Over the years, my mother let me quit a few things. After several failed attempts at sewing lessons, she accepted that the one and only thing I ever produced was a bath towel wrap with a piece of Velcro sloppily stitched to it.
And after a lot of whiny persuasion, she also let me quit playing girls’ softball—a decision which the team coach and the other players appreciated very much.
But the one thing she’d never budge on was piano. Even though I drove her crazy with a bad rendition of “Send in the Clowns” which I played roughly 200 times a day, she was determined that I’d learn to play piano—no matter how much complaining I did or how much the lessons cost or how many times per month she had to drive me there.
After realizing piano lessons were non-negotiable, I started to get better at it. By high school, I’d survived countless piano recitals and was able to play well enough to serve as the pianist for our little church. This achievement made Mom happy and—even though I never admitted it—I secretly liked it, too.
To keep the cycle going, I signed up our three kids for piano lessons last summer. I found a teacher who makes piano-teaching house calls. Every Tuesday after school, she comes to our house and teaches the kids in half-hour increments, back to back, while I go upstairs and fold laundry to the sounds of my offspring tickling (and sometimes torturing) the ivories.
I have a whole new respect for what my old piano teachers endured. Without the help of ear plugs or powerful nerve pills, piano teachers can listen to a kid play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and hit the same wrong note in the same exact spot over and over and over again and yet still manage to hang onto their sanity. They must be the most patient people on the planet.
Sometimes the kids ask me to help them with their piano homework, and I’m happy to help. But after a few minutes of watching them plink and plunk around all the wrong notes, part of me wants to yell, “It’s a C, for Pete’s sake! Can’t you see that the note is a C? Play the C already!” But that kind of exasperated impatience is not conducive to learning a new instrument, so I leave the instruction to the teacher and stick to the keys on my computer instead.
As some sort of cosmic payback, one of the kids asked me recently if he has to keep taking piano lessons because he’s tired of all the practicing. And, just like my mother did, I said a firm, “Yes, you do. Now go practice.”
Because the thing I learned from sticking with piano is that music is a gift. Once you know how to play it well, something magical happens in the midst of it. It’s as if God himself is making music through you, and you just happen to be there moving your fingers. The little hairs on the back of your neck stand up when the notes ring out just right, and it exhilarates and calms you all at the same time.
A few months ago, we went to a Christmas play with the kids and the song “We Three Kings” came on. As his eyes lit up, 8-year-old Jack turned to me and said, “I can play that song on the piano!”
“Yes, you can,” I agreed. And the excitement and pride in his voice was the best kind of music to my ears.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Her new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile,” is available on Amazon and at Nightbird Books. Email her at email@example.com or write to her in care of this magazine.
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