On Music Lessons

On Music Lessons

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Recently, I watched my husband and two other guys heave the piano out of our house and into storage and I felt this total happiness at its exit, much like when the piano falls into the sea at the end of that movie The Piano, except not the part where Holly Hunter goes down with it. Which is a pretty strong metaphor for how I have been feeling about this piano, I will grant you, but seems to fit in a diluted sense.

I played the piano for a long time. Like, I started in 2nd grade. And played until I was a senior in high school. And then I did a few semesters in college. That seems like a long time to do something that one is fair-to-middling at. But I guess life is just continual editing, right?

I was happy to see the piano go, even though it was the one I learned on. An upright mahogany thing. The bench which kept the music is long gone and when Matilda started her lessons, she used a chair, which I always thought was wrong.

Anyway. I was glad to see it go because harping on Matilda to PRACTICE PIANO was burning my life right out. It gave me flashbacks of my own mother harassing me constantly to do the same. And I hated practicing. And I hated showing up at lessons ill-prepared. It was like a weekly dose of shame. You know, an extra dose on top of the regular helpings I got growing up.

My sister and I were made to take piano because our maternal grandmother was a very talented musician, hence, thus, therefore, ergo, so should all her descendants be talented as such. My mother and her siblings were also subjected to this generational hazing. Nobody except my aunt, really, held a candle to my grandmother, who was a symphony cellist, and a choir mistress and an instructor in violin and piano, as well.

(ASIDE. My grandmother was a Weird Music Person. You know that Music People are Weird. Like Theater People, they have A Thing. And this Thing makes them all weird and focused on music all the time. You know, right? It’s not A Bad Thing. It’s just a Weird Thing I don’t have. I have other Weird Things. Anyway.)

My dad thought this frog-marching to piano lessons was a good plan; in the refugee camp where he grew up, his parents only had money for his eldest brother to take violin lessons, and when Sam was a musical wash-out, that was it for the rest of the Mesrobian children. Nice, economical handling of the problem, if you ask me. But my father, as he is about weddings and church, remained romantically attached to those lost music lessons. He’d lie on the sofa and read the newspaper while my sister and I clanked up and down the keyboard, as if this sounded like heavenly angel harmonies or something.

My problem wasn’t that I hated piano forever. Eventually I came to enjoy musical interpretation. Indeed, that was my only talent. My first teacher was not a stickler for classical training. She played in bars and did improvisation and was a showstopper, I’m told. But my hand position under her tutelage nearly gave my second teacher a stroke. Under Marcia, my second teacher, I was sentenced to play Hanon and hold tennis balls under my palms and do all sorts of finger exercises that would account for my ridiculously short pinkie.

It wasn’t all bad. I got a little better. I learned some Chopin from Marcia. And more Chopin as well as Beethoven, from my third teacher, Mona, who was less strict and rigorous and more about moods and dynamics and playing to my strengths, which did not include theory or grace notes.

Recently, my mother said, “I wish you’d done more with your piano.”

And I kind of looked at her, like, Really?

Because, what more did she want? More than a decade of being merely ‘okay’ at doing something? Was I supposed to play piano in bars and give lessons to shitty kids like me with bad hand position? Or did she really think I was going to magically become a lady Vladimir Horowitz or something?

And I wonder, truly, if kids that have Talent, do they have more enjoyment than I did as a kid? Are they drawn to instruments, noodling around making noise on them and what not? Or does that Talent only come after so much parental pressure is applied, like how you come to get good dental hygiene by ceaselessly banging on about regular brushing and flossing?

I only know that I was never forced to write stories. I did it all on my own. Was often interrupted, in fact, by my parents bugging me to play piano or do some other dumb thing.

I hate the idea of interrupting my kid to do some other dumb thing. Like, practice piano. Is this because I’m at heart a very lazy parent? I think that’s part of it. I also think that there should be something there; some joy, some glazed befuddlement on my daughter’s face when I catch her doing something she loves – currently that’s drawing. But maybe I’m being idealistic. And transposing my own shit onto her.

It could also be that our piano resided in my office. Another invasion into my space. A very negative invasion, which involved hollering and tears and bargaining and ugh. Gross.

Adrian, incidentally, never took music lessons. He’s also way romantic about listening to his girls noodle about on the piano. Which I only did to lure Matilda into practicing. And I didn’t like that because it felt like a trick.

And now I don’t have to resort to such cajoling and tricks, because the fucking thing’s in storage, indefinitely, and why can’t I just feel relief that it’s gone and we’re moving on, instead of sitting here curating yet another guilt and grief over something left undone?

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