Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lessons from the Piano

As a youth, I spent many hours seated at the piano, attempting to learn piece after piece for recitals and contests. I didn't start taking lessons until I was in the fifth grade, which meant that I was about four years behind most of my friends. In an effort to catch up, I took lessons each summer. And amazingly, I eventually caught up with my friends and continued taking lessons long after they lost interest in piano.

Yet, no matter how many hours I practiced, I never reached the point where I could sightread a hymn and play it smoothly the first time through. I struggled to play "like a natural." Instead, playing the piano was always work, and I'm sure it sounded like it as well.

The other day, I sat down at the same piano where I logged countless hours as a tween and teenager. It felt a bit awkward because it's probably been about seven years since I played that piano or any piano for that matter. I attempted to play some songs from books that I used in junior high and high school. And while I played (or tried to play), I made a few interesting observations.

For one, I made the same errors that I made many years ago. The wrong notes stood out audibly and visibly because the books still contained circles around the notes that I had missed when I played the songs for my piano teacher back in the day to "pass off a song." I noticed that my choice to ignore the fingering instructions had resulted in the wrong note resounding. (When the book says to use a 2-5 fingering, the choice to use a 1-5 fingering will always result in discord, as will waiting too long to release the pedal.)

I also noticed that my timing was off. I wanted every chord to be played on the down beat. And so that's when I played them. Nothing makes a song sound totally skewed like mixing up the beat or adding five beats to a 4/4 measure.

After pounding away for a while, I stepped away from the piano and tried to figure out why I was so frustrated.

Part of the problem was that I believed that eight years of piano lessons taken fourteen years ago should enable me to play the piano well today, even despite my lack of practicing. And could it be that those markings in the piano books reminded me of places that I've marked in my Bible that I want to live up to but have failed to put into practice? And that like the fingering pattern instructions, I've often ignored God's instructions? And that my attempts to force the tempo and timing of the songs are a reflection of other times in my life when I've tried to force the timing of events instead of turning over control?

As I pondered these thoughts, I couldn't help but smile. That old piano continues to teach me about music, and now it's teaching me about life. I think I'll be its student for a long time to come.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great little piece here. It's funny how we KNOW what we're supposed to be doing, yet we choose not to implement certain portions because those are the most painful ones for us to do.

"Bluebonnet in the snow" said...

Anonymous - Thanks. You sum it up nicely. And you play the piano by ear better than I'll ever play it using a book.