Friday, October 8, 2010

I Love a Piano

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…October 6, 2010

Like Irving Berlin, I love a piano. He said it much more melodically than I ever could in his semi-famous song with that title. Ever since I can remember, (which sometimes isn’t all that long) I wanted to play the piano. I would tap out a tune on an imaginary keyboard on the headboard of my bed or painstakingly figure out the notes by numbers on my cousins’ piano. But our house for many years was piano-less.

Then when I was in the 3rd grade, a piano finally made it into our home. For a few moments I was triumphant! Unfortunately, in an attempt to slide the piano down the stairs and into the basement rumpus room, it slipped to its demise. I believe it was a cast-off from the Rollan’s home so it wasn’t a great monetary loss. But it was a monumental loss to me. My eight year old fingers needed a piano!

And then it came—a grand piano! Well, not a Grand Piano, but a strong and sturdy older upright that was grand to me. (Actually, I had really wanted a beautiful small spinet, but as my dad would always say with a twinkle in his eye: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Something else he often said was: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” which he might not have said on this occasion but it would have fit. It took me a long time to understand that saying, but now it makes perfect sense.) This piano was placed right in the living room. No bad attempts at the basement for this instrument. At last I had my piano, something I could really sink my fingers into. I loved it. Now I just had to learn to play it.

The task of teaching me was undertaken by Sister Alta Standage, the piano teacher of our ward. Growing up in a very strong Mormon family, we called everyone Sister or Brother as the case may be and the Ward was Mesa 8th Ward, our religious parish so to speak.

Sister Standage lived about 6 blocks down Country Club Drive. Since Mom didn’t always have a car to take me, she would walk with me as I carried my John Thompson and Carl Czerny books. A back pack would have been a great place for these noble works of piano instruction but we didn’t have back packs then. I don’t think they had been invented yet! To make the walk a little less tedious, Mom would play Hang-man with me all the way up and back. “Is there a ‘D’?” “Nope, you now have an arm.”

Thank you, Mom, for giving me the opportunity to learn to play the piano. I hope I told you thank you enough times when your mind was clear enough to understand me. As a family we didn’t go out to eat very often; we didn’t have closets full of clothes; we didn’t even get a TV until the rest of the world was quite entrenched in TV watching. But you always saw to it that we were given opportunities to learn and grow and become what we had the potential of becoming. That is still what matters most to me—learning and growing and becoming. Thank you, Mom. I will always be grateful.

I thought often of writing Sister Standage a letter telling her thank you, too. Thank you so much for teaching me how to play the piano—the notes, the measures, the one-e-and-a, two-e-and-a’s of music. It is possibly my most valued skill. Playing the piano has brought me so much pleasure, joy and opportunities to serve. But I never wrote that letter. It is just one of a myriad of uncrossed-off items on my eternal “to-do list”.

But I do thank you, Sister Standage. Maybe you’re teaching a few piano students in heaven right now. I hope so. There had better be pianos in heaven. I would really be sad if there weren’t. How would heavenly choirs be accompanied without them? Harps? Maybe. Harps are fine, but I love a piano.


Doreen said...

I don't think I ever really thanked my mom for piano lessons. One of the reasons I practiced was to get out of doing the dishes. But I like to think that it brought pleasure to my mom to hear me plunk out tunes on the piano as she cleaned the dishes. Since I was the one child in the family who learned to play the most on the piano, that piano became my inheritance and I love having it as well as the memories in my home.

Dem, Mem and Them said...

Oh Liz,
Thank YOU for teaching me to play the piano! This post brought back so many memories (mostly good, haha -except when I didn't practice) of those Jr. High awkward days as rode my bike almost 7 miles or more in the AZ heat, to your house (the Barn house haha) to take lessons. I was hot and sweaty and such a tomboy! You not only taught me piano, but I knew you loved me too. You also taught me so much about music in general, and choir and how to sight read. I made Regional and All State Choir because of you! Thank you for that and being more than a piano teacher, but a mentor as a mom, leader and a great friend. I love you! And I didn't have to wait till Heaven to tell you! Whew! Item crossed off! Haha. Love, Memri