A week ago, I took my first official piano lesson in Denver. I’d studied violin as a kid, and I sang in choirs through high school, so I know how to read treble clef, but my piano playing has all been learned by ear. I’ve known for a long time that there were massive chunks of music theory that I didn’t know, and even more about playing the piano I was missing, but I’ve resisted asking for help thinking my songs would be purer if I followed my instincts.
Life has a way of waking me up every now and then. Leaving Woodstock, leaving my musician friends and my musical life behind, starting a new life in a wholly different place and culture without the support I’d grown used to, has been hard. When I finished Journey a few months ago, I thought perhaps I was done with music; that I’d done all I could and it was time to give up. There doesn’t seem to be any clear reason for continuing in a professional way. There is very little audience where I live, I’m 56 and not anxious to get in my car to do a show in a coffee shop on the other side of the state. At a friend’s party the other night where 20 or so musicians were playing together, calling out tunes they all knew, I was too shy to join in; too aware that the only songs I know are my own. It’s like confessing you’re illiterate after a life time of fooling people. I couldn’t join in because I didn’t know how.
Thankfully, my new friends could care less what I sound like. They handed me a guitar and said, “just play.” One guy stood next to me and let me follow his hands. It was the first time I’d jammed with others on other people’s songs and it was a blast.
On the way home, I knew what I had to do. I needed to understand my instruments. I wanted to be able to look at a piece of music and play it, and I wanted to play with others when opportunities presented themselves.
So, I’m playing scales on the piano for the first time. It’s very slow. I’ve learned C major, and I’m working on F, Bb and Eb. I’ve committed to playing at least 2 hours a day. This morning I played for 3. I’ve already learned that if I sit at the piano too long my hands, shoulders, wrists and legs will ache in the end, so I set a timer. Every 45 minutes I get up, do some yoga, drink some water then sit back down. I don’t know where it’s all headed. I’m not even sure there has to be a goal. I feel like a rubik’s cube that’s falling into place. No doubt my stronger left hand and the more complex chords it’s learning to play, will change the way I write. It’s nice to be excited about that rather than too proud to allow it.
PS This is what I see every morning: my mom’s childhood piano that I had rebuilt in 2005. It’s a Steinway M originally built in 1917. It’s by far my most favorite possession.