Learning to Play Piano

Our daughter, Emily (yes, she has a name! — I’m already tired of calling her Miss Frugalista) will be two years old on Groundhog Day, February 2. These past two years have flown by. Every day she does something new, says a new word, and continues to make us laugh until we’re giggling right along with her.

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons at our house with a young woman, whose name escapes me at the moment. I want to say Tina, but I’m not 100% on that [correction: my dad says her name was Nancy]. I liked her a lot. She moved to France for a year in order to study the instrument further, and recommended her own piano teacher to us, as she was local.

This woman was older, and only gave lessons at her home, where she taught individually and in a group, since she had 3-4 pianos laying around her large Victorian-style home. But this woman was beyond strict, reminding me of a Catholic nun schoolteacher. “Loosen up your wrists!” she would bark, making her point by grabbing my forearms and forcing my hands to flop up and down.

The worst part was the recitals. I hated performing in front of people, and I could barely practice at home if anyone was watching me (or even in the same room). Eventually, I gave up the lessons, but stuck with another instrument, the violin, which I had picked up in 5th grade when my grammar school forced it upon me.

Up until a few years ago, I brought my childhood spinet piano from apartment to apartment, which was an incredible pain in the ass. I never had it tuned [2nd Dad correction: we had it tuned by a blind piano tuner after getting the secondhand piano through a family friend], so after a handful of moves, it sounded terrible. Every once in a while, I’d have a few-month run of regular practicing, after which I’d be able to play well enough to not embarrass myself in front of a crowd. Not that it ever happened, because I still hated playing in front of anyone.

Eventually, I gave up my piano, donating it to a Newark, N.J. charter school where my cousin taught. Mr. Not-So-Frugal would later buy me a more-compact replacement, a 72-key keyboard.

After putting it away for a while, I pulled it out last year and began to play a bit again. Then Emily began to take an interest in it — it took her a while to stop pushing all the other buttons, but she likes it. “Pan! pan!” she yells now when she wants to play. I hoist her up onto the seat and she starts poking at the keys and laughing her bright little-girl laugh when she gets a good set of noises out of the keyboard.

It’s inspired me to sit down at night, too, poking away at the keys and sight-reading music I haven’t looked at in years. Last night, I lost myself in the music for a good 45 minutes.

Maybe one day, I’ll be showing her how to play scales. Maybe it’ll turn into a lifelong interest in music. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

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