As a child I listened to my grandfather playing on his baby grand piano, and I thought, “I wish I could do that.” I would look at the musical score and tried to figure out what it meant, but all I could understand were the letters ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘f’. Were they notes on the piano somewhere? I tried to play them but it didn’t sound anything like my grandfather’s playing.
Then when I was seven my parents sent me to piano lessons. The written music started to make sense. This was something I loved to do, and I never had to be told to practise. Unfortunately after about six months of lessons we moved and the lessons stopped. Playing the piano became a dream once more. I had to wait until I was nearly 12 before starting lessons with another teacher. During the waiting time I borrowed other people’s piano books and figured out quite a lot on my own. A piano teacher, who I hoped would teach me, frowned disapprovingly when I told her this, saying, “You’ll be picking up bad habits.” Perhaps I was, but music was already an important part of me.
Once I started lessons again I worked hard, but was never a prodigy, just an above average amateur. I played in church for the first time when I was 14. At first I would have to practise for weeks before I could accompany the congregation. I spent hours playing all the songs in the book so that I would be ready whenever I was needed. I learned how to play using chords and later on, how to play by ear.
There were always others who were better than I was – one of my classmates who had started learning earlier, a younger girl who had learned using the Suzuki method, someone else who played the same pieces that I did, but so much faster. There was an ugly envy in me.
I tried to get into the performance programme at university, but my application was declined. I hardly talked about it afterwards, because I was so embarrassed that I had even tried. I stopped playing anything challenging for a long time after that.
My husband and I met over a piano keyboard. He was playing in church. I didn’t know anyone, so I thought I’d talk to him. I didn’t think much of him at that first meeting, but fortunately he was more impressed than I was. 🙂 Our first ‘date’ was playing duets. We play at approximately the same level, albeit with different strengths. It is in keeping with God’s beautiful design in bringing us together – ‘oak and ash in a dove-tail joint’.
When I was in my early thirties I decided to have piano lessons again, as I had never done any exams, and wanted to be able to teach piano. Over the next few years I played lots of Beethoven and Bach, and was introduced to Scarlatti and Brahms, and learnt about cadences and what a second inversion meant (“Drama!” my teacher said). It took a few years, because I had our fourth child during that time, as well as homeschooling, but finally I was able to sit the ATCL performance exam, and passed, at the ripe old age of 35.
But I’m still only an above average amateur, and I still struggle with pride and envy. I realised that last week when someone at church commented that she missed hearing my husband playing, as she had heard me playing more often. She commented about his style being different from mine, and how he was ‘very accurate’. The ugly green-eyed monster hadn’t died yet. I was hurt and put out. Something important to me was under attack. Thankfully we sorted it out the same day, and she realised she had been making some wrong assumptions (she thought that I had been stopping him from playing, when I hadn’t).
But I got to thinking about how I had reacted. The only thing that was hurting was my pride, and that didn’t deserve to live. I had been congratulating myself on my excellent musical renditions, and someone had come with a sharp pin and *pop* burst my bubble. And I was reminded of these words (the paraphrasing is mine):
“If I play the sonatas of Beethoven by memory, perform Bach with breathtaking accuracy, and my fingers fly like swallows over the keyboard, but I have not love, then I am only a sounding gong or a clashing cymbal….I am out of tune and they are only notes, worth nothing.”
Conversely, when I play with love and without pride, it doesn’t matter if my fingers trip up or I miss some notes. My Father in Heaven loves to listen anyway. 🙂