For a few years in the 1980’s, I was a volunteer manager at Lethbridge Regional Hospital in Alberta. I saw a new modern building being erected, one with a sky-high atrium of glass. In the middle stood a grand piano. It took me awhile, but one lunch hour I strode over to the black magnificence and sat down.
Thirty years earlier, I ventured a few blocks from home for my evening piano lessons. It was work. It was mistake upon mistake. It was an edict from above not embraced by this little guy below.
In the time between, I had somehow made friends with the piano. I had let go of trying to read music and just experimented with the fingers moving on the keys. Could I “play by ear”? Not really, but melodies appeared now and then.
There were a few people lounging in the hospital atrium and I didn’t mind. I raised my hands to the white-and-black, trusting that pleasant sounds would emerge. And they did. Simple fare, yes, but pleasing to the ear. After my initial foray into courage, I returned to the piano many times to nourish myself and others.
And then I was laid off. Piano playing ceased. I tucked it neatly onto my raft of memories and watched the music sail away.
After Jody and I moved to London, Ontario in 1990, the need to tickle the ivories seeped back. I tried to ignore the urge. We moved to Union in 1994 and the music in my head persisted. Somewhere along the road we bought a Roland keyboard.
I had my moments where the music flowed from the fingers again, where the unknown melodies soared. Most of the time, though, what the piano gathered around itself was dust.
Since 2016, I’ve lived in Belmont. The keyboard sits in a place of honour in my bedroom, looking out the tall windows to the field beyond. The candleholder perched on top reminds me of what the instrument has become – an environment for soft evening light cast against the bedroom walls. A setting, rather than the centrepiece.
It’s time to play. Half an hour ago I did, first brushing the accumulation of years from the piano bench. I felt awkward. Discordant, along with some of the notes I hit. But there was memory too … of an atrium, of simple melody, of folks glancing over to me from the edges of their newspapers.
I asked myself “What do you know about playing piano?” “Not much” came back. But that’s not true. Even though I don’t at this moment recollect how to string a melody together, how to spontaneously let the hands flow, I know this can return. And I know that if I play in the key of C Major, I can add chords that go with it, such as F Major, G Major, D Minor, E Minor and A Minor. Just like on the guitar, I can create.
A few minutes ago, a loose feeling came along, just a hint of the ease of decades ago. I smiled. It’s been a long time.
I’m so taken with the hit song from the film A Star Is Born. It’s called Shallow. On Sunday night, it just might win the Oscar for Best Song. I’m going to listen to it on my phone now. Then I’m going into the bedroom and give ‘er a go on the piano. Stay tuned.
Oh my God – it’s in the key of G. Lady Gaga is blasting the song and I’m stumbling along the whites and an F# black … to the melody! Yes, stumbling is the word but so what? It’s a beginning. I can do this. Once I have the melody, I can add the major and minor chords in the left hand. And soon, wonder upon wonders, I can sing the words while I play. I can put it all together. I can do this!
And so I will