To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.
Ludwig van Beethoven
”I took piano lessons up to grade nine. When I was fifteen I finally talked my mother into letting me quit. I regretted it ever since,” she says over lunch.
You’re not like me, I think.
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According to him, the only instrument my dad plays is the radio. My parents buy a piano before I am born and Mom takes lessons; perhaps it is her interest in music that sparks the idea that I, too, need to take piano lessons.
Once a week I meet with Mrs. Knight at the Church of the Nazarene next door to our house. There, in the upstairs room I hear music coming from when I’m laying in bed at night. a short and squat Mrs Knight, instructs me in modern piano playing.
I’m expected to practice at home for a half hour every day. After school, Mom sets the timer on the kitchen stove for thirty minutes, and I head downstairs to the steel-backed upright Willis piano in the rumpus room. It’s the longest half hour I can imagine.
In addition to a theory paper, there are two pieces of music I must practice each week: a classical selection from the Royal Conservatory book, and a modern piece of sheet music, hand transcribed by Mrs. Knight. I alternate between the two for a couple of renditions, then I become bored and just want to hear that buzzer on the stove freeing me from my exile.
I take the matter into my own hands.
Creeping up the stairs, I peek around the corner into the kitchen. Satisfied that it’s empty, i tiptoe across the floor to the stove where I move the dial on the timer ahead five or ten minutes. Then I descend back into the musical abyss and play through my songs again a time or two—with long and exasperated pauses in between.
Looking back, I can’t imagine that Mom wasn’t on to my game. She would have heard the break in my playing from upstairs, and she must have been surprised that thirty minutes passed by so quickly. To the best of my recollection, she never scolded me for my stealth and I believed I got away with it.
One time, after Mrs. Knight stops teaching at the church next door, and I walk to her house two blocks away after school instead, I arrive to find she isn’t ready and waiting for me. Her husband, a white-haired man with a goatee opens the door and seems surprised to find me there. He ushers me in to the little room where Mrs. Knight’s piano is and disappears to get his wife.
Mrs. Knight, looking as if she just woke up, skirt askew, hair mussed, and with an air about her that I recognize, joins me a few minutes later and proceeds to give me a most disjointed and ineffective piano lesson.
My opinion of Mrs. Knight drops a few notches that day. I never suspected her to be a day drinker like my parents are from time to time. I despise it in them when it happens; now I am disappointed in my piano teacher too.
It isn’t long after this that I am finally successful in convincing Mom and Dad that I have no interest in continuing the piano lessons. I dabble with playing over the years—on that Willis piano that becomes mine after the death of my parents, and on an electronic organ we buy when my kids are babies.
When, at thirty-five years of age, I move into the first home that is mine alone, I choose not to have a musical instrument in the house. I become like my dad, playing only the radio or CDs, and now, my Google music.