One of my most read posts is one I wrote last February entitled “A Bit Of The Past – From a Piano Perspective” in which I shared my fascination with and joy of pianos. The story recalled a memory from the late 60’s which, as those of us who lived it remember, were times of extreme joy and also sadness and uncertainty—much like the place many of us still inhabit on a somewhat regular basis.
But that is another story for another time.
Of course much has happened in the years since the sixties but one thing has remained more or less constant: my love of pianos and certain types of piano music.
When I talk of “certain types” of piano music I mean mostly improvisational jazz of the kind played by Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk or George Winston, although I certainly enjoy J. S. Bach and Beethoven spliced in between my daily routine.
Fast forward to a week or so ago when I walked into the office of a co-worker and saw that she had her digital Roland piano propped up against the wall. Since it had been there for a week or so (maybe more) I asked her if she was thinking about selling it and was told that she hardly ever played it any and that I could take it home for a while and mess around with it. It is about 12 years old and has 77 weighted keys and features two grand piano “voices” along with harpsichord, organ, strings and choir sounds as well.
In technical/book learning terms I can’t “play” the piano. If you asked me to play Amazing Grace from a song sheet I would not be able to. Yet, what I can do is, sit down at the keyboard and play notes that sometimes fit together and sound good enough to make you think that I can “really” play. Yes, there is a certain amount of logic and math that went into the construction of the piano and our western harmonic scale—and it is this same series of patterns that I see when I sit at the piano. They are sometimes fixed and sometimes very random patterns that get expressed—and then it is just a matter of training your fingers on both hands to do what your brain thinks that it wants them to do.
When I took up the violin several years ago, I asked my music store owner friend Stephen Rydell, why it seemed that kids seemed to learn to play instruments quicker than adults. He told me that learning to play an instrument and muscle memory go hand in hand and that the younger you are, the less “roadblocks” there are to getting your fingers to remember where to place themselves in making chords and so forth. In other words, adults have more “indirect” routes to learning something and therefore the training process, as it pertains to learning to play an instrument, comes to us in a more time consuming fashion. We have to go 20 miles to get to the same place that it only takes 5 for a youth to travel. Anyway, it made sense to me that day he explained it and it still does.
I have often thought about savants when approaching my piano playing. I am talking about those people who wake up one day and can play serious piano without any training what-so-ever. My theory is that all that I need to know about piano is locked up inside my mind and all that I have to do is get rid of the roadblocks and my fingers will flow over the piano keys like they have taken lessons for the past thirty years. And there are moments at the keyboard when this really seems like a possibility. In the midst of playing, a pattern or rhythm may occur that I begin to have an awareness of and can then repeat to begin to add to as one might begin another verse. When I become aware of this, the flow generally stops and I am back to repeating something that my fingers are already familiar with….so the possibility still exists but I have not inhabited that place for any length of time.
The bible tells me that as a man thinks, so he is. I remember that one day I was a cigarette smoker for twenty some years and in a matter of minutes, I was not. To me, at that point, it was a matter of how I saw myself and then living in that awareness. There are still some kinks to be worked out in my philosophy of life—I know that there is more freedom in being a Christian than I have yet to experience for any sustained length of time.
One day it may all be clear—I will wake up and notice that I have become that which I had only seen in the distance of some great vision. The work getting there will have already taken place and I will be the beneficiary of all that went before me—including all the practice that went into learning how to get there—if that makes any sense at all.
I the meantime, I am going to keep exploring the piano and all the other instruments I have surrounded myself with—remembering that the goal is to enjoy the journey and not keep looking for the end of the road. That’s a ride I am sure we could all get into taking.