A while back, I wrote this essay about my failed attempt at piano when I was a little girl. If I’d had a different kind of teacher, a teacher, perhaps, like the teacher my older kids have now, I might have kept up piano. When my older daughter threatened to quit, her teacher taught her to play music from the Harry Potter movies. When they get bored, she teaches them to sing while they play. She’s fine with doing only 2-3 lessons a month. She doesn’t mind if we take most of the summer off. She doesn’t care that the girls don’t want to do recitals. She’s flexible in a way that keeps the kids interested, but also makes music relevant to their lives.
Up until now, the girls have practiced on a keyboard. Last week, we had my parents’ piano moved from their house to ours, so my older daughter could practice more difficult songs.
I suppose I thought the girls might be interested in practicing more if they had a real piano to play on (they’re not). They like how their songs sound. They do, eventually, sit down to practice. But the arrival of a “real” piano has not really increased their enthusiasm for music.
It’s increased mine.
As I struggle through rewriting the first 55 pages of my novel, the piano has become my biggest savior. In between lackluster metaphors and the deletion of useless paragraphs, I steal away to a different keyboard, dust the cobwebs off the theme song to Hill Street Blues (the last song I was learning before I quit), and take a stab at a new measure or two– playing this piano of my childhood for the first time in twenty-five years. I still can’t play the piano worth crap. I still have to write out the letter of every note because for me, reading music is like reading Mandarin. I still don’t understand what a B sharp is. (Is there such a thing?) But I lift my hands, position my fingers, and find a way to play.
Sometimes writing a novel feels like drowning. I sink under the weight of dialogue, characters’ dilemmas, the descriptions of settings, the conflict and crises. I suffocate from constant self-doubt. I search for answers in scenes, in chapters, in prologues and epilogues, my mind tortured with questions — Is this the right way to do it? Is this the answer I’m looking for?
There is no right or wrong in story-telling. No up or down. No yin or yang. The endless possibilities can be overwhelming. But thankfully, for the few minutes a day, I can steal away to the piano– an instrument I once found frustrating, and now find liberating– where the answers are always in black and white.