Suffering through years of piano lessons

In the old days years before I was born, people were expected to know how to play the piano. My parents grew up in a swing and big band era where the most popular person at a party was they guy who could sit down at a piano and play popular music that everyone else could sing to or dance to. I was, I think expected to be a modern version of Cosmo, the piano player in “Singin’ In the Rain.”

What I wanted to play.

Unfortunately, the guitar was fast becoming the instrument of choice long before I was old enough to go to a party. Unfortunately, I was what is often called “beat deaf,” defined in the Wikipedia entry as “a form of congenital amusia characterized by a person’s inability to distinguish musical rhythm or move in time to it.”

My music teacher, who probably suffered through my years of piano lessons more than I did, focused on classical music. I grew up on classical music and liked it fine, but learning to play Chopin, Lizst, and Schumann didn’t appeal to me, plus classical music was written with the assumption that the pianist could co-ordinate the use of his/her left hand on the bass clef with what the right hand was doing on the table clef.

What I music teacher wanted me to play (Chopin’s Polonaise in A♭ major, Op. 53)

The best I was ever able to do was play music themes and other songs which allowed the left hand to play chords rather than what was written. Needless to say, I wasn’t the hit at any parties.

According to my parents, the “worst” thing I could play was my own mix of the traditional wedding march and the traditional funeral march. I think mother was in the kitchen fixing pork chops while I was in the livingroom ostensibly for my daily practicing when I tried that tune on for size. It didn’t take long for her to appear and ask WHAT IS THAT? I said I was trying to use music to express what I thought about marriage. She shook her head and went back to the kitchen. I switched over to “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” to which she shouted MUCH BETTER.

I never was invited to the Ed Sullivan Show or the Johnny Carson Show or to sit in with Paul Shaffer’s band on the Letterman show. I would have truly helped make it the world’s most dangerous band.

I still have the clarinet I used when my parents URGED me to play in my junior high and high school bands. But that’s another long and sordid story.

Malcolm

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