4.21.2013

Half and Half: Juvenilia

This year, at the tender age of twenty-eight, I will have been a practicing pianist for half of my life. This realization actually comes as something of a surprise and subsequently offers the delightful opportunity to compile the following retrospective:

Juvenilia.
My first ever piano lessons were given to me by my father's mother, Grandma K1, at the even-more-tender age of five or six. I don't count these lessons in my "practicing pianist" estimation. My brother and I would walk down the block2 to my grandparents' house and I distinctly remember coloring in whole notes with crayons. Musical proficiency was rewarded with congratulatory stamps, not the ink pad kind, but ones that you tear from a little booklet and lick like a postage stamp. (I still have those somewhere.) I must have learned something because I recall performing "Oh When the Saints" (block chord accompaniment) for some sort of recital at the church where Grandma K played. However, when my family moved across the state when I turned seven the lessons/babysitting sessions ceased, and for all intents and purposes, I too ceased being a pianist.

Grandma K with arms full of grandkids: clockwise - sister Bethany (left),
me, brother Nathan, and two cousins.

Musically, I came away with very little3; but upon reflection I realize that this early, seminal experience planted seeds both potent and beautiful. I remember sitting on the black, wooden piano bench, the one with the hand-knit, olive-green cushion, in front of an enormous baby grand piano. Grandma K sat next to me and I remember somehow feeling very safe. Often people don't feel safe around pianos. Pianos are intimidating and complex and mysterious, a mistake-machine waiting to turn your every blunder into audible sound for the world to hear! And there I was, a shy, round-headed bumpkin, much more interested in LEGOs at the time, and the enduring sense I retain from those juvenile moments is simply my grandmother's constant enthusiasm, patience, and grace. As a music teacher I can attest to the difficulty inherent in cultivating such an association in students. And I can't help but think that having had that positive experience, the piano always remained an open door through the long fallow years, ready for the moment when I would take it up again.

Next time: Passing the Torch

1. Different posts will have to give a full account of the amazing musical life of this woman, as well as my maternal grandmother, Grandma B.
2. Actually we walked across a dusty field, into a copse of trees, and across a bridge spanning a dry creek. In a word, adventure!
3. "Three Black Bears Went Up Stairs" is a classic from this period, matched only by the equally compelling composition entitled "Three Black Bears Went Down Stairs."

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