The Lost Art: Me Versus the Piano

The two things that shaped me as a person throughout high school were Taekwondo and tutoring. Because of these activities, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and become a much more open, engaging person (not to mention, keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t be bored as hell after school).

But I’d like to step back in time a little bit and discuss the first extracurricular activity that my mom ever signed me up for. True to the Asian stereotype, and an absolute nemesis of mine for five years —ladies and gentlemen: piano lessons.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some very fond memories of playing the piano. I can remember it clearly — when I was 7 years old, my mom, every Wednesday at 3:00, would drive me to Mrs. Temples’ house, some forty minutes away from where we lived. She’d then leave me there to learn under this sweet, middle-aged woman who had dozens of other students every day of the week. We knew about her because she had taught two of my older cousins, Li and Colette, how to play as well.

Her house was in the middle of the woods, and at the time, I was skeptical. “Mom, you’re literally leaving me in the care of some lady you and I have met a total of one time, for at least a few hours.” I guess that’s just how life worked — the ultimate sign of trust is being able to teach your kid how to play the piano.

Each lesson was an hour long, and involved me learning from one of these things:

Oh, Alfred. I’m sorry I hated you so much.

To make it easier for me, Mrs. Temples would write the finger numbers underneath each of the notes, so I knew how to play the pieces without actually having to memorize the piece. This was a great method for some time, but it set me back for two reasons:

  1. She never weaned me from these finger numbers.
  2. I. Didn’t. Practice.

Practice seriously does make perfect. Except I was never interested in piano enough to put in the effort — not to mention that there were times when my parents would make me sit in front of my piano for an hour and play for them while they watched. It was torture. Negative reinforcement. I literally practiced the bare minimum I needed to move on. I’m sorry, Mrs. Temples. I felt like I wasted your time.

… Except, of course, when there was a recital or competition coming up.

It’s true. As much as I hated playing the piano, I was extremely competitive. And a recital meant so much more to me — it meant a chance to show that I wasn’t completely incompetent at music. It was a chance for me to shine instead of embarrass myself on the big stage. It was a chance for me to show my parents that hey, maybe there’s hope that Alex can be the mini-Mozart that every Asian parent has dreamed of.

Well, their wish came true. Sort of. For my biography presentation in the third grade, I dressed up as Beethoven — the composer. And I gave everyone a quick history lesson about the Classical era of music. I think I played the part as well as I could have — I mean, this guy was blind and partially deaf.

But anyways, back to the recital stuff. Yeah, I practiced the hell out of my pieces when it came time for recitals and performances. I got the cheers — I don’t care whether they were customary or out of pity. I even won a few trophies and ribbons. And when I showed that I cared, I got full support from Mrs. Temples on how to refine my pieces and play them with better accuracy. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that I only did so to avoid disappointing the people around me. But damn, had 7-year old me played with diligence and passion all the time, it might have been something special.

I ended up stopping piano by the 5th grade, when my parents ran out of time to take me to lessons. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? I had some great memories learning with Mrs. Temples. She held annual recitals at our local church, annual Christmas parties where we would play our favorite Christmas carols, and she had the cutest little 18 (yes, eighteen) year old dog, Winnie. I honestly should have showed a little bit more effort when I had the opportunity to — now I’m stuck wishing I could play the piano.

Perhaps I’ll pick it back up someday — I really would like to learn how to play by ear. Then, the sky’s the limit. Just wanted to do some reflecting tonight.


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