Wednesday, September 5, 2007
As a child, I used to ask my mom to let me take piano lessons. I wanted to learn how to play songs like the Star Spangled Banner and other great pieces of music. By the time I was preparing to enter fourth grade, my parents signed me up to begin taking lessons. Then I found out the truth. Contrary to my prior assessment, I did not want to learn how to play the piano; I wanted to know to play piano. This information would have been nice to have before I signed my name in blood to the Piano Czar, Mrs. Site (*name changed for security reasons).
Mrs. Site seemed like a mild-mannered Presbyterian lady, that is until one's hind-quarters landed on her piano bench. Then she pulled out all the dictatorial force she could muster and blasted all "beginners" with both barrels. Everything had a proper way to be done. Hold your hands like this, sit like this, feet like this, etc. She even had a little red book which was to serve as our practice log, a record of the amount of time we had practiced the previous week. Eventually, I learned that watching an episode of Alf from the piano bench at home should be counted as 30 minutes of practice time, providing that I practice during the commercials.
Of course, the doctored practice log was her standard for how much a student should have improved since the previous week. Oh, how she hated it (and us) when we did not progress as prescribed. She would pull out the harder pieces and make us try to play them. When I would struggle to find the notes, she would berate me for not keeping the rhythm. To make matters worse, she would even get out here little rhythm counter, a little pendulum that could be adjusted to match the count, and she would set it in motion to "give some guidance." Tic-toc-tic-toc-tic-toc. It would go on mercilessly, and I would try desperately to keep up as I searched for the keys. Bang, bang, bang! Instead of realizing that this little tactic was not helping, she would then add to the confusion by counting out loud and even clapping her hands. Tic-toc-tic-toc. "One, two, three, four." Bang, bang, bang, bang!
If the lessons were bad, then the recitals were nothing less than diabolical. She would have all of her students come to her house on a Saturday morning, and we all had to sit and listen to each other play pieces that Mrs. Site had picked out. Once my mom had even tried to inspire me by getting me a special music book with simplified version of the Rocky theme. When I showed it to her and asked to play it for the recital, Mrs. Site said, "That's nice for you to play for fun, but for the recital, I want you to play 'Polly Sue by the River'." I hated 'Polly Sue by the River', but Mrs. Site had spoken. So we all gathered together, one big group of miserable kids, and had to listen to everyone play. I remember sitting down at the bench in from of all those kids and seeing the rhythm-keeper out of the corner of my eye, intimidating me, daring me to mess up.
Once I had stumbled through my piece, the other kids followed until we got to the "Advanced" musicians. With these, Mrs. Site would not merely call out their name. To celebrate the occasion, she would talk about how difficult the piece was and how hard so-and-so had worked to prepare such a fine presentation. Mrs. Site left no doubt who the "special" students were.
Ultimately, I was allowed to stop taking piano lessons after three long years. I was inexpressibly glad to be out, thankful to no longer hear that darn rhythm-keeper. However, as the years have passed, one question has consistently baffled me: Why in the world did my parents keep on forcing me to go to these stupid piano lessons at their own expense!?!?