Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Concert

I love to play the piano.

I'm not really very good, but I'm good at trying. I can't play a thing without the sheet music in front of me -- except one boogey woogey tune I learned from a friend, and a few bars of "Fur Elise." I think everyone knows "Fur Elise."

I took lessons for a good eight years, though, from the time I was in first grade until I went to junior high in eighth grade. Mr. Edwards was by no means a great teacher. He'd give me a piece of sheet music, let me play and then doze off. Hour's up.

And I never practiced the pieces he would give me, just the ones I liked.

Almost every day I would go to my grandparents' house, which was just next door to our. They had a piano. So, while Grannie cooked and Grampa sat in the den and watched TV, I would play.

And I would imagine myself on a wonderful concert stage, playing for rich and famous and beautiful people. I would make playlists for the albums I would record someday. I would dream of being famous.

But I was never a great pianist. When I would make a mistake, hit a wrong note, my grandmother, from her spot in the kitchen, would shout, "Ah!" A sweet way of saying, "Ew." But she never asked me to stop. Never asked me not to play.

When I was about 10 or 12, I started writing songs. Locked up on my bedroom, mooning over some stupid boy, I would pour my heart out in poetry. Then I would run next door to Grannie's to hammer out a tune.

I imagined myself to be the next Bernie Taupin.


I stopped playing when I went off to college and moved away from home. A piano isn't exactly something you can tie to the top of your Nissan and bring to the dorm. Loyola had big, beautiful pianos in the music hall. But those were for the music students -- the real pianists. I was just a hack.

Then it became one of those things I used to do.

Many years later, my newlywed husband called me at work with a question:
"Is $300 a good price for a piano?" he asked me.

Apparently, he had been watching the classifieds and someone was selling one.

My first thought was that it was a beat up piece of junk for that price. But if the sound board was still, ahem, sound, it should be OK.

"Let's go see it," I said.

We did. We drove to a very ritzy subdivision nearby, drove up to a very nice house in this ritzy subdivision and knocked on the door. And there, in the foyer, was a very nice, console piano -- barely used.

She had bought it for her kids to play. They never did. Now she wanted to rearrange her furniture and it just didn't fit into her plans....

OK.

I tickled the keys. It wasn't even too badly out of tune.

I wrote the check for $300 and Marty and the one friend he brought with him tried to load it into a truck...

So that's how I got my lovely piano. It's in my living room, the first thing you see when you walk in our door (or else the Big 52-inch TV). It's covered with framed photographs of our family. And dust. And I love it.

I don't play it very much. There's so little time, I guess. Or we're doing other things. Watching TV. Bustling about our busy days. Living life. We have other things to entertain us.

The only time I usually play is Christmas. The stack of Christmas caroling books is part of the seasonal decor. I put away the Elton John songbook and pull out the Christmas Pop songbook for the music stand. But sometimes the whole season will go by and I'll never play a note.

I guess no one ever asks.

But this year, on the day of the Christmas parade, after nearly all of the guests had left and I was ready to collapse in my bed, my sweet sister-in-law asked:

"Play us something, Lori."

And joy filled my heart.

So I did. For an hour, at least. I pulled the books out of the music stand and played.

But my heart nearly burst with joy when my daughter came to stand beside me, and she sang while I played. Just another one of those mundane life experiences I never thought I'd see when I was trying so, so hard to become a mother and God was saying, "No."

Lora Leigh has a beautiful voice, and she loves to sing. So I played songs I hadn't practiced in years. Grannie wasn't there to "Ah" me when I hit wrong notes, and I hit plenty. I also lost my place a couple of times, and had an 8-year-old child tell me, "That's not how it goes," and I had to squint to see a couple of the notes.

But it all came back to me eventually. And my heart was filled with joy.

So tonight, I practiced.

And I still have those old songs I wrote -- literally, painstakingly drawing the little notes on grids. Maybe someday Lora Leigh will sing one of them.

That would fill my heart with joy too.