Tinkling the Ivories

I play the piano. Not very well but well enough to impress husband, and it gives  me a lot of satisfaction to be able to turn out a tune or two which can be recognised.

My piano is 84 years old and it’s still going strong, is in good condition, and has a 6 monthly tune up. The friendly local piano tuner, Andrew, has been tuning it now for several years and at the end of his tuning session he always plays a little classical piece, followed by some jazz, blues or both. I make him a cup of coffee to drink while he works, then keep out of his way until he’s finished. He doesn’t know that I have a dance in the kitchen to his jazzy/bluesey playing, but I have confessed to this and we’ve laughed about it.

Lately I’ve focussed on playing some jazz classics – “My Funny Valentine”- “I Get a Kick Out of You” – “Let’s do it” –  music from the 30’s era by Gershwin and Cole Porter. This somehow suits the age of the piano which was given to my parents as a wedding present when they married in 1934. I grew up listening to them playing similar popular jazz tunes of the times and beyond, into the ballad styles of the 50s. My mum played using music, which she could read. My dad played completely by ear and made up his own arrangements. They sometimes played together, sitting side by side on the piano stool as the played another song from the 30s – “Ain’t She Sweet”. It was their party piece.

I began having piano lessons when I was 13 or 14, and went to several teachers over the next few years, all of them pretty much old school sticks who made me do scales and arpeggios. Try as I did, I could never quite get to grips with reading music and would learn a piece off by heart so I could play it without music. I took a music exam, somewhere in central London, at a music college off Regent’s Street, and although I sailed through the set piece, I struggled with the sight reading section. However, I did pass because I was able to play the set piece from memory and gained extra marks for this. I’d not then realised that memorising the music is what professional pianists do!

I gave up on playing the piano, but then I inherited it and have it now in my home. A few years ago I went back to playing it – re-learning, refreshing and starting out anew. Much of what I’d learned as a teenager came back, and now – without a teacher telling me what to do – I can play and learn how I like. There are some excellent books around and the one that got me restarted was It’s never too late to play piano. No, it’s not.

If the sight reading (which is improving) gets  a bit challenging, I pencil in the names of the notes, which helps me learn and memorise the piece. Then I’m able to play it at a reasonable speed. A young neighbour, also learning, came in to play on my piano and was a bit surprised to see I’d pencilled in some of the names of the notes on my score – her teacher (like mine way back) had said you shouldn’t do that.

I replied that I can do what I like now – no teacher, I’m playing for pleasure and if it helps, what does it matter?

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