Did any of you take piano lessons when you were little? I did. For eight years. I appreciate the fact that I can actually play a tune and sight read a basic melody. But looking through my memory I recall that for every two hours of practice, there was one hour of torture of having to go through scales and boring music.
Like so many asian children, I dropped out the minute they forced musical theory on me. I had written homework at school. Why do I need to make more written homework by taking musical theory classes? With my end of my piano classes came the end of my parents’ dreams of me becoming a concert pianist.
Fast forward to 2007 where I ran into Dave Bruebeck’s music for the very first time… then I slowly made my way to Oscar peterson and Johnny Costa. I didn’t know that the piano could sound so fun! I tried playing those pieces with little success. Although I could sight read and play many things, the syncopation, the harmony and the variability that is jazz piano eluded me.
Then it hit me. I did not have the technical vocabulary required to speak in Jazz piano, let alone master it. My piano vocabulary only allowed me to play the most basic standards, and only at a rudimentary level. And all those musical theory classes (prelim rudiments, harmony, counterpoint etc.) that I refused to take when I was a child would have allowed me to play the music that I so wish play right now. How naiive the decisions of youth, how crushing realities of adulthood.
Why do I write this? While I was surfing youtube listening to You look good to me, by Oscar Peterson, I heard my six year old son play “Over the rainbow” for the very first time upstairs. Nearly brought tears to my eyes, but I dared not go up there for fear of distracting the joy and excitement my son felt as he pressed those keys. He clearly recognized that day that he had something – that he could play, that he could bring music into the house. Those of you who play know this feeling all too keenly – the recognition that you have worked hard to weave something beautiful together for yourself to hear.
I didn’t see him smile that day, but I could hear him gasp with excitement. And I remembered my experience with the piano . . . and why I quit. When the day comes where he wants to make a choice to continue playing or not, I can only hope that he will choose a different path than I did and continue. Maybe, just maybe, he can play “Take Five” as easily as he can play Chopsticks.