Piano Girl

I took piano lessons for five years as a kid. I started when I was 7 years old, and finally gave up the ghost when I was 12. I don’t know if my mother got tired of hearing me “find the lost chord” or if I finally convinced her that I totally lacked an ounce of talent. Maybe it was because I discovered I was more interested in boys and shopping than I was in practicing piano.

I took lessons from one of the best piano teachers in Nebraska, likely the very best in our small community. Her name was Isabelle. She was unmarried, someone we would very unpolitically correctly call a spinster in those days. She had brown hair that she wore in a pageboy style, and glasses that sat on the bridge of her nose. She had attended a prestigious music school in St. Louis (which for this Nebraska girl might have been as good as in Paris). Her last name was the same as my mother’s maiden name, and we were purportedly related somehow. Second cousins was what I was always told. Now that I’m older, I’m pretty sure it was more distant than that, perhaps one of those once- or twice-removed thingys.

Isabelle’s studio was across the street from Dad and Mom’s bakery, right next to the movie theater. You would enter in a door sort of hidden from the street, and would find yourself in a foyer with stairs leading up to her studio. The studio contained two pianos — the one at which she gave her lessons and the one at which we performed our recital performances. She might have allowed those with considerably much more talent than I use that fancier piano during lessons. Why waste the precision tuning on my banging on the keys?

I hated recitals. We were required to memorize our pieces of music. Before every performance, I sweated bullets worrying that I would forget my piece of music, despite the fact that Mother made me practice every single solitary afternoon for a half hour. I pounded the keys with one ear waiting to hear the time ding when I could run outside and play with my friends. I am living proof that worrying really is a waste of time most of the time, because I couldn’t tell you whether or not I ever forgot a piece of music. What I can tell you is that my mom and dad were always present at the recitals, as were my grandparents, dressed in their church clothes.

I credit Isabelle with my knowledge and appreciation of classical music, such that it is. We rarely played popular music; instead, we played Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven. Even today, when I hear someone playing Fur Elise, it takes me right back to that music studio.

By the way, I wasn’t the only one who learned to play piano. Bec led the way, also taking instructions from Isabelle. She always had considerably more talent than me, and I would bet she would attribute the fact that she originally majored in music in college to Isabelle’s influence. Jen, too, took lessons, but not from Isabelle. She was able to play those popular songs for which I yearned.

While it’s been years since I’ve played piano (despite the fact that it was one of the first things I insisted we buy when we bought our Denver house), Bec has never stopped. In fact, she plays every day for a certain amount of time. She loves music, and she loves playing the piano. She also believes that playing music helps keep her brain sharp. I’m sure it does.

Maybe when I return to Denver, I will brush the Cheeto crumbs from the piano keys that were left by my grands and see what I can remember.