I remember when I was 5 years old, my mom took me to piano lessons with a lady named Mrs. Olsen (I think). I took lessons at Mrs. Olsen’s house once a week and it playing the piano felt so new that I rushed home from school everyday to practice the piano. It was an amazing sensation to hear sounds I created at home.
As the years passed, the piano became more of a challenge and less about the fun. I had an Eastern European teacher that belittled my lazy techniques and corrected my hands with a swift slap of the ruler. Using the right fingerings were wildly against my common sense. Double sharped notes and non-dominant octave jumping was frustrating to say the least.
That’s when the fighting started with my mom. Screaming. Yelling. Crying. Visible seething adolescent hatred seemed to pour out of the pitch-black lacquered bench. I would take deep breaths and throw daggers of sarcasm, intentionally declining the pleas to play her favorite song (Cat Steven’s Morning Has Broken). While seated on that forsaken musical altar, I did everything I could to show discomfort and distress.
I slept on that bench so many times.
Then, in a breaking point of mental defeat, I touched a key. I played its natural harmonic third and completed the triad. I had made a C-chord as I have thousands of times before (C, G, E). The only difference was that my left hand automatically reinforced the root by playing its counterparts many octaves lower. F-Chord (F, A, C). I moved my hands to the position of the A-chord (A, C#, E) - where it gives of a feeling of tension, waiting to be released.
My had subconciously played the G-chord arpeggiated or “spread in separate tones” (G, B, D), much like the opening sounds of an early American morning broadcast in elementary school).
I had created a (very basic) song.
It continued like this, playing around with chord progressions while my mom came home from a long night shift at the hospital. She would say, “What song is that? I like it.”
I would then shrug my shoulders and respond: “I dunno, I just made it up.”
It was addicting. I read theory books on diminished chords, tried to fit them in my catalog of “white key only” melodies and decided I had to push myself further. I had another teacher “Lou” who loved writing down complicated combinations of notes on legal pads with a cherished Parker Pen. He became a (quirky) friend and I trusted him to guide me.
There were no more piano fights. Playing music was a way for me to express myself without even thinking. When I was mad, I gravitated to minor chords. When I was happy, major. When I was in love, I sat on fat tension chords forever to simulate the moments expecting a first kiss. It was intoxicating.
I slept on that same damn bench, but because I didn’t want to lose the lightning that I was trying to capture in a bottle.
As years went by, I played trumpet - a far easier undertaking because “HEY, I’m only playing one note at a time, right?” (not really though haha) But, I understood why things sounded “right” and let the natural order of different voices of a band / orchestra wash over me.
It also prepared me for a life of computers, where typing used the same muscles, but created a different, yet still creative type of output. But that’s another story.
Before I get too out there, I just wanted to thank my mom for pushing me to play. I celebrate her every time I play music. It’s the reason why I am the way that I am.