Hide It Under a Bushel, No! continued

Faithful readers will remember that last week we left a young but determined Janet searching for talent and thinking she might find it at the piano.

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PART II

Mom agreed I could take piano lessons. She enrolled me with Mrs. Rowe, a patient lady with an imposing bosom, who shed talcum powder as she sat beside me on the piano bench and did her best.

I pounded away at the keyboard for a couple of years, earning saliva-smudged, gold stars when I mastered a piece, and then decided I should debut. I began to badger my mother about playing in church. With what I considered unseemly reluctance, she secured an invitation for me to perform during evening services.

Mrs. Rowe recommended I play March of the Wooden Soldiers because I thumped it out quite nicely. I tortured my family for two weeks with its four-page arrangement, practicing it over and over, demanding a critique after each repetition.

Finally, I had it — except for the last five measures, which contained a scale quickly rippling down three octaves, followed by a series of resounding chords. I usually bumbled the opening notes of the scale and had to start over.

I ran out of practice time before I could correct this unfortunate glitch.

On Sunday evening, I donned a pink, dotted-Swiss dress Mom made for my performance and wriggled nervously in a pew until my solo was announced. Face fiery red, I walked forever through somber silence to the piano sitting near the podium.

I plopped down, peered at unrecognizable notes, and sounded the opening chords, my heart leaping so high it clogged my sinuses.

As I played, my situation worsened. The strange surroundings closed in, narrowing my vision, causing me to pant with claustrophobia and drip with sweat. But I didn’t falter. The wooden soldiers and I marched on and on and on and on toward the final measures.

At last, I began the scale. Five notes later, my little finger failed to bridge over my thumb. Silence reigned. I started over. Again, I tripped on my thumb. Sinking so low my chin rested on middle C, I tried once more. And finished.

Mom assured me no one would hold that minor mistake against me. My younger sister said she thought the music was supposed to stumble around at the end, like maybe one soldier was drunk. I said nothing, just crawled back under my bushel.

A few years later, a fire, which burned our home and possessions, consumed my talent as well: no piano, no lessons. I don’t remember minding.

Still, on occasion, I sit at our piano and hammer out basic tunes to the accompaniment of a CD that came with a recent purchase, “Piano for Dummies.” These efforts build neither talent nor skill, but a quiet sense of enjoyment.

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22 thoughts on “Hide It Under a Bushel, No! continued

  1. I too took piano lessons, for 11 years. My mother played and hoped one of her girls might be a concert pianist, I think. I stayed with it the longest, but really wasn’t very talented. I could read music and memorize the pieces, but I didn’t have the natural ear that some of the other students had. Nor the discipline. I remember telling my piano teacher before one of my lessons that I had “dropped my glasses in the bathtub and broken them and therefore couldn’t practice that week.” I am sure she bought that excuse for a horrible lesson. I participated in recitals for parents each year and then graduated to competitions with real judges. My last competition I was a junior in high school, stayed out too late with my boyfriend the night before, didn’t get my hair completely dry on the enormous rollers I used and was told by one of the judges that my dress was too tight. That was my last competition, my last year of taking lessons. I do not have a piano and haven’t since leaving home at age 21. I do remember though that playing the piano took care of whatever my mood happened to be. If I was mad or upset I played a song I could “bang” out. If I was sad, pensive or just needed an escape I could find something to play that fit. I will still sit down and play a song when I go home to visit. Fur Elise was one of my favorites that I memorized. I have to use music now but it has a movement that fits almost every mood. Aunt Beulah I have a couple tubs of piano music that I can’t use if you would like to look thru it sometime. I have some golden oldies in there for sure.

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    • What a funny, well written comment, Jeannie. The image of you at your last recital made me laugh aloud, and I loved your description of not having the natural ear or discipline of others. Me tot. Do you think it’s time for lunch?

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  2. Piano lessons were unheard of in my little town, but at school we had an ancient specimen of a piano, one equally elderly teacher could play it. We would all crowd into the basement, it still had blackout curtains from the war. (This was 1965) Mrs Orris played “Who Is Sylvia” “Come To The Garden Maud”, and rounded out our time with When The Saints. I still love the corny old songs.Thanks great Post.

