When I was a kid I learned to play the piano. It sounds simple, but first it required my mother accepting that I was serious about taking lessons, that I wasn’t too young, and that I wasn’t asking just because my sisters were doing it. She thought my sister could teach me for a while. Soon enough she realized her mistake, as my attempts to study my sister’s music sheets, instead of mine, led to many a loud fights. So I got my teacher.
I wasn’t the type to sit for hours, but rather, I would sit for a few minutes at a time, often throughout the day. I learned to read music, could never play by ear, and in over ten years I only composed one song. But I loved playing. I loved the feeling.
Then we moved, and I hated the new teacher. Then I started college, I left home and my first love behind. For years I missed it. I missed that feeling that only now, many moons later, I realize is akin to that higher level of consciousness yogis and other spiritual masters talk about. A place where your mind wonders to and escapes the every day grind, noise, hustle and bustle. Full concentration on the simple mechanics empty the mind, and with the music comes a certain stillness that takes over. I read somewhere that playing the piano is one of the few activities that requires action of both sides of the brain. It takes your whole being to another place. I just missed it.
A couple of years later I bought an electric piano. Back then I was doing over 100 hour weeks, so it didn’t get played. My roommate on the other hand was unemployed, and I would pathetically hide the cord before heading to work. I just could handle the fact she had time to play and I did not.
Then I started working for the UN. Initially it was a one year contract, but I never went back to the UK, where my piano was based. After years of denial I paid to have it sent to my sister’s theatre so that my piano would finally get played.
A few years, two kids and a couple of countries later, I decided to give it one more go. I signed up for lessons and everything, even though I had a new born and a one year old. Trying to foresee the difficulties of travelling with a piano I bought a keyboard instead. Big mistake. A keyboard is to a piano what aerobics are to a dancer, or being called American is to a Canadian. Needless to say it was a disaster. Then we moved, the keyboard’s speaker broke, and I never played it again.
It’s still in my room, the keyboard, taking up a large part of it. It still has no speaker.
But I missed the feeling. I missed it so much, I decided to do one more desperate attempt. I decided to buy a guitar. I thought maybe a completely new instrument would free me from the torture of watching my clumsy fingers on the keyboard as my brain repeats “you should be playing better”.
My husband, who has never seen me play the lonely piano, asked one more time
“are you sure you want a guitar for your birthday”
I closed my eyes, held my breath and jumped in
Two days before my birthday, way behind on work, a friend on holidays lent me her apartment so that I could focus without the kids running around. I went into the empty quiet space and was greeted by a bran new black piano. I looked at it, sat down, and played the only tune I could remember. Over and over again. Then I opened the sealed music sheet book, and found a tune I used to play, not too hard, but soothing and melodic, and played it, again and again. It was amazing. The feeling was back. Alone and with no pressure I could just give in, stop judging and enjoy it. It made me want to buy a piano again, and it made me feel like I was cheating on my guitar, even though we hadn’t even met yet.
I was conflicted, but realized my husband would probably lock me up and throw away the key, if I now said I wanted a piano to sit next to the lonesome keyboard and the brand new guitar. So I stayed quiet and kept my dirty secret.
Then my birthday arrived, and with it the very much awaited package. The guitar was beautiful. For some strange reason I remembered four chords I had known in another life, and strung them together, and it sounded like a tune, a tune I could sing along to, I could never do that with the piano, and I love to sing.
Maybe this was going to work after all.
One week in, I can play my made up tune and a clumsy “home on the range”. My fingers hurt so much they remind me of my nipples when I was trying to breastfeed. So does the fact that I keep doing what made them raw to begin with.
But the feeling is good. I can’t wait until I can play a tune without having to stop on account of the pain, or because my fingers refuse to get into the right order. I can’t wait to learn a tune the kids can sing along to.
I’m excited. I think this is going to work. And maybe, some years down the line, I can buy a piano to play along with my guitar.