Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time (or just Wrinkled by Time)...Piano lessons

 Piano lessons

Brady and Parker have started piano lessons recently with a “real” teacher (not just “grandma”lessons) which makes me remember that piano lessons were a very big part of my younger life.

  When I was about eight, my folks bought a piano so I could begin taking lessons. My Grandpa Earl was an accomplished pianist. I think his mother, Grandma Clara, envisioned him as a concert pianist, but his career was literally “cut” short when at age 14 he severed the first knuckles of two of his fingers in an accident in a machine shop where he was working part time. Despite this he continued playing, although not at the concert level. In the 1920 census, he gives his occupation as “musician”, although he actually became an insurance broker.

 I remember him playing  “Chances Are” (Johnny Mathis), when I was a little girl in the 50’s. Grandma Dorothy gave me his piano when she moved to Rossmore and now it’s being played by his great great grandchildren! (I'll insert picture of them here when I get it)

   Grandpa Roger also took piano lessons for several years beginning when he was about five...I don’t ever remember him playing, but I do have some fairly advanced piano music that was his.
On the other side of the family, Grandma Janiece’s biological father, John Leslie Walters, played background music as he showed the silent pictures to the attentive audiences in various small southern Utah towns, including Circleville, where he met and married Grandma Della. One of the only things Grandma Janiece had of her father’s after her parents divorced were several volumes of  piano music. They sit on our bookshelf at home.

So you can see that parental expectations of my musical talent was pretty pressure, right? My first teacher was Mrs. Junqua. I walked about six blocks to her home for my lessons, over a mile, on the other side of busy Bascom Ave....I was eight!
      I remember sitting at her grand piano with my feet barely reaching the floor.  I worked my way through Schaum Pre A, and most of Schaum A, and then it was time for my first recital. It was held at an auditorium in downtown San Jose with a big grand piano up on a stage. I was terrified. I played “Airey Fairies”(I can humm it if you like)...but I was never good at playing from memory because when I practiced I always started over at the beginning of a piece if I made a mistake. So when I made the inevitable mistake during my performance I just went back to the beginning and started over...I did that a couple of times until I figured I had played long enough, stopped rather abruptly, stood up, took my bow and escaped the stage.
      While I had enjoyed learning to play and the attention it brought from admiring parents and grandparents, performing was definitely a downside. Another downside was practicing. Young pianists can master most early music pretty easily (Here we go, in a row, to a birthday party)...but eventually there comes a time when it’s necessary to practice! I went through a few piano teachers after that, refusing to go to my lesson because I didn’t want to endure the disapproval of my teacher for not practicing! And I think I would often quit about the time the teacher mentioned the word “recital.” I don’t remember being in too many of them after that.

Eventually when I was about 12 I started taking from my Aunt Bonnie who was a “professional” piano teacher...I took the bus to her studio in downtown San Jose. Aunt Bonnie was Grandma Dorothy’s sister. She had great hopes for me; she had published a couple of books of organ instruction and talked about touring the US with me to demonstrate the success of her method...but after a couple of my lessons at her organ, she dropped the whole thing. I remember learning "Dream of Olwen" and "Theme from The Apartment".  Another of my favorite pieces was Rachmaninov's " Prelude in C#Minor."
   In high school I took from Helga...a  lady that also taught the Pace’s children. She came to their house on Saturday morning to give 3 or 4 lessons; my lesson was at 7 am! I also practiced now, getting up at 5 am to practice before getting picked up for 6 am Seminary. Once I got my driver’s license I drove to her house out off Lark Avenue for lessons at a more reasonable hour. She was an interesting person....although not LDS, she had lived in Salt Lake where she had been a paid organist for a couple of wards in downtown SLC. Her house had all white shag carpets and no furniture except for two grand pianos. Once she invited me for dinner and we sat on the floor at a table made of a black door on stacks of bricks. My main memory of piano at this time was learning Bach’s Concerto in D Minor (click here if you want to know how it’s supposed to sound!)

 I just learned the first was 26 pages and, you guessed it, I was supposed to memorize it for a big recital. Memories of the evening include me making occasional mistakes and having to “back up” in the music to restart. My teacher was playing accompaniment...somehow she followed me, and I made it to the end...I think that was my last recital! Needless to say, I didn’t minor in music when I went to BYU!
    I was pretty much a “plodder” when it came to piano...I could play somewhat after many hours of pretty non productive practicing. I wish I had had a teacher who taught me how to practice efficiently.
   Tiny talent though I may have had, playing piano has brought me a lot of’s great fun to play (without an audience), it’s allowed me to bring some music into my children’s lives, it allowed me to teach and allowed me to be of service at church. As I used to tell parents of my students...either your child will hate you as a child for “making” them take piano, but love you as an adult because you gave them lessons...or they will love you as a child for letting them quit piano lessons, but “hate” you as an adult because you let them quit! You can’t have it both ways... Each Sunday as I play for Relief Society, I feel so appreciative of my parents, mainly my mom, for hanging in there and dragging me back to piano lessons despite my complaining.

1 comment:

  1. Wow mom, I never knew! Really interesting... I think I had 1 piano lesson before I got you to let me quit. But I don't hate you, just myself :)