I hate pictures of myself, but there is one in my photo album that I just love. It was taken on my First Communion Day, and it shows me sitting at the old upright piano in our basement, still in my white dress and veil, playing “Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis.” You’d think I’d be playing something a little more sacred, but that was the first song I learned to play by ear.
Prior to that, my greatest hits included “The Boat,” “The Typewriter” and “Swinging Along,” which was my first song for both hands. “Swinging along, singing a song, playing with two hands together!”
I took piano lessons for 12 years and I played guitar for most of my life. I even played in a few friends’ weddings. (Think Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Wedding Song.”)
I was frightened away from piano lessons when my teacher decided to introduce me to an incomprehensible piece by Bartok that I seem to remember was in 9/13 time.
My guitar-playing career was cut short when I broke my left wrist and permanently rearranged most of the bones.
Before you feel sorry for the music world, I will admit to trying my hands (pun) at the piano again. The last difficult piece I had started years ago was “Rhapsody In Blue,” so I decided to give it a go again.
I believe George Gershwin is spinning like a lathe in his grave right now.
I didn’t expect to sit down and pick up where I left off, but I sure don’t remember it being this difficult. To my lazy eyes, “Rhapsody In Blue” now looks like someone layered another piece of music over it when printing it. As the Emperor of Austria pronounced in “Amadeus,” the problem was simply too many notes.
I guess it would be cheating to go online to find an easy version of it in big whole notes and in the key of C.
So I decided to backtrack a little and try playing a few Scott Joplin rags. “Maple Leaf Rag” was sort of recognizable and “Solace” went well. I started to get cocky, so I pulled up the sheet music for a few Beethoven sonatas. Any 4-year-old can play “Moonlight Sonata,” so I started there. It’s a good thing it’s meant to be played slowly. Then I tackled most of “Sonata Pathetique,” and it really was pretty pathetique.
Playing music is not like riding a bike. I haven’t been on a bike in 50 years, but I’m pretty sure I could hop right on one and ride it around the block without hitting a curb or a tree.
The problem with having any kind of musical training is that I can hear what I’m doing wrong. That’s why I don’t even attempt to sing. I can’t carry a tune in a suitcase, but at least I know it.
I don’t want to go back to those awful finger exercise books. I just want to sit down and play like I used to, for relaxation and fun. I want to be able to sight-read classical pieces and play popular songs by ear. But I also want to be tall and thin, so perhaps it’s time to be a little more realistic.
My hands are a little arthritic, my glasses are trifocals (if they made quadfocals, I’d get them) and I just don’t have the patience or the strict mother to make me practice every day. I’m still trying, but it’s starting to look like I should stick with “Fur Elise” and “Jingle Bells.”
They say music hath charms, but not the way I play it.