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Musical Beginnings

Posted on 2010.10.10 at 09:01
I saw a book yesterday that was "About Me." Every page had questions about your life so that, presumably, someone later could read it and know something about you. Unfortunately it was $15 and the questions were not that important to knowing me, but the idea stuck. One of the things that I rarely talk about with people is how I started in music. So...

When I was around five years old my parents obtained a piano. My mother felt we needed one even though my father wouldn't allow us to take lessons. I think it was just something my mother felt a "home" should have. I remember getting my mother's beginning piano book (she didn't take lessons very long as a kid) and trying to play them. I remember my mother came into the room shocked that I was playing. I honestly don't know that they notes were correct, but the patterns are what made sense to me. I was reading the fingering and spacing between the keys. As with many things as a kid, my mom couldn't figure out how I learned that and added it to the list of things I just randomly figured out.

A few years later while preparing for my first communion I was picking songs out by ear on the piano at church. Everyone asked my mother where I was taking lessons and she explained I'd never had any and she had no idea where this was coming from. A few years after that I started taking lessons on violin. I had originally wanted to play harp, but my parents had no way to afford it. I also wanted to ride horses, but my father told me to choose and I chose violin after some time. It took a few years before my mother convinced him to let me take private lessons on violin.

We moved and they sold the piano, but I got a small keyboard that Christmas. I transferred my knowledge of the violin to the piano and could read the right hand. Although at that point I had no piano music to look at anymore. My brother started playing cello so I took his cello book and learned to play cello, then used the piano song from Big, Heart and Soul I believe, to gain independence in my two hands. On my 17th birthday my father bought me an inexpensive upright. From then on I started playing more complicated music from Les Miserables, Beethoven, Phatom of the Opera, etc. My senior year of high school I finally took some piano lessons and corrected some habits like playing too far up on the keys.

In college I spoke to my adviser explaining that I wanted to get out of the keyboard classes what was necessary but that while I had only had lessons for a few months, I could play it and read music. He gave me a test and put me in keyboard harmony instead of group piano. My final for his class was to play a few measures of one piece, improvise and modulate into the key of a second piece for four measures, then play a few measures of the second piece. He would regularly have me playing an exercise and say "okay, now we're in the key of E-flat. Ready go." and I would have to switch from whatever key I was in to the new one that quickly, sometimes multiple times. While it didn't help me to learn piano so to speak, I think it did help me more as a musician and teacher than group piano would have.

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