7. The Piano

For as long as I can remember there was always a shiny black Steinway Baby Grand Piano in our house.  Neither of my parents could play it but I think it served two very important purposes.  First it was an integral piece of status furniture for the living room.  These things were much more important in the 1950s I guess.  Second, it was the musical instrument that my father liked the most.  In fact, he didn’t believe that any other instrument was worth playing at all.  The children of the family however would bear the burden of this closed-minded musical obsession.  Similarly, the only actual singers worth listening to were those in the opera.  No one else was worth the time to listen.  It was an interesting opinion from someone who had never actually been to the opera.

As my sisters got a little older they played in the school orchestra.  I think they both played violin.  I vaguely remember that they were sequestered to the farthest part of the house at practice time.  Soon though, Dad signed them both up for private piano lessons.  Since they had spent some time with the school orchestra they were able to read some music and they were able to play after some lessons and practice.

Barbara, however, hated every minute of it.  She did have some musical talent but it just wasn’t for her.  Dad insisted however, and a deal was struck.  She would continue with the piano until she was able to play Chopins Warsaw Concerto.  At that point, she could decide to continue or to give up the piano forever.  Well, as I said, she did have some talent.  I am told that she was able to play not only what was required but a lot more as well.  The day came and she never touched a piano for the rest of her life.

Janis loved the piano.  She practiced harder and learned more than any of the other students.  She was clearly the one student that every piano teacher cherishes.  She achieved wonderful things with the piano.  She continued to play and learn all through high school, and then learned to play the concert organ.  She went on to become a church organist for many years in addition to being the Music Director and the Bell Choir Director.  But I think the piano was always there for her and she has been a very successful piano teacher for many years.

Then when I was 9 it was my turn.  I had not participated in a school music program up to that point so I couldn’t read music at all.  And although I loved the music (and still do) I had no penchant for actually playing it.  There was a technical term for it but basically I couldn’t do one thing with my right side and do a different thing with my left side all at the same time.  So chords with the left and melody with the right was not something I was ever able to do.  My piano playing career lasted about 18 months before it was decided that perhaps not everyone could play the piano.

But there was always music in the house and most of that was piano oriented.  But not Van Cliburn playing an exquisite piano concerto, instead it was Roger Williams or Peter Nero playing easy listening standards from that era.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I was able to put names to the music and gain a real appreciation for not only the music of the masters, but also how that music translated into historical importance.  I was never sure of the reasons, but it may have been Dad’s complete lack of education in the Arts.  Since he grew up in rural Pennsylvania and then in rural Ohio in the 20’s and 30’s, he would have had almost no exposure to the classics.  Survival was the first order of business and his rural roots were what drove him so hard in his professional career.  There was no time for Chopin or Monet or Michelangelo, and no practical use for them.  There was the Great Depression and every waking hour had to be spent to earn enough money for food.

On reflection, it’s possible that having music in the house was the sound of culture to him.   Today we wouldn’t consider Muzak to actually be music; in his case it was a substitute for a lack of formal Liberal Arts education.  The beautiful baby grand piano complete with candelabra, the best McIntosh component stereo available at the time, and a large collection of records was as far as he would ever go in the music world.

He would eventually buy a Hammond Organ and take some lessons, but he would ultimately only play “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma.  In his lifetime he never bought a painting of any kind and never understood anything about either art or artists.  He never went to a Broadway play, never attended a live opera performance, never went to the ballet, and never attended a live symphony orchestra performance.  His life and his career were completely left-brained.  Although he could be considered an engineering and managerial genius, he always considered the Arts to be a waste of time.  Dad was the classic example that what you learn in your formative years is what you carry with you throughout your life.  I would spend my own life desperately trying to fight this truth.

© J T Weaver

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About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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27 Responses to 7. The Piano

  1. Great piece… I found that learning music provided me with benefits in life beyond the piano and yes the flute. Lived and loved this article.

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  2. Benmo says:

    As a child, my family never had a piano. My husband’s sister gave us her piano when our daughter expressed an interest in learning to play in high school. When she and her husband bought a house, we moved the piano with her other things. When I visit my grandson, I always try to take 5-10 minutes for “piano time” — he’s only 14 months old, but he’s willing to “play” while I turn the pages of the songbook and murmur “very good!” when he plays random notes. It’s fun to watch him strike a few keys very lightly, and then all of a sudden forcefully. My daughter comes up and praises his forte’ style. I never learned to play, but love little fingers and the occasional sour notes. Music appreciation can begin at any age, and it just improves with age. I read your book, and am amazed you made it through your formative years with such strength of character. Congratulations!

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    • J T Weaver says:

      Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked the book. And I agree about music and children. Both my children played instruments in high school and bell choir in church. I studied music theory but never could play a note, much to my chagrin.

