Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Piano Playing

]The Mozart family]

As often happens when a subject is on my mind, a book appeared. Not magically, really. I suppose I bought it at the thrift store but I don't remember doing so and in my move I don't remember handling it although surely it was in the handfuls I packed and unpacked from and onto my to-read shelves. I've been thinking of piano playing and yesterday my eyes fell on Frank R. Wilson's 1987 paperback, Tone Dead and All Thumbs? A book about learning to make music in mid-life. Wilson, a neurologist, says he watched his daughter at a piano recital and became so jealous of her ability he decided to take piano lessons himself. He also researched the brain/small muscle interactions which he likens to any athletic ability and which I think he's going to say, if maintained into age, will keep the brain young.

Even before my move I promised myself about an hour a day of piano playing and I have attempted to do so. Like Wilson I took piano lessons as an adult, but unlike him, I had already had lessons from 6 to 16. When both my daughters found teenage activities far more interesting than piano practice and the teacher found his time too valuable to waste on indifferent students, I let them stop and asked him to teach he real music and decent technique both of which I knew I lacked. In fact, when I first played for him his remark was "Okay, we'll start with the C major scale." You can't get more basic than that. I had dexterity and read music easily, I had historical and biographical musical knowledge but I had bad habits, was basically tone deaf with only the minimal talent Wilson says all human beings have. I knew how little I knew. Wayne and I had a lovely collaboration for 4 or 5 years. I was able to play 3/4ths of Schubert's "Wanderer Fantasy" when I had to leave -- of which I'm quite proud and most of which facility I have lost.

In the 30 years since then I have played sporadically, certainly not with discipline. I know a fair amount of the facility can be regained, slowly, patiently. If it should keep my brain young that would be a very welcome perk. Making something musical happen is reward enough. For now, however, I am embarrassed by my stumbling fingers, the sour notes, the pauses, repeats. I met neighbors in the hallway and discovered that not only the nearest can hear me but one woman who lives down at the end of the hall can hear me too -- the place has particle board walls - and ceilings too for I hear my upstairs neighbor's footsteps all too clearly, which means they hear my piano too.

What to do? I am determined to continue playing/practicing because I know the proficiency is possible. Perhaps I will never again play "The Wanderer" but there is SO much music. For now, I am choosing to play nice soft, melodic music that surely none of my neighbors can complain of except if they are musical enough to be badly bothered by sour notes and I hope the walls at least muffle some of that. I assume they won't cringe if I plod through Chopin's Waltz in a minor, or Schubert's Stanchen, or delicate early Mozart or Beethoven sonatas and maybe some favorite opera transcriptions. If I'm interrupting a soap opera well ... so be it.

We are approaching Mother's Day so in my next installment I will explain how a farmer's daughter in a home only recently electrified had the privilege of a rackety upright piano and lessons on it.

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