I’m sitting here on the bottom step of the stairs looking at my piano in the hall. We have a love-hate relationship. I love it because I know that it meant so much to my Dad, he wanted me to learn to play when I was a little girl… and I hate it because I didn’t want this hobby - I wanted to do other stuff, stuff I was interested in… which didn’t include playing music. I don’t think the piano hates me; I don’t think it cares much either way anymore - it’s been sleeping for too long now…
Dad’s dream was that I would be the type of pianist who can happily lift the keyboard lid on any piano and sit down and play wonderful, improvised, music… AND, whenever required also be able to play perfectly from sheet music at first sight. To play solo AND to be good enough to play in an orchestra AND a dance band AND probably even be a jazz virtuoso too!… sorry, I’m getting a bit carried away now – I don’t think Dad actually liked jazz 😉. It’s good to have ambition, it helps to have something to aim for, but sadly Dad’s ambition for me was way off the scale (excuse the pun!) and he forgot to account for talent… and I didn’t have any.
My 7th birthday present was a piano – not this one, one that Dad bought second-hand. He and Mum were very excited to show it to me… I remember being confused as to why they thought it such a big deal. I think I probably wanted a bike or a doll’s pram or something? I’m pretty sure a piano wouldn’t have been on my wish list.
And then I was sent for piano lessons. I had to play exactly what was written on the sheet music and ONLY what was written. That was how you seemed to be taught in those days. It was even true at home during my half-hour daily piano practice because there were exams to be passed so it had to be as perfect as possible… talk about stifling creativity and enthusiasm! I wasn’t allowed to put my own feelings into what I played either as the composer had dictated that for me and I had to try my best to be delicato or dolce as prescribed. My interpretation of the pace of rallentando never seemed to match that of my piano teacher either.
Music theory was fun (not!) “Frank Chases Girls Down Alleys Eating Biscuits” – I wonder if that was a hint at what was to come as I got a bit older? Safely navigating past the front door of my piano teacher’s house into the room where she was waiting for me became pretty tricky…
I know that everything I’ve written so far sounds negative but there is actually an awful lot of love there too – my Dad never made me feel inadequate and he was always very proud of me. The feelings of failure were purely my own… but they’ve lasted a lifetime and now every time I look at the piano it reminds me of how I felt, and in truth how I still feel.
Dad tried to encourage me to improvise and just try things out but I wasn’t any good at it and years of being made to play as the composer dictated had taken its toll… take the sheet music away and you may as well cut off my hands – I wasn’t capable of playing without it. I asked if I could play something more modern, so he took me to buy some sheet music of stuff that was in the charts at the time, but most of it was either just a painfully simple melody and not much else or so complicated, and with so many key changes, I found it impossible to play even the first few bars. I didn’t have the talent to succeed and to be honest I didn’t really have the necessary interest either. Someone once gave me a book of Chopin Waltzes… that really did make me feel inadequate! 🤣
Shall I sell it? It’s probably not worth very much. They bought it from Foulds on Iron Gate in Derby in 1972. I remember going into the shop a few times – there was a lady who used to work there who always looked cross, her lipstick was drawn around her mouth in an oversized cupid’s bow; she made you feel you were trespassing in some way just by being in the shop… Mum told me the piano cost nearly every penny of their savings – so as well as knowing that I couldn’t play the way Dad wanted me to, I ended up feeling guilty about that too!
And because it meant so much to Dad it’s still here… still sitting in the hall getting dusty… It’s not been played for years. There are good memories too despite what you might think having read everything above but sadly the thing it represents to me more than anything else now is failure… and that is so sad because it should represent joy… and it should be played!
I’m retired now, 62 years old and this piano has been in my life for 48 of those years… perhaps instead of feeling so negative about it maybe it’s time I learnt to play it again?! Once upon a time, in my teens, I could even make a reasonable stab at Debussy’s Minstrels…
It’s not all bad for my Dad- he had great success with my little brother when the time came for him to be a budding musician. I admit to a little bias here (sisters are allowed that) but I do think he plays brilliantly and beautifully. If I write another blog maybe I’ll do it about my Dad and Mark and their music?
I’ve written this blog because I want to ask that if you have aspirations of music success (or of any type of success) for your own Little Stones, please don’t let what I’ve written put you off. Please though just make sure you keep listening to them, and encourage them, and of most importance make sure you notice if they seem unhappy. Let them tread their own path. It’s so easy to get it wrong. My plea to you would be to not force music at the cost of other things because that’s just a recipe for unhappiness – if your Little Stones really want to give it up and do something else then let them. Music is a very precious thing and it deserves to be loved.