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  3. tormore says:

    I am envious. A STeinway grand! What a treasure house of glorious.sound waiting to be raleased.
    I have had no formal music training but have had a love affair with the piano all my life. I tell parents and young people. To play with the instrument, creating sounds at random, with and without pedal, learning to appreciate the richness locked within. Thus inspired, turn to the formal aspects.of communicating with your piano!.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      Alas, the baby grand is long gone. It was a victim of family changes and lifestyles. It was only later when I learned to appreciate the music itself [you’ll have to read the book] that I had a full appreciation for that holder of the 88’s. Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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  4. Wendy says:

    Sadly, I have meet many people of your Dad’s generation who loved music/arts but who firmly believed no one could make a living at the Arts, and in turn, discouraged their own children. Yes, it was ‘culture’ but not for those who needed to work for a living. Intriguing that they owned a piano. Btw, it is not so important that one can play a musical instrument, only that music is an essential part of one’s life. After all, those musicians need someone to listen to them.

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  5. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I was exactly the same as you – started piano at 9 through a program at school but quit when I just couldn’t play different keys with my left and right hands at the same time! I couldn’t read music either. My mother wanted to get me a piano to take lessons at home but ultimately had to admit we couldn’t afford any of it. I grew up hearing “we’re not a musical family, we’re not a musical family”, to the point where I really believed we had no talent or chance. Then my son started showing interest and I started him on piano when he was 8. Like you, I want to fight these old “truths” as well.

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  6. Thanks for following, you lead me to your own very interesting blog 😉

    When I was a child I used to dream of playing the piano but never had the opportunity until my early twenties. It had felt like such a great privilege, even though I only learned basic piano, due to work and obligations. Then due to my travels I left behind this very precious skill, and forgot what I had learned.

    Early childhood is the best time to learn, kids don’t have worries, and have so much time, and focus in the present that they can accomplish, what adults find a little harder to do.

    Now I just enjoy piano music and best appreciate it for what it is, though if I could afford a baby grand piano, perhaps someday it will happen, it might also just be in my home, and to recollect my earliest desires.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      I’m very happy that my story brings you to remember stories from your own life. That is one of my goals in writing. I hope you will enjoy the whole story 1-45.

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  7. tchistorygal says:

    Great story JT. My mother was a music teacher – child prodigy -l played the piano in church from the time she was 12. Her parents had bought a used player piano for her to use. We had a Kohler and Campbell upright piano that Mom bought with money from giving piano lessons to kids after school. I might have been a child prodigy. I was told that I could play “Three Blind Mice” when I was less than 3 years old. I can still play “Three Blind Mice.”

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  8. yeloros says:

    Thank you for following my blog. I appreciate it. I really relate to this post because I hated piano lessons when I was young also. You have inspired me to write a post about that experience and how much I love playing now. Thanks.

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  9. Judy Guion says:

    When I was in 4th grade, I think, I wanted to play the piano. My mother was a teacher and knew how to play a little bit, but I really wanted to learn. We just couldn’t afford lessons so my dream never materialized. Several years later, when my sister was about the right age, she had piano lessons… and hated every minute of it. By then I was very involved in Jr. High and was considered too old to begin. I think I always resented the fact that she got the opportunity and I didn’t. As a parent, I recognized the reality of the situation, and did learn a little in college so I could teach Elementary school, but it just wasn’t the same !!
    I am really enjoying your writing “style” and your stories. Who knows, you may inspire me to start my own ramblings of what made me the person I am today.

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  10. kcharbneau says:

    Beautiful post. I play the piano myself… or try to anyway and hope to teach my little girls to appreciate classical music. The piano just seems to speak volumes for some people.

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  11. I enjoyed your well-written story and it causes me to think about the impact of music during my own growing up years and the influence I desired it to have in the lives of my own children. I feel my own blog post bubbling up. Thanks for connecting me here – I look forward to reading more.

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  12. Loved this. Our family, too had a baby grand piano, a Bush & Gerts from Canada, not a Steinway. My grandmother had learned to play on it, my mother took lessons and so did I, but it has been my grandmother and brother who were self taught that have played the best among us. I enjoyed this very much.

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  13. Beautifully told. I’m the 4th generation to be involved in music and worship (maybe more?) but my brother…didn’t even last 18 months. 🙂

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  14. J T Weaver says:

    This experience, and others later, helped me to develop an appreciation and love of all music types. Unfortunately I could only go as far as music theory since playing an instrument doesn’t seem to be in my DNA. Although I can sing a mean Beatles occasionally. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

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  15. I loved this. Music is so powerful, for good or ill. Its impressions last a life time. … I grew up in a home filled with music, specifically opera as professional opera singer was my mother’s vocation in London, England. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love opera as a musical form, but loathe it for how it consumed so much of my mother’s creative energy (she raised us alone with a full-time career) there was nothing left for me. Took me years to understand this and now I know it I’m finally able to find a voice for my own creativity. I’m currently writing a murder mystery set in in the melodramatic world of opera. It’s quite cathartic and actually the most fun I’ve had with opera in a really long time. 😉 … Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading more. And thanks for following my blog “Eyes to Heart” so I could find you … Be well, Dorothy 🙂

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