Despite the title, this will be about the author – though, as will become clear, any lack of foolishness only applies to a very limited arena.
When I was a wee lad, of only some 5 or 6 summers, my parents sent me to have piano lessons with one Mrs Heath – who at the time seemed an unbelievably elderly crone and I now hope was not in her forties (I’m fairly sure she was actually old). This did not take and I swiftly gave up the piano for many years.
In the mid 1990s, I returned to the piano having watched the film Groundhog Day and been inspired by Bill Murray’s fictional progress with the instrument. I took regular lessons and even practiced between them on somewhat regular basis. I have some reason to believe that I reached the dizzy heights of a poor Grade 4 (without any theory) at this time. However, I then moved and a 200+ mile commute for piano lessons seemed impractical. It was clearly time to find a new piano teacher!
At this stage, some time passed. A mere two decades or so seem to have elapsed. In this hiatus between teachers, I will admit that my application to regular practice has been less than exemplary and I would have to further own that my skills have at best stagnated – and, if I’m honest, deteriorated. However, I think even my harshest critic would struggle to claim that, like a fool, I had rushed into selecting a new master to take me as his disciple.
As those unfortunate enough to have befriended me on Facebook – or, worse, had my friendship thrust upon them – will know, this past Tuesday I finally had my first piano lesson of the bright new/only mildly tarnished millennium. Many lessons were learned! Some of which I will share with you gentle readers…
To avoid annoying the neighbours (and more publicly embarrassing myself) with the relative poor and repetitive nature of my piano practice, I have for many years listened to my piano playing only through headphones. The instrument sounds rather different when its vibrations are allowed to interact with a whole room before hitting my ears. I say this not to excuse my performance, merely as an interesting side note.
It has also been many years since I have had an audience for my piano playing. It would appear that, much like events in the quantum domain, my piano playing is affected by the presence of an observer. Were I to know the precise location of any finger, I would have absolutely no idea as to which note it should have been playing and vice versa: curse you Heisenberg! There was also a small issue of my left-hand, in particular, coming down with a nasty case of the hippy hippy shake – to the extent that my teacher inquired whether this was a pre-existing condition. Luckily, that evening I bumped into a friend who is also learning the piano later in life and who suffers from exactly the same symptoms – in her case, her teacher thought she had Parkinson’s – so I am not alone. I do not have this problem with the guitar – perhaps because from the start I have played it to a small audience (my guitar teacher) – so I have some hope that I can recover from this nasty attack of shy competence.
Despite the prolonged car crash – as I perceived it – that characterised my performance during my first lesson, my teacher was surprisingly positive about my skills. I think at one stage he accused me of demonstrating some musicality – or at the very least following the marked phrasing and dynamics. This may, of course, by a cunning teacher’s trick to boost a pupil’s self-worth and if so, it has worked like a charm.
It was, frankly, amazing how much I learned in the course of this first 21st century lesson. A lot of bad, or at best marginal behaviour, can become ingrained over two decades. As can a worrying degree of blindness: I discovered the importance of the note D to a piece I have been playing – on and off – for 22 years. Suddenly, the chords make so much more sense – rather than just being random jumps of the left-hand across the keyboard. In recent blog-related news Hanon is out! My route to the world of the virtuous pianist will not involve his sixty exercises – yay! In their place come interesting new scale-based exercise that my fingers are itching to get to grips with (gratification has been delayed by travelling for work and the absence of a practice piano for guests at the Premier Inn). I even have a couple of pieces to prepare for my next lesson: an actual, externally-set objective! In bad news for my neighbours, I have decided to start practicing without headphones. I feel this ups the ante for my concentration and may help with the audience issue: summary eviction will be small price to pay!
So, let’s raise a toast to old dogs revisiting old tricks and then (whisper it quietly) learning new ones!