Soothing the savage breast

... taking notes and keying in on piano lessons as an adult.

by Brent Collar

The piano is one of the most universally enjoyed musical instruments. If you
always wanted to learn to play, but for some reason have put it off, why not start
When the Boston Center for Adult Education offered an eight week course in
beginning piano (1 1/2 hours per week), I couldn't resist. I"m taking piano lessons.
Despite what they say about old dogs learning new tricks, I'm determined to add a new
skill to my repertoire.Move over Mozart. After six weeks, I've gained appreciation  
for Liberace, Victor Borge, Ferrante and/or Teicher. Although I haven't actually
"tickled the ivories," I have made them smile on occasion.  Let me fill you in on
some the class highlights.

Lesson One: This is a piano, These are the white keys. These are the black
keys. This is middle C. Is that note a B or a G? How many beats in a measure? Should
I buy an upright or a baby grand? I begin to learn acronyms, EGBDF (Every Good Boy
Does Fine). ACEG (All Cows Eat Grass). WMIP (Why Must I Practice?)

Lesson Two: It is strongly recommended that I learn to play with both hands.
My left hand isn't paying attention and it prefers to rest comfortably own my lap.
When I finally coax it onto the keyboard, it refuses to listen to my brain and plays
its own notes. I threaten to leave it exposed during the next snowstorm and it
gradually comes around. I learn about quarter notes, half notes and ransom notes.
Counting higher than one becomes a major obstacle.

Lesson Three: When asked to play my first assignment, I stumble through it at
a pace much slower than the composer intended. Call it creative, call it an
experiment, call it slow learning. It sounded better at home. It must have. I play my
first chord. It sounds funny. Everyone laughs. I play it again, this time striking
the right notes. Striking the right notes with the left hand is a major
accomplishment. I reward myself with a hot fudge sundae on the way home. You'd think
that with all the scale I've played, one of them would be correct. Wrong - too many
hot fudge sundaes.

Lesson Four: I play "Lightly Row" in a tempo that suggests that both my oars
are not in the water. Pianissimo, adagio, and fortissimo are added to my vocabulary.
I keep thinking of an Italian coldcut submarine sandwich at Santoro's on Route One.
(I'll have a small adagio with onions and tomatoes - hold the hot peppers.) I play
"Amazing Grace" as if it were "Standard American Clumsy." The amazing part is that my
left hand is beginning to respond to shock treatment.

Lesson Five: If I play "Scarborough Fair" one more time at home, my family
will move out. I'm tempted to call their bluff. I feel like I'm back in grammar
school studying fractions: 4/4, 3/4, 6/8. I don't understand why I can't convert them
to decimals. My sharps sound flat. My flats sound flat. My accidentals sound
occidental. My naturals sound un. My metronome goes on strike. Ties won't stay tied;
slurs won't stay slurred; "Down By The Riverside" takes on new meaning.

Lesson Six: I have trouble with my legato. Unfortunately it's not covered by
Blue Cross. I go to my staccato and it won't start. I call Triple-A and they arrive
with jumper cables. "The Entertainer" doesn't. I suffer major setbacks and minor
triumphs or is it major triumphs and minor setbacks?  My vocabulary increases to
include chromatic, harmonic, melodic and augmented. (It sounds like an add for a new
stereo system.) I learn that there are three pedals on a piano: accelerator, brake,
and clutch. I keep thinking I'm an automatic.

It hasn't been easy as you can tell. My initial goal was to learn enough to play the
score from "Phantom Of The Opera", but I'm not sure I'll get that far. In any event,
as Logan Pearsall Smith said in Afterthoughts (1931), "The indefatigable
pursuit of unattainable perfection, even though it consists in nothing more than in
the pounding of an old piano is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this
unavailing star." As far as classical music is concerned, I'll leave the Mozart to
Horowitz...or should I leave the Horowitz to Mozart?

"Reflections" column, March 2, 1988-reprinted with permission from the author
and from The Revere Journal

June 2 2017

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