“Read the music. Don’t look at the keys. Don’t memorize,” said Miss Baz, my piano teacher. She had chinky eyes and white hair and she looked ancient, especially to my nine-year old self. She blended in quite well with the antique surroundings of the Fernandez Piano school in the 1980’s. My lessons were held in a little back corner of the school where there was an open door leading outside, which provided light to that small space.
I would look longingly at that door during my sessions with Miss Baz. I imagined myself jumping around outside like the little elves which adorned my copy of John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course. I cannot count the number times I kicked myself in the head for volunteering to take piano lessons. I had done so because my friend, Arthur, announced to me that he was taking lessons and at that time, I thought it would be a good idea to also do so, so we could play afterwards.
Little did I anticipate that taking piano lessons meant giving up Saturday morning cartoons. Now I couldn’t watch Scooby Doo, Space Ghost, and Superfriends. I wanted to stop but my dad, who was overjoyed when I finally decided to learn the piano, wouldn’t let me quit at first. He said I would regret it later.
So I endured and I somehow finished John Thompson and went on to grade 1. Then I finished that too and made it to grade 2. And then I couldn’t take it anymore. Perhaps it was because I was learning by rote. I could play my pieces but only after long and arduous practice sessions at home. I could read the notes but at a very slow pace. I would go through them at home and try to memorize everything so I could play them when it was time to face Miss Baz.
I remember being so frustrated several times while practicing at home that I took the piece and crumpled it and threw it on the floor. Miss Baz was not amused when I showed up with an uncrumpled piano piece.
A short while after that I confronted my father and asked why he was forcing me to play the piano. He said he wasn’t forcing me and reminded me that I was the one who wanted to take lessons in the first place. Then he told me to think about it and come back to him later in the day if I really wanted to quit, and that would be the end of it.
So I did, and I stopped playing the piano when I was around 11.
I think that was a huge disappointment for him. He probably thought I would be like him. My dad could play the piano beautifully, and sometimes you only need to hum the music and he could play the chords to accompany the tune. We were a very musical family. My sisters could also play, and my cousins as well. One of them is even a professional concert pianist.
A few years ago, my wife and I were pleasantly surprised to discover that our youngest daughter had seemingly acquired the gift for piano-playing. She was around five and a half when she began accompanying her older sister to piano lessons. After a few weeks, their teacher told us that the younger sister was interested in playing her older sister’s pieces, and was showing remarkable progress. We didn’t think much of it that time.
Then we moved to another teacher, Professor Russell Brandon, a retired Scottish concert pianist, who told us later on that he initially didn’t want to take someone so young, but then recognized something in the way she played her audition piece, and so he took her on.
The next few years breezed by and we would be amazed time and again as she began playing more complex pieces one after another. Professor Brandon soon arranged for her to play in public recitals and concerts which she began doing when she was 8. She is now 10 and has played in 6 public concerts both in Manila and Davao, the last one at Claude’s Le Cafe de Ville where she played Mozart to a full house of around 80 people which included the 90-year old Miss Fernandez whom I had not seen since I stepped out of her school.
Anyway, watching and hearing her play inspired me to learn again. I have always maintained that I could learn the piano. I was just taught with the wrong method and didn’t have the right motivation. I recently saw an online piano course that had more than a hundred videos and was selling for a discounted price, so I bought it.
I liked the sample video and how the teacher taught it. It was not very heavy on note-reading but more on learning chords and rhythms. It is easy to follow and after a few short lessons, I can now play the C-chords as well as the other major chords.
At forty-three, I don’t think I will be ever be able to play Mozart in my lifetime, but at least I can passably play the Beatles “Let It Be,” and I’m happy with that.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.