Millennium Memoir
Moon and Stars . .

12.7.1999

Piano

Present
A few weeks ago, over the Thanksgiving vacation, I flipped up the lid of my future mother-in-law's piano and ran my fingers lightly over the keys.

Music from days long gone by murmured in my ears and I closed my eyes, attempting to pick out those tunes, that once I knew how to bring to life, by heart.

But the instrument was badly in need of tuning, the keys brittle with age, and my fingers have grown clumsy with forgetfulness.

Rather than a cascade of sound, like that with which I used to fill the echoing vastness of our wood paneled dining room, painful notes struck discord and I closed the lid again, wincing.

Past
We went piano shopping after I'd spent a considerable amout of time begging and begging for piano lessons from my mother.

One of my favorite books between the ages of eight and eleven, was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and I strove heartily to emulate both Jo and Beth from that story. I desperately wanted to be able to play as well as the character in the book, as well as to be as good and kind and sweet as she.

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would play on people's pianos, picking out tunes that I'd heard on TV, putting notes and melody together as well as I could without any formal instruction.

Then finally, the day came when we went to look at pianos. Upright pianos, baby grands, black pianos, white pianos, brown pianos, large ones and mid-sized. I particularly liked one enormous black one, upon which the store owner played jazz while dragging on his straggling cigarette.

But Mom wound up picking a honey-brown Kimball with a yellow-velvet covered seat. It's keys were a bit "hard" difficult for my nine-year old fingers to depress. But later on, when we hosted an international piano student, he said that this was good training, because it helped strengthen the fingers.

Over the next year and a half or so, a teacher would come and instruct me once a week. Scales, ear-training and Bach. Lots and lots of Bach and a little bit of Bartok. A touch of Mozart, a little bit of Chopin. The piano bench began slowly but surely to fill up with music. The house resounded with the sound of my practicing ... and doodling.

Even though I was now taking lessons and learning real music, I still wanted to play the tunes that I heard. I wanted to play them over and over again until I got them right, re-created the feelings that the originals gave me. Long soaring notes that filled me with joy, a hyperactive excitement.

My piano teacher was a very kind man, strict, but friendly and very patient. I remember always looking forward to my lessons. Rare was the day, when I was unhappy that my teacher was walking through the door.

In the spring of 1985, not long after I turned eleven, I took my first exam at the school that my teacher was attached to. I made a few small mistakes, but at the end they handed me a signed certificate. I'd passed with flying colors, the exam for first grade. I'd come that day to take the pre-first examination. I was surprised and delighted.

If I was doing so well, I thought, perhaps I could really make something out of myself with the piano.

A few months later, we had moved to the United States. At school, I found a new teacher, but we argued often and I can't remember ever looking forward to my lessons the way I did when we were in Belgium.

I stopped taking piano lessons when I was fourteen and began playing the oboe.

It's been a very long time since I've played anything regularly, though the music still bubbles in my head, softly, on the edge of hearing.

Moonlit Trees . .

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