Confessions of a piano student.

Regular guest author Simon Reich (pictured above as a little boy) has a confession to make… 

“I’d let down my piano teacher, my parents and ultimately myself, by not being able to read music better than my grades suggested”. This was the unfortunate soundtrack playing inside my head, each time I went to piano lessons.

But deep inside me a sleeping talent was about to emerge – and I didn’t yet know it!

To understand the build-up to this moment, we need to go back a few years to a little six-year-old, walking the 396 steps from the family home to his piano teacher. (Yes, I did count those paces from home).

My parents didn’t ask me if I wanted to learn piano – it was just assumed I needed to go around the corner to Mrs. Lean and have a musical education. My siblings were thrust into the same fate, but neither of them have taken it any further since quitting in their primary school years. The half hour lessons with Mrs. Lean, came and went each Tuesday at 4:30pm, except for school holiday periods, and the years passed in a monotony of old fashioned tunes with funny names, forced practice at home and end-of-year concerts.

Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, playing piano was akin to ballet dancing, and for a boy it was a point of teasing and name calling. This was the period that I really wanted to give up lessons for good, but a big part of me saw quitting as “failing”, and recognised the disappointment I would bring my parents. So despite the bullying, musical lethargy and internal anguish, I kept going. (This trait of mine has proved to be a blessing and a curse, as I just don’t know when to quit. But thankfully in this case, it was a blessing).

Reading music was not something I knuckled down and persevered with. Because my ear was quite tuned to pitch and timing, I only needed my piano teacher to play a tune once through, to then be able to mimic without the “hassle” of reading the black dots on the page.

Little did I know that I was cheating myself out of an education, when my brain was at it’s most pliable and ready to accept this new language I was being fed.

It’s probably about now, piano purists may leave my story, as I bring up the subject of rock and popular music. Until now, the guitar and drums had been the mainstays of music we heard on the radio, but in the late 60’s and early 70’s and with better amplification, the black and white keys started to muscle their way into mainstream music and it was about now that my opening quote was to be a daily mantra. “I’d let down my piano teacher, my parents and ultimately myself, by not being able to read music better than my grades suggested”.

All of a sudden though, I could see an outlet for my musical training and started to pick out tunes on the piano I’d heard that day on the speakers all over the place. The sleeping beast was being awakened and not only was I copying other people’s tunes, but making up my own little pieces.

Because the technical ability of fingering, chordal constructions, keys, scales, time signatures etc. were all behind me, I was starting a lot further up the ladder than I had given myself credit for. It’s true – I wasn’t a brilliant reader of sheet music – and yet I would go on to compose, record and perform for the rest of my life on a daily basis. (fingers crossed)

It’s only as I grow older, that questions have popped up in the back of my mind:

  • Why did my parents send me to music lessons?
  • In their minds, was it part of a well rounded education?
  • If there hadn’t been a piano in my home growing up, (my mother played for church) would have I ever stuck at it?
  • Was forcing me to go to a piano teacher and eventually my own obsessive stickability, a blessing in disguise?
  • Are some people “pre-disposed” towards music, and lessons merely unlock “technical hitches” to their eventual enlightening?
  • Do some people have “musical awakenings”?
  • If I’d never had lessons, would have I naturally gravitated towards an instrument of my own choice?

These and so many other questions like them may never be answered, but they certainly are food for a lively discussion on the subject!

P.S. The picture above, circa 1967, shows the first recorded picture of me touching the black and white keys. Admittedly it was an organ 🙂

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

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