As I explained in an earlier post, I’ve struggled to teach Addie how to play the piano and I’m pretty sure that’s because of the experiences I had learning to play the piano when I was a kid–the piano was the nemesis of my youth.
Each of my three sisters began playing the piano when they entered kindergarten. They each began learning the piano using the same books and my mom, who also knew how to the play the piano, handled the first year or two of lessons before my sisters were passed off to a professional piano teacher.
I don’t think my mom planned on teaching me how to play the piano, because kindergarten passed and I still hadn’t been given a piano lesson. I begged my mom to teach me how to play the piano and she finally gave in.
I openly regretted that day for years.
Eventually my piano lessons and piano practice landed me in yearly piano competitions. Those competitions landed me a piano practice time requirement of 3 hours per day. Do you know how brutal 3 hours of practice per day is on a teenager? But given how lazy I was when I practiced, I don’t think my mom believed she had any other choice.
My sisters and I all had different practice habits and differing talent levels. My older sister practiced her heart out and won several trophies of her own. The sister just under me in age practiced, but never fully grasped the piano. She was more of a baker—she could make one hell of a good biscuit and lemon meringue pie. My youngest sister was a perfectionist and was very talented. The kid did really well and won lots of trophies as well.
I was, uh, lazy. I was usually assigned my pieces in May and I dinked around when I practiced, or I lied to my mom and claimed I had practiced when I really hadn’t. Then a couple weeks before the first competition of the year I would quickly learn how to play the pieces and I would memorize them. This method of practice probably gave my mom and my piano teacher a few ulcers as they worried about whether I would be ready come competition time, or if I’d hop on that piano and look like a complete idiot to the judges.
One year when I was in high school I put off learning the pieces until a week before the competition. As a way to practice playing the pieces in front of other people, we had a public recital each year. We were supposed to have the pieces pretty much competition ready by that point and we were supposed to treat the recitals as if they were the competitions. The pieces we played for those competitions and recitals were piano concertos, meaning there was a part for the piano and there was another part for an orchestra. We didn’t have an orchestra on hand so my piano teacher would play the part of the orchestra on another piano. I arrived at the recital and waited for my turn. When it was my turn I walked up to the stage and told everyone what I was playing and who composed the pieces. My piano teacher sat at her piano and began the concerto. I hadn’t memorized the entire concerto yet and halfway through I ran out of memorized material. So, I did the only thing I could do—I made the rest of the song up on the fly.
At the end of the piece everyone clapped and my mom was shocked that I had learned the piece so quickly. She had no idea what I had done. In fact, nobody knew what I had done except my piano teacher and other piano teachers in the audience who were familiar with the piece. My piano teacher pulled me to the side and explained to me that if I ever did that again she would be done being my piano teacher.
In part I hoped she would be done being my piano teacher. The time demand was too much for a teenager who wanted to be playing basketball, football, and whatever other sports that could be done. Piano was constantly getting in the way of all the other things I wanted to do, and my family had a very strict rule that piano came before all other activities.
When my 18th birthday came I vowed never to play the piano again. It wasn’t until five or six years later that I realized how much I enjoyed playing the piano and I started playing again. Unfortunately, life and kids happened and I’ve only been able to play maybe 30 minutes a year over the past five years. Some day I’d like to get back to the point I was at when I quit.
More on Babble Dad: