Piano (pɪˈanəʊ) noun: A place of solace, calm and emotional recovery.
I play the piano. Well, it’s one of those many Kinda-Sorta skills I possess. I had lessons from about the age of nine until I gave it up at thirteen. I never sat an exam and my regular practice routine was to madly run through the pieces 30 minutes before my lesson. So I didn’t progress very far.
After I gave it up, I didn’t go near the thing for about a year. Then my mother slyly bought me a music book of movie themes, me being a mad movie buff and all. It got me hooked again and I’ve been playing ever since.
I’m still not particularly skilled and I don’t play in public, barring a brief stint as pianist with the church band. Very brief. The week a visiting preacher added a song I hadn’t practised and sang another at twice the speed I was able to play it was the end of my accompanist career.
One day when I was bemoaning my lack of skills – probably not long after the above incident – someone said, “But you play with such feeling.”
I’ve held onto that comment ever since. It’s probably the reason I still play with any regularity. Even if I can’t play with great skill, at least I can fill it with emotion.
And playing the piano has become a place of feelings.
My piano is an oasis of sanity in the craziness that is my life. It can be hard to get piano time in a house full of demanding boys and a life full of demands on my time, so a visit to the piano can often be the sign of a desperate need to escape for a while.
Physically, playing the piano invokes memories of easier times and simple childhood pleasures. It once belonged to my mother and it has a small warped spot on the lid where it was damaged when my mother’s childhood home caught fire. It is a part of my mother’s history.
And it is a part of my own history. I remember standing at it, my eyes barely above keyboard height, tinkling away on the upper keys. A little bit older, I used to play records on the stereo and play along – sometimes in line with the music, sometimes as a harmonic addition. ‘Popcorn’, on an old 45, was a favourite.
Musically, it helps me connect to emotions old and new.
Take the other night…
Mull of Kintyre – I’ll remember standing on the Mull, travelling alone in my 20s, and feeling the thrill of discovering the mist really did roll in from the sea.
(I love the Drivers Note on the sign: “Congratulations on safely negotiating one of Scotland’s most exciting roads!”)
Bring Him Home – I’ll remember the first time I saw Les Misérables on stage and how magical and moving I found it. And then I’ll laugh at the memory of the next time I saw it, sitting in the cheapest of cheap seats in a theatre in the West End where I sat so high in the gods, I saw Enroljas get up off the back of the barricade after he’d died and walk off the stage.
Vincent – I’ve always loved this song, love Don McLean’s music but now when I play it, I’ll confess I always picture the scene from the Doctor Who episode ‘Vincent and The Doctor’ when they take Van Gogh to the future to show him how famous he becomes. Written by Richard Curtis and with an uncredited performance by Bill Nighy, it is one of my favourite episodes and it is a scene that makes me cry every time.
Sometimes I play my own compositions. (Don’t get excited – Jack of All Trades, remember?) It gives me time in my own head and I connect to the emotions I felt as each song worked its way out of my head and heart. Songs written from pain, from joy, from love, from memories and sometimes just for fun. It’s a connection to both the past and the future.
I’m very grateful to my parents for allowing me to ‘inherit’ this piano when I moved into my own home all those years ago. I couldn’t possibly have lived without one in the house but it means so much more to have one that is also connected to my past.
I’m just not sure what will happen when the next generation pianist moves out of home…