Where my piano led me

I’ve got a piano. My grandfather bought it for us when I was young and a piano was a monetary stretch too far for my parents, teachers in their late twenties who had not come from landed gentry.

Long story, but in the last year, the piano has finally followed us to Abu Dhabi. We’ve put it in the little alcove the stairs make. It was a pragmatic choice because I didn’t want to risk having it dragged up and down the stairs. The loungeroom was out because I know enough not to put a piano against an outside wall and the only other wall with enough space is the one we share with our neighbour and what with the baby on their side and the dog with the mighty bark and the lads who never stop running on our side a piano seemed a step too far.

As it turns out, it’s an excellent place for a piano. Just a few steps in front of the door, it fits nicely in its nook and having a piano at the physical heart of the house. It’s excellent.

I play it every now and then. I’m stuck on pieces I learnt as an adolescent. Playing those pieces conjures up times and places that have gone, but live so deep inside I can’t ever lose them. This has been especially the case over the last six months which have been sad ones for me.

Best of all about having the piano here has been watching my eldest lad. He plays the sax, and he’s getting ready for his first lot of exams, but he also picked up my first piano books and started to teach himself. My heart, she sang. Of course my heart she also wept as she was forced to relive pieces she’d already played a thousand, million times. Greensleeves, anyone? Music Box Dancer? Oats and Beans?

Still, I never scream ‘Stop, please stop’ unless it’s that one, you know the one that everybody plays and it’s got a high part and a low part? What’s that called? My mother used to yell at me, ‘Stop, please stop’. I suppose at some point I must have stopped. I wonder, when was the last time I played that piece?

Anyhoo and moving on, he didn’t stop and thank goodness for that, because then he started doing something I never did. Transposing it. Adding in new chords. Changing the timing. And now every time he walks past the piano (which is often) he adds another note or two. He’s written three or four little pieces now all of them really lovely (I know, I would say that).

My heart, she sings.

He’s got an excellent sense of humour that boy. He’s thirteen so my goodness me he’s a pain in the arse, but he makes me laugh.

Things are going well for him, but he is thirteen and he’s a little bit lost and I’m trying to find some anchors he might be able to use in the choppy seas that are a human’s adolescence. Books. Music. It’s all I really know.

This is me last night: Genius idea! I will introduce him to the magic that is Tim Minchin. And then he (my eldest lad) can see that he could put together all his ridiculous jokes and all his slapstick and all the little bits and pieces he is writing on the piano and make something fully sick, totes amazeballs and OMG.

I told you he’s thirteen, didn’t I?

We went to youtube. Look! I said. And there’s Tim Minchin with an orchestra. An orchestra! What could go wrong?

In our house, you aren’t supposed to sit at the computer with headphones on. Cyber safety and all that, but because of reasons, I am having to study the rules of netball in great depth so I asked him to put the headphones on so I could concentrate.

I concentrated. And so did my eldest lad.

I had forgotten about some of the more hardcore Tim Minchin pieces. In truth, I’m not sure I’d ever listened to the Pope song.

(‘Mum, have you ever listened to this?’
We listen together.
‘Okay, so apart from the swearing do you know what he’s trying to say?’
‘Yeah, don’t protect paedophiles’
I guess that about sums it up).

So today, there’s a whole lot of stuff me and the mister don’t need to teach our eldest lad.

And today I was sitting here, in this very chair, faffing around the internet, looking at the expat lady blog which today is asking why people think it’s okay to give you their second baby clothes and whether it’s better to buy your diamonds in Dubai or in New York. And Tim Minchin’s words, the ones I heard before the earphones went on, came back to haunt me. I try to be intellectually honest, he said.

I closed the bulletin board and I sat at the piano and played Fantasia in D Minor which I first learnt in 1983. And as I played, it occurred to me that my relationship with this paper and this pattern of keys is one of the oldest relationships I’ve got.

I played it again and then once more. I do hope that it wasn’t our neighbour’s baby’s sleep time.

4 thoughts on “Where my piano led me”

  1. I have missed you and am glad to see you back.
    I am sorry you have had a hard six months – and love that your difficult, no doubt often infuriating, 13 year old makes your heart sing.

  2. I have the piano that my father learnt on as a boy and I learnt on as a girl and offspring has learnt on as a boy too – but here’s the rub. He’s stopped lessons, I haven’t played it for years and we live in a very small house and have plans for the small room that it’s in. I kind of decided to get rid of it but then thought how can I get rid of something so essential to my memories – when I open the lid, the smell is completely familar back to my childhood and that’s a long time ago now.
    There’s no market for pianos now, you can’t even give them away. I’ve thought about a longterm loan to someone but can’t find that ‘someone’.
    Anyway, I relate to your joy in the piano and in son’s playing of it.
    I sometimes contemplate doing a semi-secret blog, to be shared with other mothers of teenagers, about being mother to a teenager. Mostly that’s okay for me but it’s new terrain and most of the feelings it brings up are to do with … loss.
    Will let you know if I get round to it.

  3. Thank you for writing this, Tracy. I am sorry to hear that you’ve had a difficult time in recent months. I know that the piano has often been a consolation for me. Your post brings up some of the things I’m trying to write about in my own work in progress, which was prompted by my own intense relationship to the piano from childhood through early adulthood. Which is to say I was very moved by your sentence, ‘it occurred to me that my relationship with this paper and this pattern of keys is one of the oldest relationships I’ve got.’ Hope your own writing continues steadily, if not quickly.

  4. Lovely…… He’s thirteen, he’s going to find it hard but he has already worked out that home is his haven. By ‘home’ it means you, dad, his brother, the piano, the dog, food, being allowed to listen to all of Tim Minchin and to just ‘be.’

    This is the very best you can do – be that haven.

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