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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Piano Lessons

I was mindlessly clicking around in Pinterest and an image of a piano lesson book came up. It took me way back to when I was a girl, taking piano lessons. We always had a piano in the house. It was an old Heintzman upright that came from my father's family, I believe.

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This is not a picture of our actual piano, but in my mind it was something like this:

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My lessons were once a week at Mrs. Rowe's house. My mother would drive me there and sit in a chair flipping through magazines while I would sit on the piano bench with Mrs. Rowe and pick away at the keys. She always smelled of coffee and her hair was black and white and wiry. I would choose little coloured foil stars to lick and glue on the pages in the lesson book when I had learned a piece.

I was not a very good piano student. I did not practise. Well, I did practise, usually the day before my lesson. I absolutely hated playing in front of other people. I would much rather play when nobody was around. When I was taking lessons (because yes, I quit, a disappointment to my musical father), I went through this series:

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My piano teacher had many students and once a year, she would have a recital at the local United church. Oh dear lord, how I dreaded those recitals. Once, I got up to play my piece and partway through I forgot my notes and sat frozen on the bench until my piano teacher came and rescued me. Later, she regaled the crowd with a pounding rendition of "The Entertainer".

What I much preferred over taking lessons and preparing for piano exams was buying sheet music, or begging my mother to buy me sheet music for different pop music. I would wait until nobody was in the house, or at least busy doing something else, and then I would work my way through it (always preferably in a key with few sharps or flats) until I could (haltingly!) play it. I was not a particularly talented player. It did not flow out of me, but I was passable.

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I loved this music! Do you remember the theme song from Hill Street Blues? I loved the tv show as well. I had a black and white cat named Cleo who would jump up on a nearby chair when I played the piano and meow incessantly. She was either complaining or accompanying. I'm not sure which.

I always wished I could play more easily. I had a friend in highschool who had perfect pitch (you could play any note on the piano without her looking and she could tell you what it was). She was also an incredible sight reader. She could sit down in front of any piece of music and with very little problem, play it flawlessly. I was friends with a guy in highschool who played by ear. He could hear any piece of music and then play it himself - absolutely amazing! I wonder whatever happened to him? I always thought he would become a talented studio musician who could play back up to anyone, in any style.

I had an aunt who lived in a different province (British Columbia), so I did not see her very often. When she did visit Ontario, there would inevitably be a gathering at a relative's house and Aunt Betty, drink on one end of the piano, cigarette propped up on an ashtray on the other, would pound away, playing chords while my father sang. I loved those times and admired what Aunt Betty could do, just play after somebody shouted out a request.

Several years after we were married and our kids were very little, I thought I wanted to take up piano again. We bought an old upright - very plain - not particularly well tuned and it sat in our living room. I dug out old music and even bought a couple of new books. It was fun, but still not something that came naturally. We kept the piano for a few years, then gave it away for free to someone who was willing to transport it out of the house. (Those old pianos weighed a ton!)

What about you? Did you take lessons? Did you have your own "Mrs. Rowe"? Do you still play?


33 comments:

  1. We are/were not a musical family at all. Liked hearing about you and your piano. How wonderful to have memories of your family singing around the piano. Sounds so old fashioned now.

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  2. Your memories are lovely to read. We always had a piano at home in fact it's still there. A baby grand that looked lovely, took up a lot of room and was mainly played by visiting musical relatives. My sister did have lessons and can play moderately. I have never been sure why my brother and I weren't offered them. My Gran whenever she came to stay tried hard to teach us.
    The piano was used most when my dad retired and he taught himself to play. He also played both the guitar and banjo but his musical talent wasn't really passed on.

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  3. I, like you, took lessons briefly as a child, but never practiced. So I qit. A few years ago I decided I wanted to learn to play, so I got an electronic keyboard and began. I loved it and realized that I wanted a a real piano, so we found a reasonably priced one and I taught myself to play. I'll never be great, but I love it and I play every day. Turns out though it's Classical music I love to play.

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  4. I would love to have had piano lessons as a child although I doubt I would have had the dedication to practise. My daughter can play by ear.

