I had a good piano lesson on Monday.
Yes, a piano lesson. I have been playing the piano since kindergarten, when I would pick out nursery tunes by ear. One of my most vivid kindergarten memories—next to the time I ate the crayoned cut-outs of fruit that we made—was the day a very large blind man came to our classroom and played “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” I am not being politically correct when I say that his size was inconsequential. What awed me was that he sat there at the old upright piano in the basement of the small Methodist Church with his tawny dog sitting next to him and he played big chords without mistakes and he couldn’t even see the keyboard.
I started piano lessons in 1st grade with Miss Leighty. Not only had she taught my older brother, she had also taught my father. (My grandmother liked to say that “the Taylors put Alma Leighty on the map.” I don’t know what map that was.) I took piano lessons with Miss Leighty for nine years, up until I went away to school. Every year was a roller coaster for Miss Leighty and me. I hated to practice, and week after week Miss Leighty graciously hid her disappointment about what I had not accomplished. Then Spring would come, bringing the annual certifications by some national musicians’ organization followed closely by her pupils’ recitals. Would I get through them? The certifications involved proving that I had mastered the appropriate levels of technique, arpeggios and the like. The recitals meant performing a piece of music.
A harbinger of term papers to come, at the last minute I would work like mad and pull off an A-/B+ production. Good enough for the little pins the certification organization awarded (tiny gold-plated pianos I still have in an old jewelry box) and the applause from the parents gathered in Miss Leighty’s living room. Of those recitals I can recall only one piece, the last one: Carl Sinding’s “Rustle of Spring.” Much more clear is the reward after each recital: We (my father, mother, little sister and I; my two older brothers were excused from attending the recital) would go to Seward’s Drugstore on the way home and I could order a chocolate soda.
And then I was the one with children. It must be the curse of parents that they perpetrate upon their children the very things that they themselves had dreaded as children. We insisted that both Jay and Annie take some kind of music lesson. After a disastrous try at piano, Jay took up guitar lessons. Annie took up piano lessons. After several false starts for Annie with less than satisfactory teachers, we found Miss Priscilla. Annie settled in contentedly—practicing only 24 hours before each lesson. Like mother, like daughter.
Of course, there were recitals. How to reward the effort of recitals became a question. Stopping at a drugstore for chocolate sodas wasn’t going to work. For one thing, you can’t get a chocolate soda at a drugstore anymore. Not to mention that anyone can get a metallic-tasting chocolate soda anytime at a fast-food emporium—an opportunity that (blessedly) did not exist in 1960’s Hollidaysburg, PA. So I watched. For Annie, I saw parents bringing bouquets. And that’s what I did. I’d sneak away the morning of the recital to buy a lovely bunch of flowers, which we would hide in the car. Once at the recital location we’d get Annie situated, then I’d again sneak out to the car to collect the flowers to present at the end of the program. She always seemed pleased.
For Jay it was a different story. He was learning electric guitar that, in sharp contrast to his sister and mother, he practiced diligently. His teacher was in a band. Recitals featured “Sweet Home, Alabama.” He was a boy. We went through a couple recitals when the reward was that he could pick what we ate for dinner. I finally did hit on an equivalent of flowers. For his last two recitals, I wrapped up a family-sized bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips (Jay’s favorite) and presented them like a bouquet at the end of the recitals.
Now for the past three or four years I have been taking piano lessons from Annie’s teacher, Miss Priscilla. My lessons are every two weeks, and I am doing much better than when I was a kid: I actually practice three or four times between lessons. I recently nailed Chopin’s Prelude in B minor (Opus 28, No. 6). I grinned like a maniac when Miss Priscilla praised me, and I almost said, “I could do this one for the recital!”
There aren’t any recitals for 59-year-old piano students. But that’s okay, I guess. Anyway, where would Jon take me to get a chocolate soda?