It’s Christmas! We’re waiting on my brother to arrive before we open gifts … In the meantime here’s a story about a time I looked like an idiot. Not a Christmas theme, but an every day theme for yours truly.
Also, the banner photo is of me waiting for the recital to start. Dig that costume.
Eat Your Heart Out, Horowitz
Me: “Did you stay til I played my song?”
My friend: “Oh … no …”
Me: “Ah … probably for the best. I screwed up big time.”
My friend: “Well I’m sure you weren’t worse than the girl who played [that one song].”
Me: “Actually I thought she was pretty good …?”
My friend: “Oh …”
Me: “Uh … So …”
My senior year of high school I finally got to take part in something I’d been wanting to do for a while – piano lessons. In seventh grade, when my family lived in West Point, New York, my mom saw that a piano was for sale. It was a good piano – and a good price, too. A member of the West Point band was moving and didn’t want to deal with having the piano shipped.
My mom was thrilled: A piano!
My dad was not: A piano?
Naturally I had spent fourth grade making sweet cash money (I was a paper boy). I, like a young Scrooge McDuck, would take every penny I earned and deposit it. I was in fourth grade, I couldn’t be irresponsible and spend my money on toys! Heck no! What if a recession hits!?
I loaned my mom several hundred dollars (at a good interest rate … seriously, though for fun I calculated things like what if I charged 3% interest per day. I’m a real stud) and she bought the piano.
We got the piano and I tinkered around and memorized a few songs (by counting from the one note I knew – middle C), but eventually I became tired of this.
I’m sure my family had tired of it long before I had.
“I’ll be taking requests …”
“Anything but Good King Wenceslas! You play that stupid song like ten times a day!”
“Did I hear Good King W? That old fan fave? Out of season … but you got it!”
Senior year, though, this would change. I would learn to play the piano!
My neighbors took lessons from someone they enjoyed – so I was signed up under him as well. I told my piano man: I know squat, I’m moving in May, I want to learn songs. He was down with it.
About a month and a half into my lessons a word came up: Recital.
The Piano Man was happy with my progress – he wanted me to shoot for playing an easy version of The Entertainer for the recital. An easy version, but still pretty dang tough thank you very much.
The Piano Man and his wife both taught piano lessons, and most of their students were little kids. They decided, since the recital would be right before Halloween and the parents would gush over this, to have the recital be in costumes.
I practiced. And practiced. And watched “The Sting” (for costume research).
I could play The Entertainer beautifully. Standing up. Eyes closed. Lightning speed (The Piano Man told me not to, but come on, it’s fun).
The day came and on went my costume. Grey slacks, dark shoes, a white button up shirt, a ‘Newsboy’ hat (like Robert Redford wears in ‘The Sting’), and a bow tie.
The bow-tie was untied and just hanging around my neck. This gave me the look of a cool, rebel piano player. I didn’t know how to tie a bow-tie.
I arrived at the school where the recital was being held.
I realize The Piano Man and his wife had a requirement for what little kids they taught.
“My son would like to learn to play the piano …”
“Hmmm … not adorable enough. Sorry.”
Every stinking kid was leaking cute.
There were some other older looking kids (my neighbors included) who were slated to play good songs. What you’d expect from older kids.
Then there was me.
Six feet plus of gangly, much too tall and long-limbed to be cute – and yet, I still maintained the same piano skills as a child.
A classic case of: not cute.
As the recital went on I started to get more and more nervous. In class you can practice a speech in your head as your classmates go. But what could I do there? D … D sharp … E …
I was killing myself.
Finally the kid before me gets up to go.
His song was “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
He was in a dragon costume, and a pretty awesome one at that.
He aced the song.
You never heard a more beautiful “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
As he walked back to his seat you could feel a giant collective wave of “awww!”
My big, awkward, crappy piano skills turn.
I sit down the proper way you’re supposed to sit at a piano. Probably the first time I did that.
Oh nooo which key which key which key which key …
I press the right key.
I’m off to the races.
Do you know the song The Entertainer? Probably so – but you may not know that you know it. You don’t need to know the song for my story, but you do need to know one thing about the song (my short version in particular). The song starts, hits a sort of middle section, then repeats the first part. Then it ends with a kind of bang.
I managed to get through the first part ok – my fingers had trembled and were quite unsure of themselves at first but eventually it almost felt like normal. Time for the middle break part before I repeat what I’d just played and –
That wasn’t the right key!
Oh no …
That wasn’t the right key!
My fingers and mind were going there separate ways.
My mind saying things like, “oh no oh no oh no oh no,” while my fingers poked at keys like a child – amused that each key made a noise.
The Piano Man had told me so many times to practice at the right pace. Don’t play unnecessarily fast. Whoops.
I skipped the second half of the song and tore through the end part.
The song was over.
I had played the start ok, ‘stumbled’ through the middle part, skipped the second half all together (bravo! A daring artistic move!) and played the end lightning fast.
The next thing I know I’m at my seat, by my parents, embarrassed and wanting to leave.
My dad told me later that, when I’d finished, I stood up and faced the crowd and shrugged.
I really don’t remember that – I was too freaked out – but I think that was probably the perfect ending to my piano debut.