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  5. I never had the talent for any type of music

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  6. I took lessons and was relatively hopeless. Better at singing than coordinating my fingers with the music! In some ways, I wish I'd continued -- I really admire magnificent pianists. But I didn't have the discipline when back then there were far more fun things to do. It would probably be the same today!

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  7. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it, nor play any instrument. I do appreciate music and can always tell if a note is flat or sharp but couldn't duplicate it for love nor money. Isn't that strange?

    In grade school we were offered violin lessons and I jumped in with both feet. And that's what my playing sounded like. I did practice but never got better. My father actually said, "Thank goodness!" when I decided to stop the lessons.

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  8. Exactly the same with me. Today I still prefer the piano and acoustic guitar. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Keith Jarrett just blow me away. I'd love one of those new pianos that play what ever you put in it to play. They are too expensive for me.

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  9. I believe we lived in the same piano lesson body. Our piano was purchased by my mother in her working girl days, before marriage. In the thirties. One of her first jobs was to type the social security numbers of every employee on those teeny little cards. But, I am distracted. Just like at the piano.

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  10. My husband has a keyboard, and took lessons for a good 30 plus years. My maternal grandparents had a piano that was also a player, but gave to an older cousin 'because he was in a band', but I heard he ended up selling it; such a shame. Never been into it, myself.

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  11. We had an old upright,too. My father traded a heifer to someone for the piano because I 'burned to learn' how to play. I think I had 3 lessons before my teacher died.(I guess I put him over the edge-lol). I taught myself to play from that point on and am a passable player (although we gave our grand do a child).

    I hope to maybe have another piano someday as I love to play just for my own enjoyment. What a great peek into your childhood. xo Diana

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  12. Jenn, I loved reading this post. I always wanted to play piano...have always loved piano music. My granddaughter Emma took lessons for about 3 years , I had high hopes for he...to no avail..she quit. Her father had lessons when he was small and quit too. I had a guardian angel, when I was at her house she would play from any sheet music I would pick out. Thanks to her, I know a really old tune from the 30's or 40's ...not sure. I think I'll look it up. Blessings, xoxo, Susie

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  13. Oh, this brought back a lot of memories! I had piano lessons as a child. My teacher lived a bus ride away, but just a few doors down from my uncle and aunt. After my weekly lesson I would have tea with my relatives and help my uncle in his lovely garden. He would walk me to the bus stop, usually with flowers to take home or a bunch of black grapes from his greenhouse. Both our daughters are musical and play the piano as well as other instruments, 'cello and oboe. I spent years carting them back and forth to lessons, orchestra practise and performances. Nowadays the upright piano sits silently in the dining room, but whenever they are home the lid is lifted and the house is filled with music. It also fills me with joy!

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  14. Thanks everyone! I love reading your comments and own memories (or aspirations) -Jenn

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  15. My grandmother played, quite well. She attempted to teach my mother, who HATED the piano. My mother forbade Grandma to let us touch the piano let alone have any lessons. All because she hated it.....

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  16. I come from a musical family and keyboard is my instrument. My son teaches piano, double bass, cello and guitar. The first rule is to always keep your piano in tune - unless it is then anything you play does not sound right. As for the instrument being heavy - these old pianos had iron frames [ that is what made them heavy but the wooden frames ones are nothing like as good.
    Now that I am retired I have taken up the ukulele and I love it. I play in a band and we have great fun.

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  17. I have wanted to play since I was very young but never had the opportunity.

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  18. A lovely post, & what lovely memories. I often hear of those that took piano as kids, gave it up because it wasn't fun or cool but I also hear the regret that goes with it. In our family we listened to music but not one of us ever had an opportunity to play an instrument.

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  19. I played and took lessons!
    My Dad bought me a beautiful white carved upright piano.
    The ministers wife was my teacher...man she was dry! Hahaha!
    I got my grade 8 and then started on the theory...and that was where I gave up!
    I do love tickle the ivories, and play a few songs, whenever I find an empty piano!
    Thanks for the memories !
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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  20. Oh, gosh. There's a memory! I used the same books. My grandies are taking music lessons. The 7-year-old is taking ukulele, the 9 YO is taking piano. We have one in the basement. I used to have reasons to play: teaching MADD (music, art, dance, drama) elementary we taught everything. I led a couple of kids' choirs. I just haven't had a reason to play it. I've been thinking about trying to incorporate it into my days. Feeling lazy, though.

