Just because I didn't quite hit it off with the lower brass did not mean that I did not discover the love (or maybe at this point it was more of a "like") of playing an instrument during the elementary school years.
My timeline is a bit hazy - but I think sometime just after I had joined band, I started taking piano lessons.
My grandmother & mother both played a little bit of piano - and my parents bought a piano - and I took lessons for a few years from a very nice woman named Maryann (I can say her last name, but I won't even try to spell it) who I think was a music teacher in the same school that my mom worked.
I took lessons for about 3 years.
The beginning was awful of course...but as I now know - and hit upon in the "Trombones" post, that's a part of the deal.
When you play piano - or any musical instrument - your fingers have to do some weird things - things they're not used to doing. Before you can become competent, you have to get your fingers used to doing what they need to do to properly manipulate the instrument. All the "feel" in the world gets you nowhere if you have zero technique.
So - after time spent with various finger exercises and scales and learning how to read music (as slow & tedious a process as learning how to read words) - I finally got to the stage where I could actually play some decent stuff (a level I never approached with the trombone).
I wasn't great by any means. I have no natural talent whatsoever for the piano.
But the piano did teach me quite a number of things:
1. it taught me that I didn't just love listening to music....but that I loved PLAYING music....I knew I wasn't going to stay with the piano all that long....but I knew that I would keep playing music once I found the instrument that really felt right.
2. it taught me that I was willing to go through the hard work & the frustration for the "payoff".
3. it taught me how music worked. This is hard to explain if you don't play an instrument at all....and if you do play an instrument, explaining this statement is completely unnecessary. The non-musician music lover loves certain music and probably hates certain music...but it might be tough for them to explain EXACTLY why.
Music is completely intangible....you can't touch it or look at it. Music moves in time...you can't stop it & put it on hold so you can observe or analyze a moment in time....and even if you could - it wouldn't do you any good because music isn't about a single moment in time....it's about the flow of the sound through time.
Sheet music is NOT music....it's a symbolic representation that allows a person to APPROXIMATE a duplication of sounds that another person has created. It's never perfect & never can be. When we hear a Beethoven symphony - we can be so familiar with it that we know every second of sound....but since Beethoven didn't have recording devices....we can never REALLY know what it was he intended. We just do the best we can.
But music is not just simply random sounds thrown together....it's not "luck". Music has melody, harmony & rhythm. When I throw a pair of headphones on and listen to Pink Floyd's "Echoes" - the last thing in the world I want to think about is musical analysis....I want the music to just "work" and take me somewhere that maybe I couldn't get to on my own.
But as a musician....knowing about this stuff is crucial....it's more than crucial - it's essential.
There is no better instrument to learn about how music works than the piano. Melody, rhythm & harmony all wrapped in one instrument. How perfect.
Whatever instrument you want to learn....having a rudimentary knowledge of the piano will allow you to master the instrument of your choice far faster than if you had just started on that instrument first.
So - I wasn't very good at the piano....but it was an excellent springboard to future learning.
I think the moment I realized that my time with the piano was coming to an end was when my parents took me to audition for Usdan - which is a performing arts summer camp in Huntington.
Now - at this point, two things:
1. I had no interest in spending my summer at a performing arts camp....now - it sounds like a blast....but then - I just wanted to play sports all day.
2. I knew for a fact I was never going to be good enough to pass that audition. I'm positive I didn't want to pass it...and - sure enough - I didn't. I mean - seriously - when you play the theme from "Star Wars" as one of your audition pieces at a performing arts summer camp - you're lucky if you're not physically removed from the premises.
The audition in my memory reminds me of the scene from that movie 'The Man Who Wasn't There' when Billy Bob Thornton's character takes that girl who he thinks is so talented on the piano to audition for this piano teacher. The girl knows she's not as good as he thinks she is....and the piano teacher after hearing her play knows it, too....he ends up describing her as a "very good typist" or something like that....and that's pretty much how I played the piano....like a typewriter. No real feeling or talent for it....I didn't make the piano "sing"....I typed away & could play some tunes...but not much else.
I moved on....but I'm eternally grateful. If I had to choose the most influential musical time in my life....it was those years of piano lessons. It was the launching pad.