My mother is a strong woman. I’ve maybe seen her cry twice in my lifetime. And I’m pretty sure there were never tears before my existence. But if there’s a surefire way to break her heart, I know how to do it. And I am the only person who holds this sad, sad key.
If I want to genuinely upset my mother, I say the following words. Oh, I don’t play piano. Nope. Don’t know how. If Kony and Jafar from Aladdin (sorry, second most evil person that came to my mind just now) married and had a baby, it would be me saying these words to my mom over and over again.
There are multiple copies of an early photograph of me. I’m 11 months and poised at a piano, my squishy fingers hovering carefully above its keys. My parents showed it to every guest, telling them I never ever banged the piano, and isn’t that extraordinary?
Of course, the natural course of action was to enroll me for lessons a.s.a.p. At four I became a student of the Suzuki method. It was a short experience, as the teacher pressed my fingers into the keys too painfully, enraging my folks. Next was a lovely woman who lived in the house across the alley. I only remember playing with her kids, though. Eventually I found more permanence at a local piano shop. I went through several teachers. But finally I came across the teacher to end all piano teachers. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my entire life. And at age ten, she taught me a piece of Bach that I can still air-drum on my desk to this day.
We should be clear. My parents were never the cliche tiger-creatures portrayed in Amy Tan novels. But they were never shy about their faith – that piano was my destiny. They never wavered in their conviction, never expressed as much joy in anything else, as when I played Canon in D. My brilliant piano teacher only perpetuated this feeling. Through her I learned to play piano like those prodigy children on television. She was always encouraging, always kind, and very familial. She became the older sister I could only dream of having. With her help, I was enrolled in several piano competitions. And, I vaguely recall winning a few. But as I grew older, a growing uneasiness filled me. I didn’t know how to play piano!
How does one win piano competitions without knowing how to play piano? I should elaborate. I didn’t believe I knew how to play piano. Because, while I could play a sonata from memory, outside of that memory I had no understanding of the basic fundamentals of music. Playing for piano competitions, I learned songs with a harrowing precision, one or two at a time. But I couldn’t play “happy birthday.” I couldn’t read notes. I still don’t know what a treble clef is! Okay, and I was damn lazy. That too. Mostly the last one.
The tipping point was probably a “winners concert,” held for a competition I won second place in. I didn’t practice, I didn’t think I had to — after winning. But then the concert came and, on stage, in the middle of my song I forgot how to play it. After me was the first place winner. Picture a very, very smug Greg Kinnear, is what this 15-year old jerk-face looked like. He looked straight at me in the middle of his song. When our eyes-contacted, his expression clearly said “You don’t belong here.”
I quit. Senior year. The first of many quits in my lifetime. I learned how to quit, when I quit piano.
Fast forward to age nineteen. Filled with regret and a supernatural determination to still be an upstanding individual, I write on a growing list of “30-things” a vow — to play piano with fluency.
Fast forward to today.
You might have noticed the lackluster shade of my blog, of late. February was a wonderful, wonderful month. But it is over, and I’m realizing that I’ve fallen into old tricks. I’ve thrown distractions at you – cutesy crafts and baked goods – to give the illusion that I’m being my best self. My best self, I’m slowly realizing, is when I work so hard I forget to flip my hair. It’s when I look like a complete idiot, my transparent mistakes unfiltered.
I spent the last two hours trying to record myself playing a song. Do I really have to upload it on youtube, first? Let me post this, to fulfill my “Thursday post” promise. And maybe edit a video in. But consider this my way of telling you, that I will cross piano playing off my list. And I will prove it.
march 9, 2012 Edit*** After struggling with video uploading for an hour, I called it a night last night. Besides computer frustrations, I realized my shoulders were hurting from the exertions of playing piano for longer than twenty minutes. ah.
Should this current upload be a success, let me frame it for you. It’s pretty terrible. I miss a ton of notes, especially a few grand chords. It’s sort of like olympic figure skating – going for a triple axel and only landing a double (or not jumping at all) – in music form. Also, my “musicality” makes me look like I’m having an epileptic fit. As for the song, I found it in my old books. Think I had to know it once, for a competition. It’s sort of what I do when I sit at the piano. I try to relive my glory days, and play the same songs over and over, while becoming increasingly worse. The trick will be forcing myself to practice, painfully, to fight through new material.
Let’s say the current goal will be to post one song per month? Yes? I can’t be on camera too often, you understand, I will explode and choke on my own self-loathing.
Thank you for watching. And please don’t judge me if I delete this whole thing in a fit.