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  3. Your piano post took me back in time… My grandmother always compared me to my cousin Elizabeth who was, alas, accomplished. I preferred boys at the time. My mother could play the most beautiful chords (that was all), and like your father, her voice could be heard above all others in church. My daughter Betsy’s lessons were scheduled near suppertime, so Mrs. Block was most often otherwise occupied, which didn’t matter as – she preferred horses at the time. You’ve inspired me to get my blog begun by the end of the week. Can’t wait!
    Thank you for the shove to do it…

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  4. I can relate to this in so many ways since recently I decided I wanted a talent I could be proud of, and chose to take violin lessons since it seemed interesting. But I don’t know if I’m actually good at it, if I should hide it under a bushel or put more effort into learning it and becoming great at it. Do you ever wonder what would’ve happened if you continued the lessons? Or do you think you’ve made the right decision?

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    • Interesting question. I wish I’d continued long enough to have engrained more skill and technique, which would have increased my pleasure in playing for myself now. But I think I could have taken lessons forever and still have fallen short of entering competitions or dazzling audiences like my role model Mavis.

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  5. I took piano lessons for ten years, but never really enjoyed it as a child — it was my mother’s idea to start the lessons. As a teenager, though, I realized that I really did love to play, and found the piano a nice way to unwind when I was feeling stressed. I think I could have been very good if my heart had been in it when I was younger. Still, I’m glad for what I did learn, and it’s nice to hammer out a tune now and then even if it’s not perfect. My favorite is Moonlight Sonata. I’ve played it so much that everyone else is sick of it, but I’ll never tire of it.

    I find it hard to admit when something I thought was a talent really isn’t, but once I get over that hump, it’s nice to do some things for the sheer joy instead of trying to impress others with perfection.

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    • What wisdom lies in your last paragraph, Jennifer, and you learned it at a much younger age than I did. But as I aged, “sheer joy” did become more important than impressing others. That’s why I write: it gives me great personal pleasure.

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  6. Piano – Piano – Piano!!! Man alive I remember the lessons I struggled through with Ms. Flint!!! She insisted that we sing along with our piano playing – IT WAS TORTUROUS!!! Prancing Poodles (my one and only recital piece) will ALWAYS hold a place in my heart and NOT a special place!! 🙂

    One funny story, however – People always think that just because you know how to play the piano, you KNOW how to play any song. This, however, is not true!! I have never wanted to play in front of people but I did accept the calling to play in church for the Relief Society. This lasted FAR TOOOOO LONG and now I’m in the Young Women’s organization where no one else knows (or claims not to know) how to play the piano. A couple of weeks ago, we had a visitor in our class. Her name was Jenny and she has Down Syndrome. I struggled through the opening hymn while my girls sang as softly as they could. When we finally managed to end the song (hallelujah) Jenny piped up and said “THAT WAS JUST HORRIBLE”!!!! HA HA HA!!! How funny!! She was the only one honest enough to tell us how we sounded!!! I still laugh every time I tell that story!!

    I’ll never be perfect at my piano playing skills, but it is a stress relief at times!!

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  7. Great Post, Janet! I couldn’t help but cringe as I remembered my own feeble attempts to make music during the piano recitals of my youth. I applaud you for still being willing to sit at the piano!

    I was waiting to find out what your special talent would be. However, I agree with some of the commenters on your previous post that your special talent is, indeed, storytelling. As this post so aptly illustrates!

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    • Thank you, Rita. I come from a family of story tellers, so didn’t see telling stories as anything special while growing up; thus my mediocre attempts at singing, piano, and, as I’ll relate in a future post, art.

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  8. Piano lessons weren’t offered to me as a child, but accordion lessons were. I learned to play, and started to be “accomplished” at it, until I hit my teens. Then all I could do was complain, complain, complain. It was tough tugging that accordion down the street just to lug it back up the street, uphill in both directions! How I envied my sisters, and the talent they had on the piano. (Still do to this day) They didn’t have to carry their instrument with them. But now as I’m older, and my accordion sits in the guest room closet, I am grateful for the lessons I was given, the opportunity I had of learning a talent and the sacrifice my parents gave. If I could go back, I would practice longer, try harder and “accomplish” more. Now, I can sit at the piano and play the right hand of just about any song. Something I couldn’t do if I hadn’t been given the opportunity.

    As my son has finished his High School years of Marching Band and Drum line, I hope that he looks back on the 8 years of music that he received with fond memories. The kind of memories that make you smile. I know my memories do…. especially when I hear a mean polka playing in the background.

    As always, I LOVE your posts!

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  9. And, as always, I LOVE hearing from you, Dawna. I’ve been surprised by the meaningful, funny stories like yours that this post elicited.I don’t remember your accordion, but I wish I did. But I’ll always remember your last line: “especially when I hear a mean polka playing in the background.” It’s perfect.

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