Monday, October 4, 2010

Pianoless Man

The Load Out - Jackson Browne (mp3)
Fred Jones (Part II) - Ben Folds (mp3)

I quit piano in the spring of seventh grade.

It was cutting into time I thought was essential to my becoming an athletic success. Would that I were being sarcastic.

In the final two piano competitions I entered, I received “superior” ratings at both. Dunno what that meant exactly, but my teacher and parents acted like I was months away from Carnegie Hall.

“You’re going to regret this for the rest of your life,” my father told me when I said I was really really quitting. He’d told me this twice before, because I’d wanted to quit twice before, and his words had made me afraid to quit. Not because I thought I would regret it --  what 12-year-old worries about potential future regrets? -- but because I was so afraid of disappointing or angering my father.

My teacher insisted on classical music. There I am spending nights and ceaseless hours with my two best friends listening to Synchronicity and Grace Under Pressure and Jump. I’m watching hours of MTV (well, it's usually playing in the background while we’re enmeshed in one role-playing game or another). Nothing about Beethoven or Brahms correlated in my peanut brain with the music I loved, or I might have been more motivated to stick with the lessons. That she never even tried to connect those two worlds or even saw a reason to try is a fatal flaw I put on her. Pre-adolescents can’t predict regrets, and we can’t necessarily connect 200-year-old music with David Lee Roth without a little help.

Is it the job of a teacher or the job of a student to connect their passions and interests to the lessons at hand? Discuss.

I don’t regret quitting piano, but I regret never making a connection between my interests and my learning. It didn’t connect with the Thompson Twins, and I didn’t connect with Billy Joel.

When I hear Patty Griffin’s piano-centered songs, when Ben Folds shuffles into my earphones, when my Keane collection lands in the mix, nothing about those songs pull me into memories of my piano-playing childhood.

If I had remotely enjoyed Joe Jackson or Bruce Hornsby, maybe... but no. “Lonely Boy” and “I Don’t Like Mondays” were two of the 45s I played until they practically disintegrated, both plentiful with piano, but I doubt I ever really made the connection that the instrument I was learning was the same thing they used to make that music.

Ultimately, nothing about my own musical piano journey could have conceivably led me into an alternate future where I became Ben Folds and Ben Folds ended up some random NTAC blogger who just really really loved music.

I regret that I never connected all the dots, that I never quite found a way to marry, in my own hobbies and my own life, my love of music and my love of writing into anything symbiotic.

Fortunately, I’ve in most ways been a better cheerleader than one to earn the spotlight. (So what I mean is, cheerleading not as team sport but as something extant to support and encourage other teams.)

Regret requires, it seems to me, the ability to see an alternate reality, some better-seeming version of events that with one slight change in wind direction feels so real you can envision every moment of it. Fortunately (I think), I have never seen a version of events, an alteration of decision-making, that results in my being a successful and happy career musician, much less a rock star.

Sorry Dad. On this one you were wrong. But maybe one day, in the sweet by and by, we’ll get a chance to continue dueling our pianos.

3 comments:

cinderkeys said...

Can you acquire a cheap piano? A decent keyboard?

It isn't too late to do with music what you wish you'd done.

John said...

Billy,
You can have the piano in my house. For free, even.

Daisy said...

I definitely think it is up to the teacher to make the connection. Our neighbor is 8 and has been taking piano since he turned 6. He has to learn the old standards, but everytime he masters one he gets to learn something more to his liking like the theme from Star Wars.