Thursday, January 13, 2011

PLAYING PIANO FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE

I don't claim to be a very good piano player.  I play well enough to get by and to receive some enjoyment from it.  I began taking lessons when I was around the third grade in school and fell in love with the idea of playing music at once.  I never could play by ear and I never learned how to play chords on the piano.  I learned how to play what was written.

My first piano teacher was a preacher's wife named Billie.  I can't remember the last name but she was a good teacher.  She was patient and understanding and would spend as long as it took to learn a lesson until the lesson was learned.  Then she moved on to the next one and showed the same patience all over again.  I remember learning how to recognize the notes on the written page and soon began to realize I could play about anything.

My next teacher was Anne Allard.  Not so patient this one.  I was at a point in my ability where I should be able to learn a song and play it the way it was written.  That "way it was written" was what caused some friction between myself and Mrs. Allard.  I had discovered that I could take shortcuts in my playing and make the music sound decent and play at a better tempo by omitting some notes that were written down.  If I had heard a song before, I could pick up the melody from the score and then fake the left hand notes by dropping some of them and sometimes all of them.  This did not sit well with Mrs. Allard and the fact that she was demanding I play the music the way it was written did not sit well with me.  I wanted to play so I enjoyed it for myself, not so others could necessarily enjoy it.  It wasn't long before my piano lessons stopped while I was learning a new instrument called the French Horn for school band.

My parents had bought an old used piano that use to be in a bar somewhere for us kids to practice and to play on.  My sister was an excellent player and she tended to play songs that mom and dad would enjoy like "The Missouri Waltz" or "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" kind of thing.  I wanted to play  the popular music of the times like Three Dog Night or The Beatles and even some Alice Cooper.  In my mind these songs were meant to be played with a bit more volume than Elaine played her mushy music at.  This did not sit well with mom and dad.  Many times I was told not to play so loud or at all.  Soon I became a musical recluse, playing only when I was by myself.

Barb and I were recruited to form a children's choir at church.  I was to play piano for the kids while Barb taught them the songs.  I was okay with this because I didn't think I would be playing in front of anybody but the kids and the kids didn't care how well I could play.  I would start each session with the kids by playing some rock song for them out of my music books and I could play it as loud as I wanted.  Our room was far away from the church services so nobody cared.  Barb continued to teach the kids and when we changed churches, she started another kids choir.  The first months of her choir she used a tape recorder as accompaniment for the kids to sing to.  This worked out because they would use the tape when the kids sang in front of the church.  All was well.  I was not playing in front of anyone and Barb had her choir.

Then came a time when she didn't have a tape for a song and she asked me to help her teach the kids by playing the piano.  I agreed and a whole new generation of non-caring kids heard my piano playing.  This was fine until Barb decided that the song she did not have a tape for would be sang in front of the church.  I would have to play in front of people.  I did not want to, but it was going to be on a Sunday night so the crowd would be small and I told her I would.  I was nervous that night and did not play very well even for me, but there was someone in the congregation that night who liked my talent.  Her name was Martha and after church she asked me if I would play piano for her Sunday School class.  MY immediate response was a big no.  I don't play in front of people.  I am not comfortable with that at all.  Then I learned about Martha's class.

Martha taught Sunday School to a group of adults from a nearby home for the mentally handicapped.  I went in and sat in on a few of her classes and realized that these people were bright and eager to learn.  They also loved to sing and truth be told they did not sing very well.  I thought about it and I could see myself playing for these new friends of mine.  I told Martha yes, I would.

The list of songs we played and sang did not change much.  They knew the songs from memory so it was difficult for Paul, who led the singing for the class, to throw in many new songs.  Basically I would go in there and play the same ten songs or so every week.  My playing was appreciated and was not judged.  They loved having the piano to go with their singing.  My playing was not much worse than their singing so we made a good fit.  If I missed a day they would be upset and grill me about my absence the next week.  Once Barb came in to talk to me while we were getting ready for Sunday School and a few of the students got upset with her.  She was to leave the piano player man alone and the shooed her out of the room.

My playing for that class made leaving that church a difficult decision but it was something I had to do.  Church politics in the church was causing a conflict within myself and Barb and I felt it would be best for us to move on.  So I left the church and left my friends in the Sunday School Class behind.

I haven't played in public since that time.  I was never more comfortable playing for people than I was for that special group of people.  They did not care how loud I played or how soft.  They did not care if I made mistakes.  All they wanted was to enjoy the music.  That was the same thing I wanted.  I wanted to just enjoy music and enjoy making music with them. Now I find myself playing when I am home alone again.  I like it that way.

I miss that time I played for them.  I miss them.  Never again will I play for such a great group of people.

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