I wait until I have kids that are old enough to learn - but, just like my mom, I won't force my kids to learn - I would prefer they choose to learn themselves, after having heard their mother play a beautiful melody from the depths of her memory. Um, yeah... we'll see.

If I had a piano in front of me right now, I'd start by playing some scales. Technique first, songs later. It's how I always learned to practice. I miss the routine of piano.


Jo said...

Wow, you barely studied and passed with a decent mark in History 5? I think I studied like mad and I barely passed.

Good on ya on getting ARCT at the age of.... omg 15?! I failed at the age of 20 (laff)... and used the "I'm too busy in University" excuse and stopped piano lessons since then. Yup, I still regret it today. But then again, I often wondered if I'll ever pass ARCT in my life since I lack the skills and talent that many people around me seem to possess. :(

You should get a piano in your new home! I find that I enjoy playing the most when I have no pressure to "perform" a certain way, or I can play whatever genre of music I want. Sometimes I'd go home after work and just play anything for an hour. If I didn't have adjoining neighbors, I'd bang on my piano all night long.

Anonymous said...

(re: previous post)

So Paula IS crazy! I didn't watch Idol last night but apparently, she's now a psychic, being able to foresee how singers perform even before they utter a single note?!? AMAZING STUFF! (maybe i should start watching)

vespertine said...

I'm humming a note right now...and if you were here with me, you'd know what it is! ;)

I miss being on worship team with I'm glad we're getting the chance to jam for the retreat.

Now, sing with me: "Welcome to the family..."

Tree said...

Thanks for sharing, Snerk! I really enjoyed reading this blog entry! Worship leading isn't for everyone, although if there was a gospel song to the tune of Mario Bros. I'd so vote for you to play it.