May 14th, 2008


Last week the piano tuner came. The insides of pianos are very satisfying to look at because they are orderly and magical. The insides of my piano were also dusty and somewhat unhappy. This is to be expected, given that the piano was moved twice and has not had the welcome touch of a tuner in at least ten years. Apparently, it is better to tune your piano twice a year. I don’t know if this is one of those real things or one of those things dentists do with teeth cleaning.

Anyway, now that the piano is tuned, I can play it. I could play it before, of course, and could blame the unfortunate noises that emanated from the room on the lack of tuning. Now it is clear: lack of talent.

I took years of piano lessons because I was a little girl, like my mother before me, and little girls take piano lessons. My mother played well because she practiced. I wasn’t so into that, preferring to pretend that I was already famous, performing my new brilliant piece composed entirely of arpeggios in the pool of the spotlight on the concert stage. I imagined my gorgeous gown and my long hair shimmering as my fingers flashed over the keys and the audience swooned. Scales? Practice? I think not.

Some of the music I played still lives in my fingers. My body remembers. Pieces that have the patient markings of my long-suffering teachers return to me more quickly than I can parse out the notes on new ones. And the old mistakes return. Those same flats I used to miss so often that my teacher circled them on the music get missed now. I need those fingering notes she wrote because suddenly I have my fingers tangled up in knots that seem impossible given my small hands.

But it takes my brain into good places to try to play music. The repetitions, the slow increase of dexterity, the tyranny of rhythm move my thoughts out into different channels as my slow, laborious brain hurries to leap along in the wake of the music itself.

I flirt with the idea of taking lessons, but I figure that before long I’d be sitting there in front of the keys, idly conceiving a piece written entirely for black keys, not practicing. I can do that now for free and without guilt.