Mom chauffeured me to a weekly piano lesson at Bradley University where I learned the key of middle C first, followed by the others. Right-hand plunking preceded both hands in unison— the musical baby-step equivalent of reading about Dick and Jane. Mom listened proudly on the worn mahogany bench outside the door, expecting the next piano virtuoso to appear at the end of my half hour.
Later I humbly performed my awkward plunking for Dad who sat beaming at his “little pigeon” and hearing Beethoven. I was proud of my accomplishment of stroking the white and black keys into a short primitive song. My lessons continued.
Over the years and numerous piano teachers, my lessons remained a staple. We moved from Peoria when I was 10, and like “carnies” for every two years thereafter. Finding a new teacher was high on mom’s to-do list. Some were good, some not. A favorite of mine was a cool guy in Columbus, OH who started to teach me jazz. I related to him unlike my other “old lady versions” of teachers. The new sheet music inspired me, and adored this new genre more than any other. He taught me improvisation. Then we moved. Again. Piano in tow. I was saddled with another old lady. However, with Mrs. Glenn my solos were more accomplished, I mastered classics such as The Toreador Song (Carmen), preformed in recitals, and enjoyed my new skills.
From house to house, move after move, my piano was like another appendage and I couldn’t imagine life without it. In Wheeling WV, I was 16 and my teacher Marlene was not much older. She was fun, but she couldn’t reach me. At that age, I had more interest in hanging with my friends—and boys. I stopped practicing and was merely drove myself to the weekly drudgery. I decided to stop the lessons despite my mother’s disapproval—the end of my piano education. The piano lived silently in the house until I married and moved out.
I got sole custody. When my daughter was born, I vowed to teach her the keyboard, but life and time won out. Until piano teacher Jim came to the house weekly. However, the lessons were short-lived. Cassie learned the keyboard and to read music but the lessons got lost as we both succumbed to adolescent growing pains. Again, the piano silently lived with us passing it daily without a remorseful glance.
Pittsburgh 1981. The piano was back on the van for another long distance move. I played occasionally on a whim, but most of the time it sat silent and taken for granted. The move in 2003 relocated it to our new home’s lower level where it stayed for nine years.
Early 2013 and moved again. Amazingly, the old girl is still in good condition and every key still plays, but she now lives cramped in my art studio and desperately needs to be tuned. I haven’t played in years but I’m sad at the thought of selling her. She is part of my life history. And she is worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for a 1958 Baldwin Acrosonic piano with real ivory keys. I could donate her, but the possibility of her living alone, dusty and rotting in a basement is unbearable. I visualize her with a family—in a loving home with a child—eager to learn and to hear music coming from their own small hands plunking out notes. A child dazzling their daddy, who is imagining Beethoven. So until then she will live with me in my studio where at least there is music—even if it’s not coming from those real ivory keys.