Friday, October 10, 2008

Piano - The Ultimate Chick Magnet

The decision had been made many years before I was born. I would play the piano. My parents bought a baby grand long before there was anyone in their home that could even remotely play the thing. My history at the piano has been much like a Hollywood love/hate relationship.

You would be hard pressed to find a man in the state of Utah that can’t play “Swans on the Lake” or at the very least “Heart and Soul.” Our culture demands that kids take piano lessons…period. I started seriously taking lessons at the age of eight, right around the same time as all my friends started. Playing the piano was not an option. I would take lessons and put in the necessary practice time until I was 16 years old. If I fought my parents I would lose.

As I progressed in music some of my friends fell by the wayside. Piano gave way to football or basketball. While my friends developed their buffness, I developed my sight-reading. As I worked on memorizing my recital piece, my buddies would memorize playbooks. I got jealous and began to despise those 88 keys more and more.

The transition to junior high school was a tough one. I finally started playing football, but I was about 4 years behind everyone else. I also decided I wanted to be like my dad and play tight end. He was Mr. Football so it must have been a sweet job, right? No one told me that 90% of my job was blocking hogs or fighting off hungry defensive ends. Those dudes could grab my jersey and sling me around like a mongrel, but I couldn’t use my hands OR cut block. 5% of the time I got to catch passes. There’s nothing worse than having your number called for a quick slant pass, 3 yards in front of the line right in the cross-hairs of an angry linebacker looking for blood and bone, thrown by Danny Castro…a fantastic football player that felt the only way to get the ball from point A to B was to throw it hard enough to knock the head off a donkey. The other 5% was running the ball off center…to the same deadly linebacker. I was a terrible football player. It was a waste of two good summers.

Now imagine having to tell your coach that you had to leave football practice 30 minutes early to get to piano lessons. I may as well have put a bright pink sign on my back that read “Estrogen Lives Here.” I was teased, and teased hard.

Something magical happens right around age 15-16. The focus on what is considered “cool” shifts from the manly to the artsy. At the time I wasn’t aware of this phenomenon. I still believed that chicks dug muscles and sweat, not refinement and culture. But my life was about to change.

During the spring of my 9th grade year, my friend Rashelle had a party at her house. There was food, music, chicks, and volleyball. All the other dudes, jocks, were in the back yard playing volleyball showing off by hitting the ball as hard as 15-year-old muscles would allow without any regard for placement, or by giving their best Top Gun impressions. I wasn’t included in that particular game so I watched. Boredom gave way to curiosity, so I went inside and casually walked around looking at family pictures and d├ęcor. Then I noticed the small upright piano tucked into a corner in the family room. I looked around making sure I was alone and sat down to the keys. I had been working on “Claire de Lune” for my graduation recital piece and had the first half memorized. I began to play.

Claire de Lune starts out very slow, very soft, very pretty, then builds to an intricate section of runs and ladders. Fingers fly, but the mood and feel of the piece remains delicate and beautiful. Within 90 seconds of hitting the first key, every single Betty at that party was gathered around the piano. Naturally I got embarrassed and stopped playing, but they all begged me to play on. So I fired it back up and completed what I remembered. Those girls ate it up. They asked me to play more music, and I obliged. Before long, some of the guys playing volleyball realized they were now just showing off for each other and startled to trickle in to the piano room to see what had distracted their female fans.

I left that party on cloud nine. I had arrived! I began to practice with a purpose. Instead of putting in my required 30 minutes, I would play for hours on end. As I grew older, the focus shifted even further from the brawn and moved to the brain. In high school, attention was given to arts, music, academics, and drama. The jocks no longer commanded the female population. There were new players in town.

Piano has given me many opportunities. I’ve had the privilege of playing in many different capacities and environments. I’ve done weddings, funerals, and pageants. I played in a full 4-piano quartet. I traveled southern Italy playing for mission district conferences. My piano training has expanded my mind, allowing me to memorize things quickly and pay attention to detail. I am able to pick up other instruments more quickly and my dexterous Guitar Hero fingers will be forever grateful to the piano.

Now that I’m old, I rarely look at those football players and think, “Boy I wish I’d played football in high school. Knee surgery sounds fun.” But I can guarantee you there are ex jocks everywhere that think, “Man, I’d give anything to be able to play the piano.” My response? “No you wouldn’t.” Or you would have.


Sherri said...

Hey the piano also helped you secure a wife....I could not resist the melodic notes you played. Ahhhh, memories!

Talbot Family said...

I just want you to know that I didn't understand a word you were saying when you were talking football. Now Claire de Lune, who wouldn't swoon over a man's fingers gently pressing on the ivory.

The Bliss Family said...

It's been too long since I've seen your blog! I really do enjoy reading your posts. I've been debating if I should MAKE my kids take piano lessons, trying to weigh the different sides. I think, after reading this, that I will. I always regret not continuing with my piano lessons, and I love when Ben plays for me. Thanks for tipping the scales!

jasnjan said...

Amen to everything you said there brother. I was teased plenty, maybe because I never even tried the football thing.