"As was often the case then, as it had been for centuries before, I was rewarded with a sharp whack to the back of the hand with a conductors baton whenever I made a mistake: and given that it was my very first lesson, mistakes were the main feature."
On a particularly damp day in Autumn (I was born and raised in the UK so damp it certainly was), I remember walking though the local salvo store and happening across a dusty, 100 year old (completely out of tune and quite battered) piano, and sensing the weight of possibilities.
I remember that unique, old-piano musty smell; the creak of the lid and the yellowing ivory, and the scary assistant who was extremely upset that I had touched what was clearly a very un-loved piano.
I eagerly slid my sweaty hands up and down the instrument - nearly getting my little finger stuck in the key-hole - and then I gingerly pressed a key down at which point the beady eyed store assistant began to get red, so I closed the lid and wandered off to look at cameras instead.
After repeatedly asking why I couldn’t take a camera home, I circled back to the piano and managed to lightly touch one note before I was reminded gruffly to read the sign which clearly indicated ‘no touching’.
I (being extremely cheeky and thinking I was hilarious) politely reminded the scary lady that I couldn’t read yet. This apparently pushed her right over the edge and she was forced call out ‘whose child is this’, at which point, my mum, who was busy looking though the Danielle Steele novels, bustled over.
If that wasn’t the very epitome of how not to introduce a child to the piano, I don’t know what is – but it gave my mother an idea for a Birthday present – a little twelve note plastic keyboard that I could carry around with me wherever I went – and being an only child, this little keyboard became my companion.
It had a demo button on the front which played just one song : Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I spent literally hours listening to the melody, carefully copying the tune on the keys.
Soon, I was playing 'Ode to Joy' from memory with one finger, thinking I had completely mastered the piano.
I asked for a real one. I was told no. They’re big.
Eventually, after the careful prodding that only an ego-centric three-to-four year old can deliver, my parents eventually caved and delivered an ultimatum: they would buy me a full sized keyboard but only if I agreed to have lessons.
The idea of lessons had never occurred to me; but since I knew what lessons were at school (I started school at three and was less than impressed) I doubted whether I’d like it.
My next vivid memory was turning up to a musty house on a damp, dark evening with what appeared to be another one-hundred year old lady fending off my urge to poke at the piano keys.
As was often the case then, as it had been for centuries before, I was rewarded with a sharp whack to the back of the hand with a conductors baton whenever I made a mistake: and given that it was my very first lesson, mistakes were, I can assure you, the main feature.
Retreating with a sore, red hand, and thinking back now; I understand my four year old brain defiantly refusing to have another lesson ever again.
And so, it was another year before I ever touched a piano again. I was lucky to later stumble across the perfect system of learning for me : but more on that in a later post.
In my story, you have a perfect example of the fickle mind of a young child.
I never forgot that first experience - I decided that the piano was of course mean; and that only one-hundred-year-old people with faces like crumpled pieces of paper in scrunched up paper bags could own one, much less play one.
I remember this story in every first lesson we deliver.
At Pathways Music School, we of course insist that the first lesson is filled with fun: That goes for all age-ranges by the way! If you’re not enjoying the process, you’re not learning!
Regardless of whether our students turn out to be concert pianists or simply avid music enthusiasts, they will always remember their first lesson and by extension, their first teacher.
We welcome every student with metaphorical open arms. We want to spark that joy of music that ultimately was a mainstay, and large part of my rich, fun-filled childhood.