I remember the day I came home from work on November 13, 1999 and saw for the first time, my new shiny black lacquer digital piano. It had a red bow on it’s top surface. This was Irene’s 10 year anniversary gift to me, and I was in awe. It was absolutely beautiful. We had only been living in our new house for about a year, and this gift was now a part of our furniture display. It was visually striking then and it still is to this day.
When I was a child I remember having a toy piano. This was my first one and it was very small kind of like a super-mini grand piano with only about 12 keys or so. There were n legs to this piano from what I can remember, it just last on your lap. As a child, that didn’t matter because I had a piano.
Apparently my parents saw that my toy piano was a fervent fascination with me and one day I ‘graduated’ to receive a wooden mini-upright piano. This one must have been a Christmas gift. The big Christmas gift. The one that you opened last after you thought you had already opened all of your gifts. The ‘big’ Christmas gift was always hidden somewhere in the house, or behind the tree. I am thinking that this particular gift was one that Santa Claus brought to me during the night as he was delivering presents. He had to have been there, after all there were half-eaten cookies still on the small plate.
This mini-upright was super cool. It was wooden and had it’s own mini-chair to sit on. It also came with a book that had color coded notes to match the color coded strip that set directly behind the black keys. Playing very simplified tunes would happen rather quickly.
At 8 years old and in third grade, I started to play an actual piano. I remember my mom and dad purchased an already old upright piano for me because I really wanted to play. This was a huge investment at the time, even though I think we ‘took it off someone’s hands’ due to it’s rather cheap price. I could be totally wrong, but I think the upright cost $100.00. It was a full-size upright piano though, and it was real to me. At 8 years old I certainly didn’t realize how much effort it would take for me to be able to play well but I practiced daily, I think.
Of course taking on a new hobby or interest often means that there will be recurring costs involved. There was, because now I were to take playing the piano seriously, I needed to take piano lessons. Enter Mrs. Fleming my new piano teacher. My mind’s image of her was the typical ‘grandma look’ of the 50’s. She was round, soft-looking, had chubby fingers, wore somewhat low-healed dress shoes, and she always wore a dress. I’m sure there was an apron at home that she wore while in the kitchen or doing housework. Her look was cookie-cutter 50’s and she drove an old station wagon. Mrs. Fleming had what I call ‘moon-eyes’. That description is of the shape eyes typically take on when smiling when they appear to be crescent in shape. The icing on the cake for her ‘look’ was that she had a pair of old fashioned glasses and glasses holder. I don’t even know what those holders were called but it was an ornate ‘necklace’ that dangled your glasses in front of you when not being used, as if the glasses were part of an overall necklace design. When the glasses were worn, the ornate chain would loop down from the ear onto the back of the neck. I remember seeing a lot of those worn by women in the 60’s. But there was a certain age that seemed to wear them the most…old.
I took piano lessons for almost four years and then when I entered Junior High, I soon thought I was too cool to play the piano. Although I never said I didn’t want to play anymore, I never practiced. You don’t practice anything and you become rusty, very fast.
Time went by, and more time, and then more time and soon I found myself to be in my early 30’s without having played for about 20 years. Pity. I remember someone at my (then) workplace CTAS who I thought of as a friend mentioned in a conversation one day that he had taken piano lessons for many years and his favorite was Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Having been out of the ‘piano world’ for so long, I was unaware that Fur Elise was pretty much the go-to for anyone learning how to play the piano. Anyway, this guy was quite a few years younger than me, had a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, was very competitive, and loved to play basketball. Not one who you’d immediately think is a piano player. Soon thereafter, my interest in wanting to play again reawakened.
So one day, we purchased a digital keyboard for me. I don’t even remember the name of the store, but we lived in Waco, Texas at the time. I learned shortly thereafter that the keyboard I purchased also had an optional keyboard stand and sustaining pedal. I wanted them both and took the plunge to add those to my new musical instrument.
I played and practiced, and played and practiced, and found that I really enjoyed what I was doing. My hunger to play better grew over time and I found myself practicing more frequently. While this digital keyboard wasn’t a full-size keyboard, and it didn’t have weighted keys to simulate actual piano keys, it did have touch sensitivity which made/kept my playing to a level of controlled key pressure. I played and practiced more and kept at it for a number of years.
After about four years of dedicated practice, Irene surprised me with my new full spread key, black lacquer digital piano complete with weighted keys and touch sensitivity. This instrument was, and still is an absolutely beautiful digital instrument. I remember just staring at it all the time. I would lift and open the keyboard cover and look at the contrasting imagery between the white keys and the black piano. Stunning! The piano had ability to mimic other musical instruments, record notes as a midi file, and replay recorded information. I didn’t really care about any of that. All I cared about was that this piano was real! I once again had a full-sized piano that sounded great. It didn’t matter to me that it was digital or not, I called it “my piano”, not my digital piano. I did not want to minimize it’s significance in any way. This thing was awesome!
Fast-forward to current day, that shiny black lacquer piano is no longer new, but it still looks great and is now sitting in my classroom where I will sometimes play for my students, time permitting.
Irene’s gift to me on November 13, 1999 was turned out to be the fuel added to the fire of my desire to play the piano as I sill practice and play it at least five days a week to this day. Except now, I play a Steinway. A fully restored 1917 Steinway and Son’s grand piano. Honduran Mahogany has never looked more beautiful than on this magnificent musical instrument. I LOVE playing the piano and continue to practice in chunks of 2 hours each and every time!
There have been times, many of which, that I think back and wish I had never stopped playing the piano. Had I not had access or opportunity to play over my ‘dark’ period, I would play at least 20 years ‘better’ than I do now. Personal regrets are always challenging however, because they don’t allow individual and personal freedom to shine unencumbered.
My 10 year Anniversary gift is now 20 years beyond that! Thank you Irene for gifting me with something that has truly awoken my heart and love for this creative outlet!