Piano Confidential
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Piano Confidential

It all Started When I was 5

That’s me sitting at the piano, a rare sight. My brother’s in the back figuring out how to play with his new toy.

I was a hyperactive kid. Maybe hyperactive was an understatement.

I was crazy.

From the moment I could walk, I would never stop running. I opened every drawer in the home and chucked everything inside them out. I figured out how to unhinge my crib at 2 and escaped every time my parents glued my head to a pillow. I ripped open Crayola boxes and crayoned all over the house. Painters soon became frequent visitors to our home.

My mother waived the white flag. She dragged me to a child specialist begging for some spell to rid me of maniacal possession. The specialist looked through her crystal ball and foretold that I had a severe case of ADHD and that my only cure would be a small white pill. Fearful that I would become too dependent on the medication at five years of age, my mom decided to find other means of calming my frenzy.

After being tortured by my blabbering in my made-up language for 30 minutes on the car ride home, my mom went to her piano and played a Chopin Waltz to relax her nerves. Then, the light bulb went off: my mother decided that I should take up piano lessons to learn how to concentrate for short periods of time. She believed that doing something with the full intensity of my attention would help me develop the self-discipline to ward off my ADHD tendencies.

My mom playing the piano.

At first, that idea was complete buffoonery. My mom invited a piano teacher specialized in teaching young children to our home. She came to the house and was kind. She talked very softly, like an ASMR podcast host. I remember her picking me up and putting me on the piano bench and starting to teach me the notes: C, D, E, bla bla bla. After just one minute, I ran from my chair and raced around the house. It took them 5 minutes to corner me, and every time my hands returned to the keyboard, they would start wailing in the air like a kite, following my body while I danced from one end of the house to another. It was thrilling. For my piano teacher, it was exhausting, and very soon frustrating. Soon, my teacher had enough and left. My first piano lesson only lasted 10 minutes.

I remember my mother kneeling on the floor, begging the teacher to stay and teach me. That was the first time in my life I ever saw my mother so desperate to help her wacky kid. The teacher sighed and agreed to help. For the next 5 years, Ms. Chen taught me how to play the piano.

Every lesson I had with Ms. Chen had the same routine. Doorbell rings. My mother opens the door. They greet each other. My mother excavates the mountain of stuffed animals and digs me out. Ms. Chen plants me on the piano bench, picks up my arms and places my chubby fingers on the keyboard. I play for about 5 minutes, then I leap off the stool and run around. Ms. Chen and my mother ambush me near the staircase and repeat the process of placing me in piano jail. This went on until I was 8 years old.

For some reason, all those years of routine and relentless pedagogy sunk into my subconscious and through osmosis, into my peewee sized conscious brain. The lessons started to get longer: 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, and then a full hour. To be completely honest, I didn’t even notice the transition. The first time I had a one hour lesson, Ms. Chen grinned, ear to ear. What seemed like a normal weekly lesson for most piano students took me 3 years and 120 lessons. Soon, I was able to learn my first piano piece, Bach’s Invention in C Major.

And through osmosis again, my ability to concentrate while learning the piano began to ooze into my other activities in school. I was able to read a picture book cover to cover, speak in complete sentences, and sit quietly for at least 20 minutes. In a way, my mother’s methods of avoiding medication and using craftsmanship to aid my hyperactive nature had worked. But one thing didn’t change: I hated playing the piano.

Playing in a student recital when I was 11. And yup, I was rocking sneakers and a Casio G-Shock back then.

I was not particularly gifted. I didn’t really “get” music. The black notes on the page were so foreign to me. My brain didn’t have the right neuronic pathways to connect sight, to thought, to finger movement. Learning the piano was like learning calculus as a toddler: it was excruciatingly painful and tedious.

I also detested classical music. I remember my mom taking me to my first symphony at 6 years old at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The Pacific Symphony was playing a smattering of Mozart Symphonies. I think I said, “ I want to go home” out loud in between the first and second movements of Mozart Symphony №40. Weirdly enough, I remember that piece aurally perfectly.

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