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  21. Such a fun post! I enjoy reading about your memories. Like you, I hate the spotlight and prefer to do things quietly on my own. I never learned to play an instrument but would have liked to.

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  22. I had that same music book! I took lessons up to Grade 8 but never sat a piano exam - couldn't be bothered with the theory. My teacher had recitals too which were absolutely terrifying. I'm glad my mother made me take lessons though because I can sit down and play once and awhile. I'm inflicting the same on my kids. They'll thank me one day.

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  23. Things we keep bring back memories.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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  24. what memories this brought to mind. actually, I was just thinking about my piano lessons from long ago, the other day. I had some wonderful teachers, got as far as Grade 8 with Royal Conservatory so did OK.

    Still love the piano but none to play right now.

    Thanks for the memories!!!

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  25. Hi Jenn :) I did take piano lessons...from an older lady who smelled like a spice store...that's all I can remember lol. She wasn't very patient and I HATED it. But I started to practice a lot on my own and became quite good! Then of course, my early adult life took over. One of my dreams is to have a piano again so I can re-teach myself and really play some beautiful music. I think once we settle down, it'll be more realistic.

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  26. My sister was the musical one. I played 'at' guitar for a while because that was what one did in the 70s. My sister played the flute and taught herself the French horn. When we played together, I would make her laugh. Laughing is a great hindrance when playing the flute...

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  27. I love your stories! I never learned to play the piano, although we had lessons at school. I admire those who do...it's beautiful to listen to!

    Jane x

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  28. This post really struck close to home because we also had a piano in our home when I was growing up. It was an upright and looked very similar to the one shown in your post and I believe this type were called spinets. My piano teacher was also a woman who came to the house and all I can recall is her first name Julia and her last name began with an "S" I also did not practice as much as I should have, but like you I did enjoy buying sheet music of popular songs unlike the classical pieces practiced for my lessons. And, I also did not like to lay in front of people. By the time I was in high school, the lessons had stopped and the piano just sat in the living room and my parents eventually sold it. I think they were rather disappointed that I didn't take the lessons more seriously and years later, so am I.

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  29. I took piano lessons (because my mother wanted me to) around the corner from our house - my instructors name was Sandy... he was a lovely person, if not a little flamboyant. I hated taking lessons and hated playing in front of people even more - oh, those recitals!!... Ours were in Sandy's parents living room. Eventually I quit, much to my mother's chagrin. I did play by ear, and playing came easily to me, but reading the sheet music never did. I couldn't tell you why. Until I became partially deaf, I still played and could play some now if I sat down to it. My hearing loss has made all the upper keys disappear so it is an exercise in frustration if I try.

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  30. Hello Jenn! My folks did not have the extra cash in the 60's for me to take lessons so I tagged along and watched a friend of mine take them. She hated going, I loved going! I never learned to play but did learn to deeply appreciate piano music. Now, on another note...

    You left a comment on my blog today and sadly in my early morning stupor I hit "delete" instead of "publish." can't figure yet yet how to reinstate it, but wanted you to know how much I appreciate you dropping by my blog. Best to you!

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  31. I wanted to learn but my fingers weren't long enough. That's true of guitar too. I'd love to make music.

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  32. Reading your post and the many comments brings back so many memories. I played piano, and practised religiously (I also played the organ in church). Recitals were a nightmare. I still play a lot, - when my husband was alive I played Scott Joplin for him every morning while he was getting himself together to face the day!!! He played as well, and sometimes we did duets. Like the Weaver of Grass I have taken to the Ukulele in my ancient days and love "Bring my Sunshine" which is my "company" piece.....

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  33. Hi Jenn.. My father wanted me to do two things in life - play the piano and speak French fluently. I was a big fat loser in both areas. I loved the show Hill Street Blues and remember the theme song well. Great post, btw.

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