Each Friday I’ll post an Instagram photo and a short piece based on a free write inspired by that photo. Consider using the photo as a prompt for your own free write and link back here. I’d love to see what you come up with!
I used to practice right before heading to my piano teacher’s house. She lived next door so that provided me a few extra minutes of practice time. Japanese-American and of petite stature and serious countenance, she was superficially strict, but in a forgiving kind of way. She never seemed to notice that I didn’t practice throughout the week, that I only put my time in with the keys immediately before this test with the teacher. To me it seemed the most efficient process: the finger muscle memory of the those notes stored only for the short term. It was unlikely that it would get lost in the quick walk across our front lawn and hers.
I liked playing piano; the black dots and tiny flags translated into an appealing melody, not like the screechy tentative sounds coming from a beginner’s violin. The piano was straightforward and predictable in a way that the rest of my preteen life wasn’t. I just wasn’t dedicated to it like I should have been. Maybe if my piano teacher had called me out, seen through my farce, I would have been shamed into actually practicing, truly investing my time and honing this musical skill.
Skimming over the hours of work required to really learn a piece meant epic failure when it came to recitals. I’d practice right before, clad in my starchy white tights and flowered boat neck dress. I’d pump out the notes, willing them to be seared into my brain synapses, if only to avoid recital stage humiliation. The added irritant of anxiety though introduced a potent variable, making my short term memory less reliable. This led to many awkward moments sitting on the stage, staring down at the rented baby grand, my fingers touching the keys but not connecting to my cerebral cortex other than to signal a panicked fight or flight response, my palms slick with the sweat of shame. I’d bow my head with a silent curse: why hadn’t I practiced more? Usually, over the few years I took piano lessons, I could muddle through; at least passably finish the piece I was playing.
Eventually I entered high school and stopped taking piano lessons. Academics and a slew of other anxiety-producing extra curriculars took over. I’m considering taking lessons again now, with my five-year-old daughter. I wonder if, at this seasoned stage of life, I’ll be compelled to practice more. Sometimes now I’ll just sit at the piano, my piano. But nothing will come back; no notes recalled, no melodies linger. I feel that the music is buried just beyond my reach, deep in the grey matter, ready for dedication, a commitment to take hold. Maybe it will. But I suspect only if I take the time to practice.