Today, everything was going smoothly up until that point.
Then suddenly the haunting strains of a tune I had only recently discovered and fallen for, nearly threw me off my piano stool.
As my teacher played the chorus, a warm sensation began from somewhere in my stomach and started to bubble up rapidly to my eyes.
Thankfully I’ve been here before, so I was able to summon up just enough energy to squelch that old familiar feeling until he left.
And then I wept.
If music be the food of love…
Five years ago, I restarted my piano lessons.
It happened less than six months after my wife and I renovated every square inch of our house. Having kept the place much the same since 2000 (the year we got married), the house was overdue for a new look.
In the four months after we moved back into our spanking new abode, I suddenly ‘felt’ (or maybe it’s ‘heard’) the hypnotic sounds of the piano.
There’s just an indescribable beauty in the haunting melodies that can always be drawn from what is essentially a wooden box. With the right pair of hands of course.
Just hearing it brings tears to my eyes.
The “blame” falls squarely on my new neighbour one level down – she was after all a piano teacher. While it never occured to me to approach her for lessons (too close for comfort perhaps?), I did feel the burgeoning desire to rekindle my love to tickle the ivories again.
There Was A Time…
…I spent one year learning the piano. I was only 12 and nervous as can be. But at least I did clear Grade 1!
Back then though, it wasn’t my choice. My eldest brother coerced me to pick it up; something about how learning a musical instrument conferred a certain social status. But he signed me up with a no-nonsense teacher who had a long and nasty wooden ruler she would use without hesitation to hit my fingers when I goofed up.
Needless to say, neither my brother nor that teacher was motivation enough to endure anymore lessons!
But that one year did do something to me.
Up until that point, I had only been listening and singing along to pop songs on the radio. Back then it was all ABBA, Bee Gees and the Carpenters.
(Yes yes I’m THAT old! Now may I continue please?)
But suddenly, I literally discovered that I had, at my fingertips, a power to make music. All it took was hitting a bunch of black and white pieces of wood on what could easily pass off as one big vertical dark wood sarcophagus.
And just like that, something deep within me was unlocked forever.
Melody. Harmony. Rhythm.
These took on new meaning. They spoke straight to my soul, and I was never the same again.
Unfortunately, there were a few things working against me.
Firstly, I didn’t come from a musical family. I mean yah everyone loved a good song on the radio now and then, but nothing more. No one at home even strummed a guitar.
Secondly, back then there was no money nor space in our cramped three-room apartment for a piano. And without regular practice, what would be the point of lessons?
Thirdly, there was no one to spur me on to learn, which made it really easy for me to give up when the journey got tough.
That last one in particular was my undoing. It just seemed to take too much effort to do what must be done to master the skill of playing. Much easier to just listen, hum or sing along then to actually play music.
So, I gave up.
The Turning Point
That is, until I became a parent and started realising that my son had musical interest and inclination.
Well, let’s just say I don’t know many six-year-olds who could belt out pitch-perfectly Adele’s “Rollin’ In The Deep”! And when asked about wanting to learn a musical instrument, and if so which one, my six-year-old picked the cello!
While it could have been a passing fancy, we his parents thought that maybe we could persuade him to consider a ‘smaller cello’ instead. You know – less costly, less heavy and more teachers to choose from.
So in 2015, he took up the violin.
(Today, five years and five grades later, he’s still going strong!)
But that moment in his life made me suddenly realised I wanted a piece of the action too.
Plus, wouldn’t it be cool if we both picked up an instrument together? I mean, then at least when he wanted to give up (and there were many such moments!), he would perhaps reconsider if he sees his daddy pressing on.
And a one, and a two, and a…
So I took up lessons for about a year, first in a school then with a private tutor. I even bought a fabulous red digital Korg piano to match the wall in my living room!
But my past returned to haunt me. By 2016, I had given it up. Again.
This time, I just found myself left with only one sad reason: I lacked staying power.
Even with the very best of intentions, once the going gets steadily repetitive and mundane (which the learning of any skill would often entail), I would typically make a run for the hills!
I’m not proud of this aspect of me.
But there it is.
More than anything else, my musical journey exposes this fundamental weakness in me each time. Of course, I’m probably my own worse critic. After all, I couldn’t have lived for 50 years now without at least seeing a few things all the way through right?
“…it never takes too long”
But what’s also more than anything else is the music itself. How it fills one’s soul and very essence to the core. A connection with the divine that transcends words and time.
And when it’s the piano…
That’s probably why I restarted my lessons again this year with a new teacher and a new resolve.
It’s also probably why I wept as soon as my teacher left our lesson today.
Because he played that haunting tune. The one that motivated me this year to begin my on-again-off-again love affair with the ebonies and ivories.
The one that starts with these two poignant lines that, for me, says it all: