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The Piano

Don't worry, this post will not contain any pictures of Harvey Keitel's penis.

Several people have asked about the piano featured in this week's Owen Wednesday. And while I do intend to answer all the questions you posed here to help me out of this rut, most of them involve talking in some sort of theoretically meaningful way about myself, which I am not in the mood to do lately, which makes for lousy blogging, hence the rut, so instead I will tell you about my piano.

The piano was originally purchased by my maternal grandparents as a way to honor the time-honored tradition of inflicting pain and woe upon their two children via forcing them to participate in piano lessons. My mother retaliated by actually learning how to play the piano. When I was a kid, she would occasionally sit at the piano and play through whatever sheet music was at hand, sometimes classical but more often the popular pop music of the time. I always loved it when my mom played the piano. I have a very clear memory of running downstairs one day while she was playing and asking if she would play tomorrow. Mom got sort of annoyed at me, feeling I suppose that it was her house and she could play the piano whenever she damned well pleased. However, what I wanted was for her to play the song "Tomorrow" from Annie, which she did and peace was restored to the family. I'm trying to remember the last time I heard my mom play the piano, and I think it was when I was around ten or so, although I don't know why she stopped. (Hey Mom, why did you stop?)

Several years ago, my parents undertook a major renovation to their house (they still live in the house where I grew up). This renovation involved removing most of the walls on the main floor, leaving nowhere for the piano, and they began looking for a nice farm out in the country where it could spend its golden years. My brother was faster out of the gate in declining to take the piano, so it arrived at my house one day and was ensconced in the basement. (This was at our old house, which had a walk-out, and I could do an entire post about watching the piano delivery guys try to roll the thing down the incredibly steep mud pit that was our backyard without breaking it our themselves.)

I took piano lessons as a kid, first from an old guy who came to the house and had a rather frightening mustache and then from a woman who was married to a guy on the Washington Redskins. I never got very good at it, likely because I didn't like to practice. When I was younger I always had to practice for half an hour right after dinner and I had a kitchen timer on the piano to tell me when I was done. I would set it for 30 minutes, play a song, and then reset it to shave a minute or two off the time remaining. I think I got away with it at first, but then I got greedy and my parents began to remind me that they were in fact able to tell time and that unless there was a time warp between the kitchen and the living room seven minutes of playing did not equal half an hour of practice. When I was older, I would just say that I practiced after school before my mom got home, but I never did.

So while technically I can play the piano, in that I read music and know how the keyboard corresponds to notation, it is no real surprise that I can't play the piano. When we first got the piano I tried to teach myself again and went down dutifully after dinner every night to work my way through a lesson book, but it was cold in the basement and then Mia was born and so now I sometimes play the five or six songs I know by heart or play songs from one of Mia's children's songbooks, but I don't play the piano. Chris actually plays pretty well. He is one of those people who can just sit down and hit keys at random and it sounds good, while when I do that it sounds like cats are fighting on the keyboard. He also plays by ear, but since he doesn't read music he also doesn't play the piano. (How can someone who is so invested in music not read music? I don't understand it. I have offered to teach him many times over the past 16 years and he won't do it. This may be the single largest disagreement in our entire relationship - he thinks he doesn't need to know how, I think he does.)

The piano is a spinet. When we moved, I chose which movers to hire strictly on the basis of which estimator correctly identified it as a spinet rather than an upright. It must be approaching sixty years old. It is missing two of the knobs that open and close the cover and the stain at the feet is badly chipped. It holds its tune like you wouldn't believe. In fact, it hasn't been tuned since we moved and should by all rights be a discordant mess, but instead it sounds pretty good. The last time it was tuned, the piano tuner disconnected the internal humidifier, which made me sad. Watering the piano was one of my favorite chores as a child.

Both of my kids adore the piano. It has always been in Mia's playroom and she has spent many happy hours banging away on it, and Owen seems especially drawn to it (as he is to anything that makes noise). I like having a memento of my childhood and my mother's childhood ensconced in the playroom, and I am looking forward to forcing my children to learn to play it.

Now, tell me about your piano/cello/flute/trumpet/recorder/maracas.

Comments (23)

I grew up with a piano too but never really took to it, maybe when your mum is your teacher you don't take it as seriously.

Your removal story reminded me of when we moved from a Scottish island to England, we didn't have much money but one of the main needs was to find a house to fit the piano (baby grand - heirloom). Succeeded - just.

I had to sell my piano when we moved. I don't wanna talk about it :P
I can read music, but not well, and I primarily play by ear - but I can understand both your and Chris's sides of the argument!

I am laughing out loud over here in snow-ville. You and Chris's argument brings back so many memories.

I played the piano from the time I was four until I was 14 and quit, because I needed more time to suck face with my boyfriend. I had two different teachers in that time frame and neither of them ever realized that I couldn't read the music. It was super important to all adults for some reason, that I didn't understand, so I faked it. I faked being able to read music. I, like Chris, play by ear. If I heard a song one or twice, I could play it. Never needed to learn to read it.

I want to get a piano in the next year and have my kids learn to play.

I'll keep this as brief as possible, which won't be very brief at all.

We were really REALLY poor when I was a kid. When you're really really poor, like PO because you can't afford the extra OR, people give you crap. Our church replaced it's piano and gave my mom the old one. Then someone else gave us another one. We didn't have food, I wore my brother's hand-me-down chonies, but we had two player pianos. We never could get them tuned and they player part didn't work, but we're a musical family who all can read music, so we played. We had them in a corner, side by side, so one kid would sit at one and the other kid at the other piano, and we'd play off of each other.

This is the brief part: It was quite possibly the ONLY bit of joy in my childhood. Those things quite literally saved my sanity, out of tune and all.

I was in the high school marching band for 2 years (it was either band or p.e...I didn't realize it was a marching band...whoops!) and "played" clarinet. I could never memorize the music for parades so what's why I use the term "played" loosely. For parades I would just move my fingers...without playing! No one ever knew, but I can guarantee I was the best marcher out there! Couldn't play now if my life depended on it!

oh god I can't Beth. I love to pitch in about crummy target women, and middle names and sleepless nights and all that.

but my violin? part of me growing up... mostly in its case since all the babies started arriving, and when I checked it after the last move, the fingerboard had dropped flat to the wood.

translation - completely unplayable and probably unmendable. and I'm way too scared to get a quote - we're doing well at the moment, but that doesn't in anyway mean we can go shelling out for musical instrument hire - i mean, that's not exactly a nessesity is it? I mean, I'm not going to die if I can't ever play it again...


apparently :(

My parents made me take piano lessons, as they noticed I developed an interest in playing the piano. But like Chris, I've never had any interest in reading sheet music, so practicing was painful and I gave it up as soon as I could, which to this day makes them sad and they insist that I can still play the piano beautifully, which isn't true because the only songs I can play are the ones I made up, which I think I can count on 2 fingers.

I think that when I was little my parents came upon their piano in much the same way: my mother's parents had inflicted the pain of piano lessons on her, and since she had older siblings who still could try to boss her around, she ended up with the piano when it was up for grabs, thus forcing the dreaded lessons onto her own children.

I ended up taking piano lessons for YEARS. At least ten, maybe more. Oddly enough, my sisters got out of it, and took lessons for much less time than I did -- oh, the pains of an oldest child. I can actually play quite well, although I eventually stopped because I don't like to play when other people can hear me -- even just to practice.

I do, however, look forward to a day when I can inflict the pain of lessons and practice on my own children. After all, turnabout is totally fair play. Right?

I'm a daughter of a pianist (really) so I appreciate music in any form in our house - and though I can read music, and hope my kids adopt something musical in their futures, I don't know how strongly I feel about reading music. At 32, I'm learning a whole new way to read music (guitar) and it's hard - wish I could just play... I think there's definite advantages, but I'd settle for not sounding light fighting cats (as I do every time I play a bar chord on my guitar).

My great grand-mother came from what must have been a relatively well off family in Minnesota. For her 21st birthday, her parents bought her a 6-foot tall pump organ. She married my great-grandfather who came over from Sweden. He was given land in Canada where they moved. To be given land on the prairies was no gift - they lived in a tiny log cabin with that 6-foot tall fancy pipe organ.

The organ now resides in my mother's living room. I played the organ much in the same way that Mia plays the piano until an electric organ was purchased to torment me from ages 6 to 13.

My grandmother played piano and I remember sitting with her as she played, and she would teach me songs (or pieces of songs). I took lessons from age 6 to 17 from a woman who I initially called "The Piano Lady" who we knew from church. I was piano accompaniest for the preschoolers at church for several years. And most recently, I made a piano CD at a real music studio (not for sale - just to honor someone special and share with people close to me) -- that was one of the very best experiences of my life, and I keep trying to think of an excuse to go back and do another one. :-)

So, the piano and I? There are deep bonds, many emotions banged out on those keys. It was my voice for many years before I found my actual voice well into an adult.

I have no musical ability at all. Never took piano lessons, took flute lessons for half a summer, but I missed the first half when everyone else started b/c I was at my dad's. I was so far behind and couldn't catch up, plus I had no natural ability, so I was screwed. I wish I had learned to at least read music.

My husband wants our kid to take piano lessons until she leaves the house (practically). I say she should have to take them for 1 year and then can choose whether she wants to continue. This is one issue he will not be swayed on and I fear my kid will hate the piano because of it one day.

My story is almost identical to yours. My mom played for years at a fairly high level. I was also forced into lessons and agonized over every 30 minute torture session. No other siblings (they are all much older) were forced into playing so when the time came for my mom and dad to remodel their home (yes, the one I grew up in) I was the child that got the piano. In this case all the children wanted the piano, but because I was the only one that endured the torture of lessons I was gifted the beautiful piece of art. It really is gorgeous. It was made in 1938 and has the original ivory keys. It's in immaculate shape because we were all threatened within an inch of our lives if we ever touched the piano without first washing our hands.

Today it sits in my living room, largely unplayed but it's still a gorgeous piece of art, in my mind anyways.

good work not talking about yourself :) but seriously, i loved all that about your special piano...

I can't play anything. We didn't have much money growing up.

Will starting the kids earlier on the piano help keep their interest? Asking because I'm so clueless about when, how and such.

I took piano lessons for about a year when I was 7 or 8. Never learned to read music, and didn't really care about it, so I gave it up. Then in 4th grade, when we were allowed to start learning instruments in elementary school, I started the flute. Again, the problem with not knowing how to read music came into play, and I flunked flute. How do you flunk that? So I don't play, though I can bang out "Twinkled Twinkle Little Star" and the Jeopardy theme if a piano's in front of me.

DH, on the other hand, played the violin for a year in middle school, and the trumpet in middle and high schools, and all four years in college. Now he suffers from hearing loss and should be wearing hearing aids. Oh well.

Well I guess I'm the odd man...uh, woman...out here. My mom is a musician and after YEARS of refusing the idea of becoming a musician, I um, became a musician. I still totally suck at piano and can only accompany my violin students on a limited number of pieces I make them learn. Because I can play those piano parts. My college degrees are in music (viola), so I'm pretty good at reading the squiggles. Some days. Now I teach a vast violin army of 6 year olds who hopefully are not going to grow up saying they were tortured in violin lessons as a child. That would make me sad, because I love teaching them and hope they are having a great time learning.

ooh, I played flute for all of 10 seconds. I joined band in 5th grade because all my friends did (I was also in the choir, so my winter concert that year was a two-fer!), and all my friends played flute. The band director looked like a pedophile, and it creeped me out, so after all my friends started quitting (shortly after the winter concert!), I did, too. I rarely practiced, and instead of holding my (rented) flute straight to the side, I always ended up holding it angled down. lol :) there is video footage in existence somewhere of me at that winter concert, and I had permed hair & was wearing a fuzzy sweater with a plain black skirt. it was awful. :) every once in a while, I peruse ebay in search of a flute, but I don't think there's any way I could remember how to play. Also, it would be cool for only another 10 seconds before I got over it & it would sit in the closet forever and ever and ever. I got an acoustic guitar for my birthday 6-7 years ago (major drama when I got that, too! I almost got kicked out of my house for it, heh.), and I taught myself to play the one intro/song I wanted to learn how to play, and now THAT sits in the closet, too. kind of a waste. :(

1) Thank God. After "The Piano" and "Bad Lieutenant" I've seen Harvey Keitel's penis enough times to last me the rest of my life.

That being said:

2) I have my parent's piano that they bought when I begged for one. I took lessons from 1st grade until we moved in 6th grade. I can read music so I can still pretty much play anything in the key of C.

Throw in a couple of sharps and I am a mess.

The piano hasn't been tuned in about 15 years and Claudia rocks it.

Growing up we had a beautiful really old upright in our house but no one could play. I think someone was getting rid of it and my dad, ever the packrat, decided to take it. I don't know what ever became of that piano.
I took flute lessons for one year in 5th grade. The instructor asked me to NOT come back the next year, I was THAT bad. Granted I dont think I ever practiced once.

My older son taught himself to play bass guitar and was in a band for awhile before I made him go to college. he can still play though. Our younger son started piano lessons in kindergarden and he really took to it. He's a natural. So we bought him a used spinet. (Not nearly as pretty as yours) and two years later he decided he wants to play drums. *sigh*

We have a piano in our house, passed along from a cousin-a-few-times-removed in my husband's family. He is a musician and band director, so he has a number of instruments (flute, clarinet) in addition to the trumpet and bass he plays as his main ones. Princess began taking clarinet lessons with the school band last year, and is also in middle school chorus. Hoss and Lil Joe have some of their dad's inate ability to put together random notes on the piano to create pleasant melodies.

Then there is me. The only way I play music is when I turn on my iPod or put in a CD. I've been banned from doing karaoke. My best contribution to musical performances is to clap loudly when the conductor turns around and bows.

I took piano lessons for about 7 years (from 5th-12th grade on and off). I'm not really any good now, but I can still barely read the music enough to bang out some tunes.

My piano growing up is/was a 1901 upright built by a manufacturer that went out of business between 1912 and 1914 if I'm remembering correctly. It's still sitting at my mom's house waiting for me. When I get it I'm planning a major renovation so that it is fully playable. It even has genuine ivory keys; which are so lovely.

The fact that this piano is still around astounds me. It went back up (narrowly missing my younger brother) when I was about 7. We've been told that in it's current condition it can only be tuned to itself and not true C. The strings are just too old to hold a true tune.

Anyway, that was enough rambling about my piano. I also played flute for a short time as well as saxophone, but piano is my preferred instrument. I'd love to torture my children with lessons!

I played the saxaphone growing up. I started in the second grade and played it until I was age 14. Then we moved and I gave it up. I was also in the high school marching band when I was still in what was the equivalent of middle school. The high school and mddle school were combined, although is seperate wings. The school was small and needed the middle schoolers to make a reasoanble sized band. The last year before we moved, the band director decided we needed less woodwinds and more brass in the band and I was learning to play the trombone. I can read music as a result and plunk out a simple tune on our piano, which is dormant most of the year except around Christmas when the kids return to play on it.

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