I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old. I took them from our pastor’s daughter- first on stage at the church, and as I got older, in the downstairs level of their house. She would make copies of the piano books she already had (we couldn’t afford to buy music books at that time, with 3 kids under 5 and one income), and we would practice. She would give me stickers for completing songs, and we would progress in order of difficulty.
In our little red brick house, we had the “playroom”- it housed our old macintosh desktop where we’d spend hours playing Mechwarrior and Jewel Thief and it also housed the upright piano that was a gift from my great grandma- “Bapu”. That’s where I spent most of my time practicing. Mom and dad were pretty strict- they made me practice every night for at least 15-30 mins. The window next to the piano opened up on to our porch, so sometimes my best friends / neighbors would come sit next to the open window and keep me company while I practiced until the little white egg timer dinged and signified my freedom.
However, in the summers, we often spent a month or more at our lakehouse, which means my practice had to take on a different format. Our old cabin (the one I’ve referenced countless times before), did not have a piano. That didn’t mean I got away without practicing- Mom and Grandma made sure to find SOMEONE on forest lake drive that had a piano I could use for practice. It just so happens, that the cabin with a piano was next door (and was BUILT by my great-grandma). Now, I’m not going to lie to you. This piano was OLD- even then. The keys were cracking and almost leathery to the touch. Some of the keys were silent when you pressed them down, and most of the others were out of tune. I was too short to reach the pedals, so grandma had to come with and help me out. One practice session at this piano sticks out to me in particular.
“Mr. Frogs is Full of Hops” was a song in the makeshift music book I was using during my summer hiatus from lessons. Grandma and I sat down to practice, and the strangest thing happened. My fingers didn’t work. No matter how many times I tried to get the notes to sound right, or come out in the right order, or at the right volume- nothing sounded the way it was supposed to. I was about 6 or 7 and already knees deep in my perfectionism phase (that I never left), so this was immensely frustrating to me. The song was arpeggiated and designed to help me practice playing every other note in a melodic order. Nope. Wasn’t happening. I declared that “I DON’T GET THIS AND I NEVER WILL” and stormed out of the cabin and on to the needled path.
It was a long night of tears and screaming (I didn’t take to failure well, even then), and wanting to QUIT piano because I’m CLEARLY NOT VERY GOOD AT IT. To me, if I wasn’t immediately good at something- it wasn’t worth my time. #GiftedKidAttitudeProblem . I wasn’t used to struggling. It made me ashamed and frustrated and all sorts of icky things that felt too-big for my small body. I completely shut down and did NOT want to practice EVER AGAIN.
The next day came, and little puffy-eyed Steph bravely wandered across the path again like she did every day. Again, it went terribly. It felt IMPOSSIBLE. Like the BIGGEST CHALLENGE I’d ever faced.
I kept practicing, and after a few days- Mr. Frog was full of hops, indeed.
I smile thinking back at this memory because of a few reasons. 1) It reminds me that even things that feel impossible and frustrating and hard CAN and WILL be overcome with a little elbow grease and patience. 2) I hated learning that song so much that I can play it from memory today and make my mom laugh. 3) Even the things that feel impossible won’t seem so big and scary when they’re over- that’s the one that speaks to me right now in this big, scary, impossible-seeming time. Getting through it won’t be as easy as learning some simple 1-3-5 arpeggios- but think of the joy and love and togetherness waiting for us at the end of this.
Sending love. Stay safe. WASH YOUR HANDS. 🙂